MySociaLife

Dean McCoubrey

A suicide goes viral on social media: Suicide Prevention Day

Suicide goes viral on social media

Thursday, September 10th, is World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) around the world, organized by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), and co-sponsor World Health Organisation (WHO).  

This year, however, we find ourselves within a different context, trying to emerge from various levels of lockdown and re-establish society and community in stabilising healthy daily activities. In schools, students have either been unable to enjoy the regular routine of attending class or, those with access to devices and data, have found themselves experiencing an increase of several hours a day of online learning. With increased screen times comes increased exposure and influence. A 33-year-old American man committed suicide on social media, and while platforms tried to contain the virality in recent days by blocking access to the video, platform users had repurposed the video in other formats and published into multiple channels, including teen app sensations, TikTok and Instagram. Schools in South Africa have issued warnings of the video to parents over the last few days.


A simple Google search shows the frequency of social media virality around suicide including hashtags that allow users to share their darkest fears and emotional turmoil publicly, with other users commenting. The obsessive usage of these platforms means that teens and pre-teens can be exposed to graphic, violent, or explicit sexual imagery, which disturbs some individuals and causes a response that may vary from anxiety to anger, to sadness, to shame. The most important revelation, according to Dean McCoubrey, the Founder of MySociaLife, the South African online safety and social media program operating in schools, is that “as many as a third of students will not discuss what they have seen or what troubles them online with their parents for fear of punishment or the removal of their device, which gives them access to entertainment, socialising, and games. This is echoed by a 2017 Vodafone survey in 13 countries, meaning that this is not exclusive to South Africa.” 


Suicide shouldn’t be a secret – people understandably think about it, especially if it is in the news or social media, without necessarily having the intent to act upon it. Often there is curiosity which opens up an opportunity to discuss or share helplines if students aren’t ready to talk to their parents for any reason. Suicide is often the result of enduring a longstanding illness, such as depression, and that if provided with the opportunity to get help, many people are able to recover from depression, and no longer have suicidal thoughts or desires. 


MySociaLife teaches thousands of students a year about online safety and social media and assumes “a rare vantage point because we teach eight lessons around digital life skills, and this creates a platform for many students to tell us about the reality of their life online”. This interaction allows the training program to track the latest apps, hoaxes, trends, language, and seeks to bridge the generational and technological divide that has arisen from a generation which received devices or social media access in the same decade as their parents. “This divide has made it difficult for adults. How can they grasp digital identity, privacy, latest apps, mental health, digital footprint, bullying, unless they work inside these moving currents on a daily basis? Parents, teachers, counsellors, and mental health professionals are struggling to understand the landscape and therefore the context of what is happening in teenager’s lives, or what to look out for. To make matters worse, these exposures can be kept largely hidden,” he adds. 


McCoubrey advises parents not to be fooled by the apparent confidence or ‘tech-savvy’ of a teen or pre-teen, given their emotional maturity, and offers six tips:

  1. Parents need to stay abreast of the trends and hoaxes online and either self educate on Google, or ask their school for expert training from educators like MySociaLife
  2. While many teens don’t enjoy probing questions, check-in on what’s interesting online – the highs and lows, or what’s being talked about – and monitor their reactions. But be conscious of your own anxiety rising and how you appear in this conversation.
  3. Provide the safety that their online concerns can be talked about, without taking the device away as punishment if they reveal something that is shocking to you. This may not be their fault that they witnessed something online
  4. Look for changes in their behaviour around sleep, mood, anxiety, their friend group, or school work
  5. Seek professional help as soon as possible, via your health care provider or professional suicide helplines, listed below
  6. Request schools to educate their staff around the latest viral dangers – given the time spent at school – to share the support function and education of students

