MySociaLife

Instagram Tips For Parents

When you arrive at a blog with an urgent need for advice, you wish they would get to the point, and provide the tips straight away. We’ll do that.

First, if you missed the interview on radio, start here: https://omny.fm/shows/afternoons-with-pippa-hudson/family-matters-dummies-guide-to-instagram

Second, start here, released in Q1 of 2022, it’s the latest update on Instagram’s family centre: https://about.instagram.com/blog/announcements/introducing-family-center-and-supervision-tools

If you’re looking for a slower explainer, start here with our overview: With over a billion users, Instagram happens to be one of the most popular social media apps in their digital portfolios. The app is age rated 13+ – but interestingly, the standard bearer for online safety, Common Sense Media, rates it at 15+. There’s a very simple reason why? The exposure to news, the approach from predators, and the type of content that can be seen can be age-inappropriate. That means it’s too much for young eyes. It requires certain skills to think critically and emotionally process various types of visuals and information. Some of the things that teens are seeing online they are simply not able to manage – they are new images, haven’t been experienced before, and can trigger emotional responses that are hard to understand – fear, insecurity, shame – all of which can be somewhat invisible.

It has been reported (in several different media outlets) that Instagram is the leading cyberbullying platform in the United States. And the reason for that is that humans gaze into our screens as we scroll our feeds, but as it reflects back a stream of images, it makes us think about where we are positioned in that context and evaluates what we have and don’t have. ‘How do I compare? Do I have these looks, these clothes, these friends, these invitations and opportunities, and so on?’ This creates a form of ‘toxic mirror’ that makes us feel low at times when catching us off guard or on a bad day. Without the right tools, the media can drag us down. 

While TikTok steals the limelight in the broad portfolio of social media apps for teens and pre-teens, Instagram’s place has been as a visual news feed in its many forms, from its Feed to Stories, IGTV, Reels, and Live. And these different formats that Instagram offers have proven to be incredibly catchy as it continues to innovate with new launches and added dimensions to its functionality. This keeps the audience coming back for more. 

Moreover, what we see is that the aesthetic within Instagram, how images are shot, or filters are applied, has made it an enticing inspiration board, a shop window, a place for us to research or to dream about certain destinations or products, fashion, influencers and celebrities. It’s a wonderful escape. Or is it? Following popular figures online, we are sold a story by a personality with a motivation. Sure, that may be business – but without realising this simple nugget, we can consume their apparent ‘thought leadership’ without scratching beneath the surface. 

Sadly, what you see may be only a portion of what’s out there?

One thing that children like to do is to create a second Instagram account called a Finsta or a Fake Instagram. It will be incredibly difficult for a parent to know the handle of that Finsta account because normally, pre-teens and teens do not publish their real name or a personal (recognisable) photograph of themselves. After all, this is for a closed group of friends, which actually later grows into a much larger group. This makes it very difficult for parents to know what’s happening in this growing group of friends or even what might be happening on Instagram.

Reels

Reels is very similar to TikTok, although it is basically not as cutting edge as the world’s most popular social media teen app. The reason for this was that Reels came out a long time after TikTok, and while it has enjoyed more success than many imagined, ultimately, the first-mover advantage that was gained by TikTok has been retained with reels, doing its very best to try and catch up. Take a look here if you need to understand Reels: https://www.internetmatters.org/hub/news-blogs/instagram-reels-a-parents-guide-to-the-new-video-sharing-feature/

So, where does this leave parents?

Most need guidance around any app, but in the case of Instagram, the most important starting point is:

  • Parents need to understand what the app is and does? (see our links at the top)
  • What different ‘channels’ the app has created – and which ones your kids will most likely use (Feed, Stories and Reels most likely)
  • What are the dangers or risks and even what are the opportunities from there? Take a look here: https://www.bark.us/blog/is-instagram-safe/
  • Grasping the settings creates a base of knowledge to approach your child with some facts and information that will help them to navigate the different settings.
  • Parents need to go into their own Instagram, click on the three lines in the top right-hand corner (which represent the menu) then, click on settings and then click on privacy. Within the privacy menu, you’ll find all the different options that are available to lock up the doors and windows of their child’s Instagram account, depending on what age the child is, of course, will relate to how much access you have to close up those ‘doors and windows of your child’s Instagram house.
  • If you’re looking for a specific tool to be able to monitor Instagram, of course, there are settings inside Instagram itself for parents to be able to manage their screen time. There is also an app called FYI Play It Safe, a South African based app, which helps parents to monitor the type of content that is shown on the screen, not just in the account and it notifies the parent as to certain keywords, terms and images. Check it out here: https://fyiplayitsafe.com/

The final point here is that you can, of course, try and block and monitor all you can, but education is the power tool that will plant the seed of awareness that could last the longest because without understanding and without the power to choose wisely, without the ability to self regulate, kids will remain at risk even with the various settings in place. That’s why our program has been so successful. We do that for schools, parents, teachers and students. Email us at info@mysocialife.com to ask for our products and pricing.

Social Media Filters: A Cause of Body Dysmorphia or Just A Form of Creative Expression?

Article by Havana Dauncey.

Have you taken a selfie lately and been compelled to swipe through the filters to find the perfect one that gives you that extra glow?