“MySociaLife now teaches the child psychiatry units in hospitals, and speaks at GP conferences, because this is such a complicated world to understand that even medical practitioners need advice and insight to grasp the nuances within this technological landscape.” “In this instance, curiosity can get the better of kids. And all it takes is to scroll past these graphic visuals and watch something. And then it’s very difficult to get this out of the mind, which can lead to secrecy, shame, embarrassment, and fear. Our kids need non-judgmental support. We do need to accept that most parents have given these devices and data or WiFi connection and schools are using these for learning. Adults had not fully grasped the window into a vast world (of all ages) that it would provide, resulting in positive and negative outcomes.”  At MySociaLife, we have a simple motto, says McCoubrey, “Safer kids can be smarter, and then excel online. But they will need facilitators that are ‘on the pulse’, objective and highly experienced.”

The effects of social isolation during Lockdown on kids

Humans are social creatures. We take our cues from each other, and the environment around us. As we receive this information or stimulus, we process it and its contents are vital during childhood development. So what are the effects of social isolation during Lockdown on kids? What happens when (physical) social contact is dramatically reduced, as is the case during the COVID-19 pandemic?

(Some) adults will have developed a framework to manage and can source the tools to support themselves (exercise perhaps, or escapism, or communicating with others.) Children are not so fortunate. They depend on the connection, guidance, and support of those around them, which is why children that receive less support can suffer from more social, emotional, or educational challenges if they live in isolation. Loneliness has links to stress and poor mental health. Why? If the body’s stress response feels consistently under threat, it can be mentally and physically tiring, and perpetuate habitual loops – anxiety, being one example.

Lockdown has moved more of our ‘connection’ online. While that’s a ‘plus’ in many respects, there is something inside human physical contact that many of us overlook. There are dimensions of connection that the supercomputer of the brain reads – facial muscles, postures, gestures, and tonality to hear the words being spoken, or feel the story being shared, even if that’s conveyed with a look.

Dean McCoubrey, Founder of MySociaLife which educates parents, students, and teachers about eight different aspects (lessons) of the complex aspects of lifeonline explains, “MySociaLife has consistently seen that time is a key factor in supporting children. Both p arents and students share this with us. Many adults (custodians) may need to slow down a little to hear them, to truly listen and pick up the cues, to ensure they feel supported and therefore reduce that stress. At the same time, that creates the space to educate them about your values or resilience, for example. They see you, hear you, and mirror you, based upon that important stream of content, as opposed to seeking it from friends or social media. Time is powerful.”

Friends, aunts, and uncles, or grandparents offer layers of support and influence, and these (hopefully positive) influences and networks help our kids grow, acting as the seeds which allow them to flourish. Make the connections as best you can with the time you have. It will pay dividends.

More wellbeing tips here on Parent24.

Too close to home?

Homeschooling became a hot topic in 2020. Some who would have formally never imagined it as an option now see its merits, simply due to the reality of being forced into it by COVID-19. The question frequently asked is, what are the pro and cons? And sadly that’s an incredibly difficult thing to answer.

As Dean McCoubrey, Founder of MySociaLife, the 8-module Online Safety and Digital Life Orientation Program adopted by schools in South Africa explains, “The feedback from students who now find themselves being homeschooled is very mixed. One size does not fit all when it comes to kids and the households in which they live. There are different levels of attention that learners can access, different technologies, and different parents supporting them. Is homeschooling being driven by a parent (or homeschool teacher), or is it blended with online learning? In some cases, it could be largely online. There are myriad permutations here. Of the 4000 students, we teach – and we teach them 8 times in a year – the feedback is very diverse. Some are feeling anxious, while others are relishing this new approach to their education.”
 

The pros of homeschooling speak for themselves: Less time in traffic, you can customize your child’s learning tools, you can protect your child more from issues like racism or bullying, and you can accommodate special needs or learning requirements.

By contrast, according to neuroscientists and cognitive therapist, Dr. David Rosenstein that advises MySociaLife on the direction and tools used in the 8-lesson program, “There is a difference between peer group interaction and adult interaction – right now children don’t have children to play with and learning through play is huge. Also, peer interactions improve learning through peer modeling – for example, “hey if my friend can count to 100, then I can too…so I’ll learn to do that”. In addition, peer interactions are incredibly important learning that happens in that type of context and responds differently to adults than they do to peers. You relate to someone of your developmental age differently.”

Parents also have their own stresses and strains, and can potentially let their own fatigue or perspectives get in the way. “While homeschooling may suit some children in Lockdown, there have been many parents that have felt the pressure of juggling these complex tasks while trying to work, or manage other siblings,” explains McCoubrey.

He adds, “We have a lot of parents asking us for our parent presentation on how to manage their child’s increased life online. Homeschooling is powerful if you have time and energy, and can provide adequate support, blended with a dose of self-awareness and objectivity. We, at MySociaLife, know first-hand how it requires immense energy to hold the space, support teens and pre-teens, keep their motivation, stimulate them with tools that help them engage, and remember the information. In our Program, we use video, animations, discussions with others, workshops, gamification, and quizzes. Life online (social media or e-learning requires a map. Up until now, it’s not been attended to, which is why our program has been in such demand in schools. We don’t just teach students, we teach parents and teachers too. There are several groups here that want to do this better.”

Digital Life Skills company introduces video training for kids

COVID-19 has kept kids indoors, isolated from friends, and driven to increased screen time. But for many, that comes with challenges.

Last week, MySociaLife, South Africa’s leading digital life skills, online safety and social media educators, asked students what digital life orientation lesson they wanted next. And we were shocked by the answer…

  • 44% chose Mental Health as the topic they would request next from MySociaLife
  • 22% chose to ask for help with attention and focus
  • 60% said their screen time had increased by 3 hours or more

Before Lockdown our teens and pre-teens struggled with life online lacking the maturity and emotional regulation to control the devices and content they watch, play and engage with for many hours a day. With increased screen time, these problems have only magnified, according to Founder of MySociaLife, Dean McCoubrey. And yet there are less than a handful of digital experts in the entire country that cover this extent of digital education.

Schools are feeling overwhelmed with firstly the rapid move to “Corona School” requirements and now back to getting schools, ready to welcome students back to a safe environment of learning and finding time to fit in the extra’s is intimidating and overwhelming but our kids need the guidance and support to ensure that they are safer and smarter online.

As a result, SA’s leading ‘Digital Life Skills’ program in schools has now been made available by video for life orientation or IT teachers to run easily using a combination of lesson plan, slide deck with videos and animations, workshop exercises and an end of module test. Click here for a video explainer. 

One challenge is that schools are nervous to add more to their plate, and ask more of a stretched Life Orientation or IT Teacher. But McCoubrey has found two solutions for schools: “MySociaLife can either teach via webinar -logging in via a simple link, and interacting with our Head Digital Life Skills Trainer. Alternatively we also offer a complete teaching pack and lesson plan for L.O. or IT Teachers to run with. It’s super simple.”

Using a globally renowned digital curriculum and supported by specialists in mental health, privacy and security, the 8-module program covers:

  • Mental Health and Resilience
  • Critical Thinking
  • Focus Tools
  • Digital Identity
  • Bullying
  • Privacy and Security
  • Digital Values
  • Sexting (for teen students)

Schools can purchase the video program and we release two (60-minute) modules per term to ensure the 8-modules can be completed within one school year.”

For some background on MySociaLife in action, click here.  “We have seen that it’s near-impossible for schools to try and manage this via Life Orientation simply because of the fast pace of evolution and the secrecy of students in this area of their lives.” He also explained that to provide this point, repeated feedback via surveys has illustrated that less than 5% of students in any school would go to the school counsellor about a social media or bullying issue. They won’t take the chance of losing their phones and being ostracized from the community.