Well, it’s safe to say that filters have revolutionalized the selfie game. In fact, 87% of teens aged 13-21 use a filter on social media

So what’s drawing teens so strongly to alter their images online? What does this mean for teens of today and their mental health? And are all filters bad, or is there another side that we’re not seeing?

Let’s break down everything you need to know about social media filters.

What is a social media filter?

Social media filter (n.): An in-camera photo editing effect that can be applied to images before or after the photo is shot, found on each social media app and sometimes referred to as augmented reality (AR).

Filters began long before social media. Remember the front camera mirror and distorting effect that captivated young teens back in 2012? Well, these harmless editing effects have evolved into something a lot bigger, and potentially dangerous, thanks to the birth of social media.

Selfie filters, the social media filters we’re referring to, first came to light on Snapchat in 2015 as one of the main unique features drawing users to the platform. But what started as innocent doggy ears and stuck-out tongues has now evolved into a sophisticated AI that’s made it impossible to discern what’s real and what’s not — in the form of the infamous ‘beauty filters’.

Nearly 1 in 5 teens use a beauty filter on every post. Beauty filters are specifically designed to add make-up, remove blemishes, and change facial features to make you look more ‘beautiful,’ often appealing more to girls than boys. 

Why are teens drawn to use social media filters?

Phones have become the new mirrors. We no longer reach into purses to pull out a compact to check our faces or touch up some make-up. We now go straight for the selfie camera on our phones. But selfies have become more than just a convenient mirror in our pockets. They’ve become a figurative mirror that teens use as a representation of who they are, both externally and internally, attaching their identity to the frozen image of themselves on a screen.

Teens are at the stage in their development where they’re searching for their place in society, trying on different identities to see which one fits best and which one gets the best response. Taking and posting selfies online has become the new way for teens to share their identity with the world and measure the response they get from their peers.

Thus, teens are drawn to selfies with the hopes of gaining reassurance of who they are in the form of positive attention from others. This is where filters come in. Like trying on different identities, teens try on different filters to see which ones receive the best response.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say a young teen posts an unfiltered selfie on her Instagram story and doesn’t get the enthusiastic response of likes and DMs from her peers that she was hoping for. She swipes right to the story feature and starts curiously scrolling through the wide range of filters. She stops on one that softens her pores, hides her acne, flushes her cheeks and lips, and slightly enlarges her eyes with a touch of mascara. Now, it looks so real, and she looks almost like the famous models she follows on Instagram. So she posts the new selfie. Suddenly, her Instagram blows up with likes, heart emojis, and comments like “hot,” and “gorgeous,” from girls and boys alike. Her heart flutters from the attention, instantly deleting the old one, and staring at the new version of herself with a proud smile.

This is a simplified story of the spark that ignites teens’ drive towards using filters. When their self-esteem is low and they need a bit of reassurance, they learn that they get the best response and the most attention from altering their appearance to match society’s standards of beauty. And beauty filters conveniently give them the power to do it.

So while AR is just a nickname these filters have picked up, there’s a bit more truth in it than you may think. It’s not just the reality of the screen these filters are augmenting, but the reality for the teens outside the screen as well.

What do filters mean to the teens of today?

You might be wondering, “Editing photos isn’t anything new. The media has been altering bodies with photoshop to match unrealistic beauty standards for decades. What makes this so different?”

Well, thanks to social media filters, we no longer only compare ourselves to a doctored image of a stranger in a magazine but to doctored images of ourselves. Teens look at these filtered images of themselves and see a superior version, reinforced by the approval of their peers and society.

So in an effort to find their identities and get closer to their real selves, social media filters have the completely opposite effect — teens dissociate from their identities by idealizing a version of themselves that isn’t real.

The big question to ask here in terms of beauty filters is — who is setting these ideal beauty standards?

Well, the honest truth is that beauty standards have always been modelled after the white, western, and eurocentric aesthetic. And this is no different for the parameters of the beauty filters. While you may think that the AI used to define these filters is objective and unbiased, it’s simply not true. The biases and preferences of the people who programmed them are inevitably going to creep in, including racism, sexism, and implicit biases.

So what does this mean for diversity? It means that most filters automatically lighten the skin, eyes, and hair, distorting their facial features into something foreign. It means that teenagers that don’t match this narrow, hegemonic idea of beauty are subconsciously told they’re not beautiful based purely on their ethnicity.

Additionally, the ways in which these filters distort the face, positioning it into the ‘golden ratio,’ enlarging the eyes, shrinking the nose, and removing every blemish and freckle, are physically impossible. It sets a standard so high that no one can reach it no matter how hard they try, and some die trying.

61% of teens say that using beauty filters make them feel worse about their appearance in real life, stating that there’s a correlation between these filter and power body image. So it’s clear that social media beauty filters not only tell teenagers that they aren’t beautiful enough, but they also give them a biased, unrealistic, and impossible version of themselves — a constant comparison and reminder that they aren’t enough the way that they are.

The impact on teens’ mental health

Mix the teenage desire for public approval of their appearance with insanely real ‘beauty’ filters that turn your face into the golden ratio, and you get the perfect storm for body image issues and body dysmorphia to brew.

Body dysmorphia disorder (n.): characterized by the constant worrying about one’s physical appearance, often fixating on physical flaws or perceived defects.

These social media filters not only distort the image on the screen but the teenager’s body image of themselves. They notice how different they are from the filtered version of themselves and start to fixate on those differences, perceiving themselves as inferior.

So when teens look in the mirror, or their selfie cameras, they no longer see what they are but rather what they are not. Teens become susceptible to body dysmorphia and other body image issues. This pushes teens towards trying to change their real appearance to match the one on the screen, leading to unhealthy ‘beauty hacks,’ dieting, and even cosmetic surgery.

Are all filters that bad?

Filters come in all shapes and sizes, and maybe not all of them have to be a concern for your teens’ mental health. In fact, most filters out there don’t care about making you look beautiful, they aim to make you look silly, funny, and ridiculous in the best way. These reignite that innocent fun and creativity that filters were originally designed for.

Some examples of creative filters include baby filters, beard filters, gender swaps, character-based filters, and an infinite amount more. There’s even a filter that distorts your facial features to make them look unappealing, shrinking your eyes and changing your proportions so that when you turn the filter off, you feel better about your actual appearance.

Just take a look at TikTok — many TikTok trends, aimed to earn some laughs from viewers, are centred around bizarre and goofy filters paired with some really clever jokes.

These filters often encourage teens to stop seeing their selfies as a reflection of their identity, as the filters are often so ridiculous, it’s impossible to connect the selfies to themselves in any meaningful way. It helps them take themselves less seriously and be okay with looking silly.

With the advanced technology and AI of today, you can pretty much do anything you want with filters, giving teens unlimited creative power that shouldn’t be tainted by the negative effects of beauty filters.

So what’s the final verdict on social media filters?

Filter — on or off?

Social media filters cover a wide range of editing effects, making it difficult to put them all in one box. Most filters can be used as a form of creative expression and for fits of laughter between friend groups, encouraging teens to not take themselves and their external appearance too seriously.

However, we can’t say the same for beauty filters. Beauty filters aren’t inherently bad; it’s all in the intention with which they’re used. However, most of the time, they attract vulnerable teens looking to bolster their self-esteem with a filtered facade, damaging their mental health by making them susceptible to body image issues and body dysmorphia. So it’s best to make sure these filters stay turned off.

What we can do moving forward

Knowing the harm these beauty filters can cause, it’s our responsibility as parents, teachers, and guardians to take the power out of the beauty filters and put it back into the hands of our children.

You can do this by:

  • Being aware of the filters teens are using and why.
  • Talking to them about the effects of the filters, the importance of establishing their identity separate from selfies, and the reality and relativity of ideal beauty standards.
  • Encouraging your children, as well as influencers, to go unfiltered, highlighting the beauty of authenticity.
  • Looking out for the signs of a struggling mental health and body image, ready to give them all the help if needed.
  • Showing your children how to be active consumers by telling the social media platforms what they need to do to help minimize the negative effects of their filters.

If we teach our children how to use filters responsibly, filters can once again be those fun and harmless effects that compel teens to spend hours laughing at their faces wave up and down the screen. So let’s turn off our filters and sit down with our children to have those unfiltered, authentic, and crucial conversations to help our children be safer and excel online.

Click here to find out more about how to learn more about the digital world and how to empower your children online.

The Ukraine War on TikTok: What We and Our Children Can Learn From It

Article written by Havana Dauncey

TikTok is becoming the most popular app in our teens’ and pre-teens’ lives. Despite the 13+ age limit, children aged 4-15 are spending an average of 75 minutes on TikTok per day. As a parent or teacher, you can’t help but wonder what they’re watching on there for that long, especially when a war is currently being broadcasted live uncensored on social media apps including TikTok.

So many questions arise for a lot of adults — What is TikTok? Where do teens and pre-teens get their news on the Ukraine war? What effect does exposure to the Ukraine war have on teens and pre-teens? Can adolescents tell the difference between fact and fallacy? Are there any benefits from TikTok? What can parents do to help their children rise above it, block it or understand the motivations of those posting about it — critical thinking is essential!

Let’s deep dive into the Ukraine war on TikTok and explore the effects it may have on adolescents.

Where do kids get their news?

Let’s start with the basics — to find out what type of news teens are getting, you have to first figure out where they’re getting it from. Most teens, over 50%, get their news from social media apps, particularly TikTok.

Anyone across the world can post content on TikTok in real-time and uncensored, so it’s no surprise children and teens are accessing loads of content regarding the Ukraine war. It’s also easier for them to digest news from their favourite influencer speaking their ‘teen talk’ (or kid talk) than a monotonous news anchor they hear in the background.

Adolescents, willingly or not, are becoming curious about the world and its affairs.  Some are even taking on the role of social justice warrior. For example, child and teen TikTok users spammed Vladimir Putin’s fan accounts with #vladdydaddy as an act of protest, pleading “Vladdy Daddy please no war…” This may seem like a small act, but it represents teens becoming active citizens in the world they belong to, standing up for what they believe in.