The data is surprising even to us, of what kids are struggling with. They appear confident online, but their brains aren’t equipped for the complexity. That is why every school should have a digital life skills program in place. Few people understand the extent of the digital landscape” he says.

For interviews, pls contact Adam Hunter: info@mysocialife.com Or visit www.mysocialife.com / Instagram and Facebook: @MySociaLifeSA

Wondering how to keep your kids safe and smart online?

Founder of MySociaLife, Dean McCoubrey recently had an interview with author and educator, Josh Ochs from SmartSocial.com in Los Angeles 🙂

We at MySociaLife, have watched Josh for years, and he is pure class, a superb ‘app safety’ reviewer, and his sweet spot is on helping kids to be safe and smart (just like MySociaLife) but also to be “light, bright and polite” – guiding them to build a compelling digital footprint, and set themselves apart online.

Why work for years and years at school to apply for tertiary education, and fall down at the last hurdle – at the application stage – through a rogue digital footprint on Google and social media? This is something really playing for… It’s potentially life-changing.

Listen to the interview HERE

How to limit kids’ screen time during lockdown

With lockdown potentially being extended beyond 21 days, parents are faced with a longer period of time indoors. Some have loved their time together, and others desperate for their old routine. Devices, social media, apps and games provide escape for both parents and kids, a much-needed “breather” in a long day of incarceration. And connecting to friends and chatting is important for humans.

But life online often comes with many by-products – bullying, exposure beyond what is age-appropriate, contact from strangers, sexting. More time online naturally means more risk. Parenting will be different over this unparalleled situation, to adjust to socialising and schoolwork, but our attitude to online safety should improve in relation to the amount of screen time.

As Western Cape kids are set to “return to school” (while they stay at home), millions of parents have suddenly been transformed into ‘home-schoolers’?

Dean McCoubrey, Founder of MySociaLife, the leading digital life skills and online safety program in schools in South Africa, answers some key questions:

Q: What are fair screen limits during lockdown when kids must learn and socialise online?

Screen time limits depend on many factors and therefore it’s a sliding scale based upon considerations such as:

  • What type of family are you (conservative or liberal)?
  • What type of child do you have (obsessive user, or more self-regulated?)
  • What type of screen time are we talking about: educational screen time (wildlife shows), sport (on You Tube) or are they focused on gaming and social (like Instagram, TikTok, HouseParty, Fortnite)?

For pre-teens on social media and games it should be 1 to 2 hours a day.
But ideally social media shouldn’t even feature for kids under 12. There is too much unwanted contact and content for their age.

For teens it’s higher, 3 hours plus, with some kids online for 5 to hours and more. But every child and family are different.

If the child is using the device for online learning or coding, this is very much the same as the positive TV that you would allow. Mindless social media does require a limit because it eats time away and disconnects us from physical connection, conversation and support.

Balance is key – and social media is not designed for balance – so parents need to watch this and judge where they sit on this sliding scale. Some kids need firm screen time boundaries, while others are less interested in social media and games.

Q: How can parents enforce screen limits without creating ongoing conflict?

  1. A) Sit down together and ask your child how long they should have on their devices or social/gaming platforms. An example agreement is on this link here
  • Ask them why they feel that time is appropriate?
  • Then negotiate an agreement, here
  • You can barter chores, creativity or schoolwork in exchange for time online. In life, most things have to be earned through effort or respect
  • The best way in is to talk, and take an interest in what they see online (without judging openly) and share what you, as a parent, see online
  • Ask lots of questions – they open the door of communication and in turn may widen the door of trust around your child’s online life.

Q: How can screens encourage our children to be active in a confined space?

Look at Joe Wicks on YouTube to see what is available to get active on a screen. This is the same for creative time together, or hobbies or chores. Bring a bit of the technology in (even better if it’s trending) to get them to start moving to do something offline.

Q: What apps are children socialising on and what are the risks?

Kids are using WhatsApp, TikTok, Instagram, and HouseParty, YouTube, Netflix Party – these have boomed during Lockdown.

But each has their risks to different children (self-esteem issues, an impact on mental health, bullying, trolling, flaming, exposure to unwanted images, sexting, and approaches from strangers) so set up the privacy settings carefully. Parents can use an app like ScreenTime for this.

Q: How do parents make sure their children stay safe online during lockdown?

A routine of connecting through the day, having meals together and asking them what they are seeing and doing, is a good foundation.

Take an interest in the apps they use (do you know which these are?) and Google them.

Create clear boundaries of how public or private they are (how much they share and with whom), and what you expect of them to earn the device/WiFi/data.

Make accounts private, not public. Simple as that. Ideally no phones in the bedroom until after 16 years old, and not late at night.

Look out for a change in behaviour in case there has been bullying or sexting or privacy violations that have happened online. They may withdraw out of fear or anxiety.

The more you talk, the more you can see any changes in behaviour, and the more you can share your views and values.

www.mysocialife.com

Instagram: @MysocialifeSA

Facebook: @MysocialifeSA

Twitter: @MysocialifeSA

How do SA kids see #Coronavirus in a TikTok and Instagram-based world?

And how can parents guide and support them? SA’s Digital Life Skills experts offer 7 key tips for parents.

As Covid-19 has exploded from a distant reality in South Africa to a global pandemic, with increasing local cases of the virus, we can count ourselves lucky to have almost instant access to information, education and updates on the status of the disease. However, the sheer volume of information – fact-based or hysteria-driven – can be overwhelming, even for adults. What does this information and the adults’ concern look like to our kids, and how are they consuming information on apps like TikTok, Instagram, or Snapchat?

Right now adults and kids need to think Critically.

SA’s leading digital life skills expert, Dean McCoubrey, whose company MySociaLife teaches an 8-module social media program in SA schools, explains that the skill of critical thinking – the ability to question what may be true or false, safe or dangerous, right or wrong – is a key life skill in an explosive world of self-publishing, fake news, and cyberbullying. Consider how much time some teens (and even pre-teens spend online), what is interpreted and then discussed at school, irrespective of whether it may be fake news. Early cases of the virus have seen online hate and memes on some apps towards those with the virus.

Children and teens need to be guided about how to choose what content they consume about the disease, in addition to ongoing engagement with the adults they trust. Schools and parents often overlook the source of their children’s news. “We’ve got more access to information about Covid-19 thanks to the internet and social media than we’ve had for any other global epidemics such as SARSMERS and the various Ebola outbreaks, which is helping to manage and treat it,” MCoubrey says.

“The challenge with social media is that it can magnify our herd mentality. And anyone and everyone can publish information which may not be true or negative in a bid to get traction. In the middle of this are our children, who have yet to develop the ability to discern fake news from important facts, and can become overwhelmed or anxious if they are exposed to the wrong information.”

There are a number of steps that parents can take to reassure children, discuss the implications of the disease, and equip them to self-manage their access to information. These include:

  1. Equip yourself with information from trusted resources, like UNICEF, the World Health Organisation, the US Centre for Disease Control, and the South African Department of Health. Explain that many other sources are less reliable, and check the date of articles and authors – are they credible, or do the headline and image look like fear-mongering ‘clickbait’?
  2. Keep calm where possible, because children pick up on their parents’ emotions and are more likely to panic if their parents are doing so.
  3. Ask your children what they’ve heard about Covid-19, and answer as many of their questions in age-appropriate ways as you can. If you don’t know the answer to a question, use the opportunity to research it on trusted resources together.
  4. Co-create a plan of action – it helps them feel like they’re in control. Teach them the steps that they can take to protect themselves and others, including washing hands frequently with soap or an alcohol-based hand-rub, covering their mouth when sneezing or coughing, or doing so into the elbow, avoiding sick people, and alerting adults if they feel sick so that medical attention can be sought.
  5. Share the facts to help them gain an understanding of the role that they play in society. For example, research shows that very few children get really sick or die from the virus, which may make children feel invincible. However, remind them that they can carry the virus and share it people who are vulnerable, like their grandparents.
  6. Talk about the social implications of the disease, and remind children that the disease doesn’t care what the people it infects look like – and that there’s no basis for stigmatizing any population group because of the disease. Remind them that everybody looking out for one another and working together is how diseases like Covid-19 are overcome.
  7. Keep the conversation going – Covid-19 is here for a while, so consistency is essential. Challenges provide opportunities to educate so do some online research on resources that you’ve identified as trustworthy, and discuss developments regularly and openly.