TikTok as a news source is highly complex. Here’s why:

  • TikTok’s short-form-content formula rewards hooks to grab users’ attention and gives little time for viewers to decide who’s the hero and who’s the villain.
  • TikTok uses an algorithm to filter content for its users. To be honest, no one really knows how it works how the algorithm works. All we know is that its main goal is to keep users watching, focusing on watch time and presenting it on the For You Page (FYP). We get fed more of what we click on, so clicking on fake news and violence ensures we get more of it, driving adolescents deeper into a rabbit hole of falsehoods or hideous imagery.
  • Because our brains are predisposed to focus on movement and novelty, adolescents are drawn to videos that are scary and shocking.
  • Our brains process video much faster than text, especially with the help of music. Teens and pre-teens are then presented with an unsettling reality where a horrific scene is paired with their favourite pop song.
  • More disillusion is created by teens and pre-teens watching their favourite influencers living life one day and then hiding in a bomb shelter the next.
  • The war-torn scenes are juxtaposed with TikTok’s creative, humorous and light-hearted tone.

Interestingly, it’s TikTok’s use of pop music and humorous tone that allows us to contextualise what we’re seeing, process it and distance ourselves from the hard and unfathomable reality in Ukraine.

It’s a classic pop-culture approach, but this generation misses the motivation of publishers in whatever they post, seeking likes, followers, celebrity at a high cost. Different from generations before that may have employed their own ways of visualising or voicing their views, this stick of dynamite has the added fuse of virality and global attention for publishing something. The rewards are different, making the motivation different.

Thus, TikTok constructs a complex environment for adolescents to receive their news.

Could this exposure to violence lead to desensitization?

What makes adolescents’ exposure to the Ukraine war so troubling is teens’ and pre-teens’ inability to separate fact from fantasy. Some may think it’s all a joke while others may believe they’re entering World War 3.

What about desensitization? For years, this topic has circled the effects of violent video games. But according to the research, there isn’t any long-term desensitization from these video games. However, while the varied research makes it difficult to draw a conclusion, we’re finding that this exposure to violence can still affect more vulnerable individuals.

Secondary trauma also plays a role on TikTok — this is when you hear about trauma and it sticks with you. This triggers negative emotions and can be triggered again later on. So for adolescents that are more vulnerable to violence, this secondary trauma becomes very real.

What does exposure to violence on TikTok mean for adolescents and parents?

  • This highlights the importance of the 13+ age restriction, as teens are a lot more capable of differentiating between fact and fantasy.
  • It’s also important to protect our children by promoting critical thinking so that they question fantasy and try to uncover the facts.
  • Parents should aim to prepare their children so that they know what to expect and know that they have a choice in what they see.
  • There should be a focus on building resilience in them to give them the strength on their own to be able to turn off a video when it’s not serving them.

Misinformation vs disinformation — what’s the difference?

The question is not only can teens and pre-teens understand the difference between fact and fantasy, but also between fact and fallacy. Most social media apps, especially TikTok, have little to no fact-checking tool. As adults, we know that we can’t take anything on social media at face value — more often than not, adults can tell the truth from the lies and are able to check their sources. But adolescents have not yet acquired this skill, making them vulnerable to both misinformation and disinformation.

Misinformation and disinformation are often used interchangeably, but there’s a distinct difference between the two:

  • Misinformation: Incorrect information presented either intentionally or unintentionally.
  • Disinformation: False information that’s deliberately spread with the intention to deceive.

While both are harmful, disinformation is often even more dangerous because of its direct intention to propagate lies. Both forms are very prevalent on TikTok. People spread misinformation for the sake of views and virality.

For example, in some content, visuals are matched with the wrong audio to create a dramatic and shocking effect and portray something that isn’t real. Footage from video games has even been used and believed to be real footage from Ukraine. Teens and pre-teens are constantly exposed to this ‘fake news’, believing it and letting it influence their perception of the world.

How can we protect our children from the constant waves of mis-/dis-information? We educate them. MySociaLife’s very first module, of its total 8 lessons of 60 minutes each, teaches children not only how to fact-check, but why it’s important. We can also teach them to report any misinformation they find. Just like everyone else, children don’t want to be tricked or duped — reporting gives them the power over the people trying to deceive them. 

Is TikTok all bad? What are the upsides?

Like everything, TikTok has both light and dark corners. And its light side offers our children limitless opportunities to learn, grow and excel — they just have to know how to find it.

Here are some upsides of TikTok worth celebrating:

  • Increased awareness of the global environment: Adolescents are becoming interested and aware of what’s happening in the world and current events, all by themselves — some are even now pushing their parents to get involved and become active citizens themselves.
  • Promotion of empathy and compassion: By receiving first-person accounts, often in real-time, adolescents gain a perceptive they never would have been exposed to otherwise, forcing them to consider what the world is like outside of their own perception and promoting a deep sense of empathy in the new generation.
  • An exciting new world for creativity: TikTok has become an outlet of creativity for a lot of users, expressing their extraordinary skills, talents and hard work, creating masterpieces of a whole new art form. 
  • Entrepreneurial potential: TikTok holds incredible power for businesses where they can gain wide exposure, build loyal communities and drive sales — teens’ exposure to this can inspire them to create a business of their own, utilizing TikTok as a key to success.

Every child is different. Some will suffer from the influence of TikTok, others may be more indifferent. The trick is to know which category your child may sit in and to pay careful attention to their behaviour to see if there are any effects — lethargic, fearful, and self-conscious are often normal teen responses, but are you seeing anything that’s concerning and noticeable? Don’t ignore the signs. 