“Because we teach eight hours of life online to thousands of kids every year, we are closer to understanding how teens and tweens consume content online, interpret what they see and read, and how it impacts them (both positively and negatively).”

MySociaLife’s ‘Digital Life Skills Program’ equips children with the skills they need to be responsible digital citizens, able to discern fake news from real, explains the effect of cyberbullying, shows how to protect privacy and reputation online, and how our mind and body reacts to what we see which can cause mental health issues,” says McCoubrey.

“As devices become increasingly ubiquitous, the issue is becoming less about policing children’s screen time or access to digital content, because they’ll find a way to get online – it’s more about equipping them to think critically about the information they read so that they can participate actively in their media consumption, rather than accepting everything that they read as the truth,” he adds. “Once they have that distance to question what happens online, we can teach them about other key topics like respect, empathy, resilience and responsible publishing. In one sense they need a digital values system to call on, but you can’t find that in a curriculum here in our country. That’s why we developed our own working with a global entity, resulting in eight 60-minute sessions to unpack it carefully. Schools need help. And so do many parents – it’s a complex world out there.”

How DSG, Grahamstown, Gained Valuable Digital Life Skills

Do you have a problem with social media and smart devices in your school (e.g. bullying or sexting, or shaming, or privacy violation)? It seems that, these days, schools can’t ignore the hard truth that learners are overwhelmed with smart devices, social media and apps.

DSG girls have completed their digital      citizenship training with MySociaLife.

Parents and educators have a responsibility to keep informed about the potential risks and pitfalls. Diocesan School for Girls (DSG) in Grahamstown understood the need for digital skills training and brought in the MySociaLife program to help.

MySociaLife exploded onto the school scene in 2018, examining the physiological, emotional, mental and neurological influences of working on smart devices and in social media. Working as certified adopters of the world’s leading international digital citizenship framework, they have since signed a vast number of SA’s top independent schools, who highly rate their results.

The media now come to them as the #1 digital life skills trainers in the country and they are literally shaping the conversation with over 100 interviews and articles in the last quarter of last year. 8 modules of digital life skills training is offered to students (Grade 4 -11).

They also, separately, train teachers, parents and school counsellors too to ensure everyone is watchful and in the loop; giving them tools and tips to develop conscious and healthy media consumption, becoming more digitally aware and resilient. Their message is positive and constructive, and not fear-mongering.

We spoke to DSG to hear how their life skills program has impacted their school.

Q1) What made you, as a school, decide that DSG required digital life skills training?

A: All humans are facing a rapid evolution of the digital landscape and it is difficult to keep abreast of the developments, and more importantly the risks. DSG feels that it is our responsibility to fully educate our pupils about this evolving landscape, but acknowledge that we are ill-equipped to do so and therefore sort the advice of experts.

Q2) What challenges did the school have in terms of students being online?

A: We haven’t faced any major issues but common to many other schools, we have faced the following:

  • Loss of sleep
  • Addiction
  • Abuse of social media
  • Online bullying
  • Use of social media for untoward behaviour and rule-breaking

Q3) From the feedback you received from the students, do you feel that the digital life skills program of 8 modules was thorough enough and why?

A: It was very thorough and comprehensive.

Q4) What impressed you most about the MySociaLife program?

A: The appeal of the MSL programme is multidimensional:

  • It is long term, covering varying topics related to the digital landscape (as opposed to the lecture and dash approach of the short course programmes which generally show lower uptake values)
  • There is an aspect of educating everyone about their own digital footprint and responsibility within the digital space
  • The programme seeks to educate ‘responsible use’ acknowledging that we cannot limit use entirely

Q5) Do you feel that the girls’ online behaviour was influenced in a positive way, following each module of training?

A: Although difficult to measure, there is a sense that the girls have a better understanding of the way they engage with social media.

Q6) Would you recommend MySociaLife to other schools?

A: Yes.

Q7) How did you find the presenter, Dean McCoubrey with the students?

A: The pupils and staff find Dean relatable and informed.

Q8)Do you feel that the modules are covering all relevant subjects (ie cyberbullying, critical thinking, privacy, digital identity & resilience, sexuality online, screen time/obsessive use, etc) to ensure that students are more digitally aware at the end of the program?

A: Yes and we like the continued evolution of the programme.

The MySociaLife digital skills training is a step in the right direction for schools. Evidently, Diocesan School for Girls in Grahamstown has gained valuable tools to help learners, parents and educators to deal with the physiological, mental and emotional pitfalls of smart devices, social media and apps. So much so, David Wright invited them to teach at his new school Kingswood, where he is now Principal.

And by the same token, Shelly Frayne, invited MySociaLife to St Cyprians this year too. That’s two direct endorsements from the same school directly upon finishing their one year program. Perhaps its the fact that they will meet you and audit what you might need in your school at no cost, or if you don’t believe in the Program after the first module, you can have your money back and don’t have to continue. That’s confidence!

The TikTok #skullbreaker challenge is dangerous.

In an era of fake news and Momo Hoaxes it can be hard to work out what to be worried about, or where the real danger lies.

The #TikTok #SkullBreaker Challenge is dangerous for sure. While many concerns or fears online may sometimes amount to very little – pranksters at play – no child can be sure of the way they fall, or land on the ground. In this instance, the power of choice is taken away from the individual, they are set up for a fall (literally) and will only find out the repercussions after they land.
This challenge involves one person jumping, who is then tripped by two others on either side. The result is the ‘willing’ victim falling flat on their back.

If you search for the story there are a number of instances in which kids have been injured and ended up in hospital, blacking out, but understandably the risks are around skull fracture, neck fracture, concussion, bleeding in or around the brain, loss of consciousness, paralysis, and death. There have reports of fatalities from this, but in my view, we all need to source real facts rather than listen to media headlines unless we have the first hand or primary record. These days there is way too much fake news and it makes it hard for kids to discern what’s real or not. MySociaLife teaches that – critical thinking and the ways in which to assess what is true or not – in our 8-lesson digital life skills program in schools.

By accessing a program like ours at MySociaLife, parents can learn how to educate their kids and take them through it, explaining how easy it is for a challenge of that kind to go wrong and how it can impact everyone, not just the victim, or themselves but the family too. There are far reaching implications of someone getting hurt. And it’s worthwhile taking an interest in their lives online, finding out more about what they are browsing and searching and talking to them, but not from a lofty place but from a position of coaching and mentoring. Kids feel like they know more than adults online and so it needs to be a two-way conversation (for the most part) to make headway. Our Program reaches all the important audiences – we teach parents, teachers and school counselors – and they all report how hard it is to understand this digital world their kids inhabit, and so we guide the adults AND the students via our in-school presentations. People can find us at www.mysocialife.com or on social @MySociaLifeSA

Interestingly, this also has the double impact of physical pain and emotion pain of the embarrassment too, of the video is shared against your will. Often in social media, it’s largely a mental or emotional hurt but this time it can be more than that – physical.