And for every TikTok user, take a look at what they’re watching, be interested, ask questions (as opposed to telling) and use the opportunity to educate yourself without becoming too lofty and forging distance between you and adolescents. Connection and trust are key. Without it, they’re on an island alone, and you’ll find it hard to support them. 

Top Tips — how can parents help their children learn from this?

The final question to ask is — with everything that’s been discussed, how can parents and teachers help their children learn, grow and excel on TikTok despite the potential dangers of violence and misinformation circulating on social media apps?

We give them the most powerful tool in the world — education.

Here are ways to educate your children so that they are aware, protected and equipped to deal with both the light and the dark sides of TikTok:

  • Talk often, talk always: Start the conversation on technology, news, war and how it relates to social media — this establishes trust between you and your child.
  • Focus on preparation and resilience: Teens and pre-teens who are prepared and have resilience are much less easily affected by what they might see on TikTok, plus these are essential tools that determine their success in life, not just in surviving TikTok.
  • Educate yourself on TikTok: If you haven’t already, it’s about time you get to know the place your child spends so much time in — this will give you a much wider understanding of how it works and the content your children are exposed to so that you can make educated decisions on how to help them.
  • Teach your children how to curate their content: Teaching adolescents how to curate their content so that they have the ultimate say in what enters their lives puts the power back in their hands and encourages them to think critically about which content they want to see.
  • Explore the parental controls: While their effectiveness is undecided, TikTok does have parental controls worth taking a look at and discussing with your child. You can even teach your child how to become a productive client of TikTok by letting TikTok know what parental controls you want and what they should improve.

TikTok doesn’t have to be all that scary if we teach our children how to use and consume it productively, responsibly and with lots of awareness. If we guide our children towards the light of TikTok, a whole new world of possibilities and opportunities await, leaving them empowered as active citizens of the world with their future in their own hands.

Digital Citizens become Active Citizens on Minecraft. Wow.

We saw something today that just blew us away at MySociaLife. Beautifully clever and so well-timed for the world our kids find ourselves in. Considering pre-teens and teens still LOVE this game.

In one sentence: “Players can truly build whatever they imagine in Minecraft, and now, this extends to their visions for world peace.” Yesterday, Microsoft launched an immersive Minecraft learning experience at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway. 
“The ‘Active Citizen’ project educates young people about Nobel Peace Prize laureates past and present and fosters an understanding of the skills needed to drive positive change in the world. “Active Citizen” is now available for millions of learners around the world in the Minecraft Education Edition. Dignitaries from around the world including His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Wanjira Mathai, Chairperson of the Wangari Maathai Foundation, and Vidar Helgesen, Executive Director of the Nobel Foundation, have supported and participated in this groundbreaking project.”
Just so smart – on so many levels.

Watch the trailer here:


Our kids need this type of exposure early. We teach them and there isn’t enough of these tools to support this important work that can last a lifetime. Well done Microsoft.

How Does the Sexualization of Teens on Social Media Impact Our Children?

The history of sexualisation in the media

If you think that the media’s influence on society is a new development, you might want to think again. The media’s iron-tight grip on society has moulded our every move since before ‘the media’ had its name. The media has decided for centuries how we as individuals act, dress, perceive the world and perceive ourselves. Just look at the power of propaganda — whether it’s advocating war in the 1940s or it’s a major broadcasting network pushing its agenda, propaganda calls the tune of anyone who’ll listen.

It might have manifested differently over the years, but sexualisation in the media is nothing new either. Think back to the 1980s and 1990s — the age of the size 0 model. And at the same time, pornography and adult content became widely accessible. With the boom of the digital era and social media, we’re bound to see some drastic changes in society.

What’s different about the media today?

While sexualisation is just as prevalent in the media today, there’s one essential difference — media is now handed to children on a silver platter in the form of social media networks. And like all media, it’s not immune to sexualisation. Teens as young as 13 (and even younger, as some children lie about their age) are drawn to these social apps like moths to a flame and are exposed to the deepest, darkest corners of the media that no child should see.

We’re seeing that inside popular culture, from a very early age, children are encouraged to show as much skin as possible, be as provocative as possible — in their movements, gestures, content and more. Children are pressured into showing themselves off, focusing on their exterior self and silencing their inner identity.

How does sexuality fit into all of this?

So what are we missing? Well, we’re missing an essential piece of the puzzle, namely sexuality — we can’t talk about sexualisation without talking about sexuality. We seem to have forgotten that sexuality is not a purely outward gesture, it doesn’t just focus on the exterior self.

Sexuality is largely inward — built of a brilliant mosaic of defined and interlinking parts, namely: 

  • Orientation: Where do you identify on the gender spectrum?
  • Sexual preference: Who are you attracted to, what are your sexual preferences, what type of things are you into?
  • More importantly, what your sexuality represents: Who are you in this world?

This fundamental view of sexuality lends itself to the idea that each and every one of us arrives in this world with, at least to some degree, some sort of purpose or opportunity to discover, embrace and share our true selves with the world.

These essential aspects of sexuality are completely and utterly overlooked, leading to an entirely misconstrued conception of sexuality and sexualisation brought upon our youth.