I can say that the skullbreaker is being discussed in the schools we teach, not just by us, but by their Principals and teachers, so the news is out. The hard part is making students understand how easily a prank of this kind can go wrong, with serious consequences. It can come across that we are just cautious adults who”don’t get it”, but this is a challenge that is evidently harmful #IRL (In Real Life) and not just virtually. It’s visible and fact based.

Safer Internet Day empowers youth to make smarter online decisions

Celebrated annually, Safer Internet Day takes place on Tuesday, 11 February 2020 and South Africa’s leading online safety Program in schools, MySociaLife, has partnered with the world’s global Safer Internet Day organisation to highlight bullying, harmful conduct, illegal online activity, and help give young people the tools they need to empower themselves online in South Africa.

Few young learners have been given any formal education and training.

“With more than 22 millions South Africans on Facebook, 8 million on Instagram and 5 million now on teen hype-app, TikTok, there is a vast number of adults and children exploring social media apps, and yet very few young learners have been given any formal education and training,” says Dean McCoubrey, founder of MySociaLife, a South African in-school ‘Digital Life Skills Program’ teaching digital life skills program for schools.

He adds that mobile devices boomed in 2007 and that children and adults alike understandably picked them up with a feverish appetite. “There were no manuals or guidebooks, and no warnings about how they could impact mental or physical health. Technology companies do not relent either, taking advantage of our collective obsession with our phones.  Research conducted by Kleiner Perkins in 2017, revealed a Research & Development investment of over R1.5trillion ($100bn) by five of the biggest brands in the world. “The competition for our attention, our clicks, and our money, is fierce,” McCoubrey states.

Safer Internet Day started in 2012 when parents, teachers and others working with young people realised that the time had come to help guide them around the possibilities and pitfalls of the Internet.

“Technology is truly amazing for entertainment, education and connection, but there are many complexities that come with the constant quest for more followers, likes and online admiration,” McCoubrey says. “We need the critical thinking skills to be able to see through the various risks that come with social media – trolling, flaming, sexting, chat forums, privacy, as a few examples – or our kids can find themselves in vulnerable and fearful situations – a reason anxiety has spiked in the last decade.

What can parents, teachers and young people do to make the Internet a safer place to have fun, engage, and share their content? MySociaLife recommends four simple steps, along with turning to trusted online resources for advice:

  • Protect your privacy and security – there are approximately 4 billion people online globally, so private accounts ensure you minimise contact with unwanted strangers who connect via public social media accounts.
  • Check the privacy settings on the device itself, and on all the platforms where you’re active. Scroll through the settings and lock down the areas you don’t want open.
  • By chasing followers and sharing posts publicly, more and more people will have their own opinions on what you have to say and show – and may disagree or criticise. To limit criticism, we need to limit who we share our posts with, or prepare ourselves for unexpected feedback and unwanted messages. Many kids do not think this through.
  • Be cautious of ‘clickbait’ – bold headlines and stories that ask you to share your information, sometimes asking for credit card details. Avoid being scammed by only sharing payment information on trusted sites – after you’ve discussed the transaction with your parents.

At the age when teens are faced with these complex issues, their prefrontal cortex – which controls planning, decision-making, and self-control isn’t developed enough to make the best decisions, and so they are literally “hot on the button”. To survive online, they need someone to equip them with insights, data, video and case studies that all promote the critical thinking – a small moment to consider their options – to help them see when a potentially dangerous situation pops-up.

“Values and guidelines need to be translated into an online context, we need to explain carefully what our expectations are when we are online. Safer Internet Day is the perfect opportunity to remind tweens and teens that even though the Internet makes it possible to be anonymous, test other aspects of their personality, and be more risky, most of them wouldn’t swear like that at home, or bully someone face-to-face, or speak to a stranger in a shopping mall. And yet, so many kids do these things, getting into trouble with the law, and affecting their own future, their family, and even putting themselves at risk.”

For Twitter, Instagram and Facebook: @MySociaLifeSA