What does this mean for our children on social media?

Instead of gaining a deeper, balanced view of sexuality, focusing on orientation, preference, purpose; our children:

  • Are trained by sexualised media into thinking that this is how they should be, this is what makes them successful, this is what makes them attractive
  • Are taught that they are only who they appear on social media
  • Judge and evaluate themselves against an outward, superficial metric

If we’re only invested in these perceptions of sexuality, it becomes very complicated, leading to some damaging effects on our youth’s mental health. Teens are experiencing overwhelming anxiety and an erosion of their self-esteem — all because they feel judged on purely how they appear.

So how can we, as their guardians and protectors, prevent this?

How can we turn the media’s tides?

Here’s the million-dollar question:

“What if we taught our children the digital life skills of sexuality, what it is to be a human in this world and all the wonderful and diverse dimensions that make up who we are?”

We can teach them about the influence of sexuality online and how it can very easily overwhelm who we really are, to the point where we’re acting as some sort of social-media-born character. While it’s normal and age-appropriate for teens to try on different identities at different stages in their development, teens today no longer know that they’re only trying them on. With some guidance, they may learn to discern whether this personality they picked from social media actually works and serves them, or whether it’s just a facade with the goal of chasing followers.

If we work together to educate our children, we can help loosen the grip that the media has on our youth and society. We can raise a generation that’s balanced and healthy in their view of sexuality and confident in who they are as an individual in this world.

MySociaLife’s REAL DEAL: A Parent’s Guide to Snapchat.

What exactly is Snapchat, its age rating, and what’s the big deal here?

Snapchat is an incredibly popular social media platform for teens and pre-teens. Despite the age rating being 13, it attracts users of all ages due to its quirky exploration of visual expression, using avatars and filters, among other things. Simply put, it’s real fun. And they’re smart in how they put it all together. The user experience has kids coming back repeatedly as they trade messages, videos and photos (Snaps) and are rewarded with an increasing SnapScore for their engagement.

Snap launched in 2011 and released its Stories function in 2013, originally gaining hype due to its promise of a Snap disappearing which would protect your privacy, as the platform deletes content after the recipient has viewed the Snap. However kids screenshot so this largely negates the promise.

What do parents need to know?

Why is it popular with teens (and pre-teens)?

Before we start, we need to understand that we gave the device to our kids, or the school did, and this issue will not relent. We need to be accountable for the role we played, and we need to spend more time educating them. True story. Kids look competent online, but they are lacking emotional skills to manage. Furthermore, for some kids (emphasise ‘some’), being social online with a tight group of friends (actual close or trusted friends, and not strangers) can be a safe space depending on the child. Not all children are the same. But all children need help.

Bitmojis

Firstly, this is a social network and highly visual one, it’s clever and quirky. You create your own Bitmoji, which is essentially a little illustrated icon that represents you. And you can actually build this specifically inside the app, which kids love to do.

Snapchat Cameos

These are these very cool little gifs of your bitmoji with different emotions and different reactions, which flash around and act as an expression of your digital Snap identity and how you might be feeling at the time.

Stories

These are published stories, but available for your friends to see on the feed for up to 24 hours.

Filters

It became increasingly well known for some of the innovations in the way in which it transforms photos and videos – the core currency of social media and adolescents – by using creative, zany and humorous filters.

SnapMaps

That innovation stems further to locating friends dynamically, getting a pinpoint location of where your friend might be in the world. Great – as long as they’re not strangers, which means extra vigilance needs to be employed for young users, particularly those who cannot recognise predator behaviour. One additional minor challenge here is the FOMO struggle of seeing who is where at the weekend, and realising you didn’t make the social cut. NFI.

Streaks

Perhaps equally popular has been Snap Streaks, the trading of Snaps daily, to receive a little reward in the form of acknowledging how long your streak is lasting. The reward that is most important to mention is dopamine, which keeps kids coming back for more to trade snaps with each other in order to continue their daily streak.

Lenses

As we move into a world of AR, now we have ‘lenses’ – transforming what’s on-screen into an augmented reality experience, adding 3d special effects, objects, or characters, essentially almost holographic images around them. What’s not to love there at this age.

Games

They can play snap games, which is a series of games in which they can play either a random stranger or they can play one of their friends.

Privacy and data

These ‘sticky’ gimmicks, all come together in one glorious win for Snapchat, time spent on the app, the harvesting of data, and the targeted use of ads based upon that data. And Snapchat has been well-known to make good use of that data, as reported by the media on many occasions.

Photo ‘storage’ and memory tagging

And there are other aspects like the ability to save their ‘Memories’ specifically under a private pin code. Again, these can be of course largely harmless, depending on the child.

The Invisible Risks

The first invisible risk is to apply broad brush strokes about every child using Snapchat. They aren’t all the same, they don’t all use the app the same, and they don’t all take risks. Assess your child based upon what’s going on in your home (are they feeling settled given what’s happening for them at the time), what’s happening in their friend group, and what are their evolving behaviours with regard to noticing any big changes. Those can be indicators that something is worryingly up.

In the right hands and parenting, most of this is not particularly harmful. But without the education of parents, schools and children, they won’t know what they can stumble into. Failure to educate is the biggest risk. Blind use of an app that reaches out into the world comes with hazards. Start there, get a program into your school so that gets everyone on the same page.

This is important because, if learners or teens and preteens don’t have private accounts, if they don’t exercise any of the useful functions that sit inside the privacy settings of the app, then they are exposed. In addition, if they allow certain behaviours – bullying or predator approaches – and not tell you about it, this can spin into real physical or emotional harm.

The Well-Known Risks

  • Obsessive use
  • Change in behaviour, due to withdrawal from the app
  • Over exposure to inappropriate content
  • Unwanted approaches from strangers
  • Sextual content and sexting
  • The associated mental health influence of comparing yourself to others

Solutions

  • Be involved
  • Self-educate on the app (Google is incredible for this)
  • Talk with your kids at dinner
  • Express an interest
  • Share your own personal stories you have heard with them
  • No phones in rooms at night (before the age of 16 at least)

How do you get to the settings on the app? 

  • Click on the cog icon which will take you to settings, and in this section you can

What settings are the most important?

  • Add Two Factor Authentication
  • Change the settings for:
  • Who can contact your child
  • Who can view your child’s story
  • See your location
  • Who can see you in ‘Quick Add’ – basically a directory of everyone on Snapchat – turn this off
  • In this overall settings section, you will see (sadly way too tucked away) the Snapchat Safety Centre
  • In term of location, you can select Ghost mode, which means your location cannot be seen.
  • In terms of stopping abusive Snaps, kids need to report them, by pressing on the Snap and and selecting to Report, or they can select to Block the user.
  • You can also:
  • Report a safety concern
  • Pose a privacy question
  • Request help from Snapchat
  • Or clear previously stored data across history, cameos, conversations, and more

What if you cannot change the settings on your child’s device because the ship has sailed and now it’s too late and there will be a serious battle about this issue?

  • Use a monitoring solution like Bark, which may also be met with equal resistance.

For the real deal in educating teens and pre-teens relatably, there is only one choice. Student data reveals that. Check out www.mysocialife.com.

Expert on SA’s Anti-Bullying Week: “Why are South Africans cyberbullying?”

South Africa has a problem that is getting harder to fix

“How would you know if your child was being cyberbullied?” That is the chilling question that we posed during this week’s Anti-Bullying Week in South Africa. Originated by the Anti-Bullying Alliance, this year’s theme is ‘One Kind Word.’

“The reality is that a surprising number of teens, and even pre-teens, won’t share that with you, as much as 40% have admitted they don’t want to open up, because they are worried parents may get angry, or be disappointed, or cause them embarrassment. Yet, students share this with us in schools and feedback in our online safety program. So we need to deeply rethink our approach.” 

Many adults hear the term ‘bullying’ or ‘cyberbullying’ and can easily assume this is the behaviour of immature school cliques. Still, in reality, bullying is driven by power dynamics, fear, insecurity, anxiety or personal exposure to aggressive and dominant behaviour that results in harassment and the invisible erosion of self-esteem. The impact causes the victim harm and can also extend into repeated behaviours by the perpetrator later in life, directed towards a colleague, employee, spouse, or partner.

Several studies in recent years have shown South Africa has rated in the top five in the world for cyberbullying – identified as when a child causes physical or emotional harm. Online, the behaviour is peaking at the age of 13, 14 and 15 years of age. Our one-hour lesson specifically covers all forms of online abuse, such as catfishing, outing, flaming, trolling, shaming, exclusion, image-based violence, and that’s just a few of them. We dig into the topic of empathy and show the consequences which can go as far as some students committing suicide. Cyberbullying is an invisible tormentor. It hides behind screens, evading parents and teachers. Even friends can miss the signs. Low self-esteem can make kids assume they deserve to be bullied or inhibit their ability to recognise it. Tweens and teens fear retaliation and worry that speaking up will only make things worse.

The challenge is not just technological but environmental. We want to blame devices for cyberbullying, but it’s more of a tool for bullying and not a reason for it. We have to understand the anxiety and anger that sits within our society, which has been aggravated by socio-economic challenges, the isolation during the pandemic and a surge of online users that have yet to be equipped by educators. That’s why bullying in South Africa is a crisis and not just a problem. Due to the leadership vacuum in this country, financial pressure in homes, and disconnected life skills and digital education, kids are acting out online in the same way they used to act out physically. South Africa is one of the more prominent cyberbullying nations in some studies. Education departments need to realise the powerful influence of social media and games and use them intelligently, re-directing the use of devices and platforms towards positive outcomes instead of negative ones. It is possible, but we are way behind right now. There’s a generational and technological divide.

According to Legalwise, South Africa’s CyberCrimes Act “criminalises a wide variety of cybercrimes. However, examples of crimes specifically associated with cyberbullying include electronic messages or social media posts towards a person that incite or threaten that person with violence or damage to their property; and the disclosure of intimate images of an identifiable person without their consent or link an identifiable person to such an image in the description of a data message. Intimate images refer to nude images, images of a person’s private parts (even if that person is wearing clothes), or edited images where a person is identifiable. With regards to children, these cybercrimes will also form part of the Child Justice Act 75 of 2008, which regulates how children will be dealt with when they are accused of committing crimes and what consequences they will face. Imprisonment may be imposed for children between the ages of 10 and 18, but only as a last resort and for the shortest period possible.”

Our best shot lies in education. Suppose we can assume that robust values-driven leadership may not change any time soon. In that case, we only have the opportunity to show the youth the benefits of digital citizenship, empathy, communication in conflict, how to manage cyberbullying, and how to self-regulate. These skills are something every child can call on when an adult may not know what’s happening. It’s their armour. There has to be an incentive for them. Every small positive decision – every kind word – can lead to a better path in life, but someone needs to light the way. Ironically, teaching them through social media and popular culture and showing them their choices and the consequences really do work. They can relate to it. Our program has proven to have a real impact on students in acting as that beacon that shows them the fork in the road to make better choices.

We are now an ambassador for the world’s leading online safety organisation!!

We have just been announced as a Common Sense Education Ambassador for the 2021-2022 school year. Already a Certified Common Sense Teacher, the invitation to become a global Ambassador means more parents, teachers and learners in South Africa can be provided with access to the world’s leading online safety resource, helping kids to be safer and smarter in a complex digital landscape of games and pop culture apps like TikTok, Omegle and Snapchat. This comes at a time where many students are reporting hours more screen time per day, increased mental health concerns, obsessive use of games and social media, and access to age-inappropriate content.


An independent, non-profit and research-backed resource, Common Sense Media, based in San Francisco, has been a leading global source of entertainment and technology recommendations for families and schools since 2003. Every day, millions of parents and educators trust their vast library of reviews that rate apps, games, movies, and TV shows so parents can feel secure about the entertainment choices they make for their kids. Their advocacy work highlights legislation related to technology and identifies solutions that protect consumer privacy, push for better connectivity for students and families, and hold tech companies accountable to ensure a healthy internet for all. Social media once again dominated the news in October after Frances Haugen, Facebook’s whistleblower declared the social media giant’s knowledge of the harm that their platform has on teen mental health.  

“There’s a huge amount of work to do in South Africa around online safety. And we need access to the world’s best resources. Ever since we started out a few years ago, we have had so much respect for CEO, Jim Steyer, and his team at Common Sense. We even flew to meet their team in New York two years ago, and later spoke again with their Vice President in San Francisco,” says Dean McCoubrey, our founder. “We are one of the few organisations in the world that train five different audiences – teens and pre-teens, and then parents, teachers and mental health professionals. This means that we can help get the Common Sense message into South Africa, and out to both learners and the adults that guide and care for them,” he adds. 

As an ambassador, we will play a role in elevating Common Sense Education resources, providing feedback to the global organisation and supporting fellow educators as they guide students to become learners, creators and leaders in this digital age. We will complete a number of activities such as hosting two professional learning events in South Africa during the school year, showcasing the work they’ve done using Common Sense Education resources. Our training team will also be upskilled via mini-webinars and receive ongoing support from global experts.

Ambassadors receive access to exclusive information and materials, via previews of new resources and materials to share in their own training, plugging into a larger audience of teachers and students around the world, and attending global conferences.


“It’s been a huge year for us. We have been shortlisted as Startup Company of the Year at the GESS Education Awards 2021 in Dubai, which will be announced in the middle of the month. And this work with Common Sense will only deepen the expertise that we already have,” McCoubrey concluded. “We are excited about what we can do for online safety in South Africa and Africa.”

Omegle: Setting up Kids With Strangers ???

With the slogan ”Talk to Strangers!” splashed across their homepage, one should already feel dubious about the popular video-chatting website. A closer look and it only gets worse – the page offers tens of thousands of users private chatrooms with strangers worldwide, at just a click of a finger. Omegle is a website that links people up at random for virtual video and text chats. They claim to be moderated but have an ill-famed reputation for foul and unpredictable content. The site is swarming with predators, who use it to groom children and gather sexual abuse material, and it is almost a guarantee that your child will encounter sexual content.

Omegle users do not have to register or enter data, and there are no usernames or photos. Your name is ”you”, and the person you are speaking to is ”stranger”. Users open the site on a web browser, from a computer, Ipad or phone. Users can add topics to help find strangers with common interests. There are clickable options of text, video or college student chat. The website is simple and pairs users at random with people accessing the site. There are no privacy or security settings on the website, and it is not uncommon for strangers to send users their IP addresses while using the site. With 10.4 billion views of #omegle on TikTok, trends of famous app users meeting their fans have gone viral and encouraged an Omegle revival. Children go on Omegle in groups and alone, looking for excitement, but it is not harmless entertainment and presents many threats that could have severe outcomes.

The pandemic has caused people worldwide to feel isolated and seek interaction. Omegle grew from 34million visits per month in January 2020 to 65 million in January 2021. Although the site says one must be 18+ or 13+ with parental permission and supervision to use Omegle, there is no age verification. Users can simply open the site and start chatting. With no better way to gather research than experiencing Omegle, I opened the site and was paired anonymously with someone in seconds. He jumped into overwhelming flattery over text and then removed his hand from the camera to reveal himself masturbating.

Besides the obvious concerns about this, the flattery stands out, as children who suffer from low self-esteem are at a higher risk of being roped into something they otherwise would not do. Some may find innocent conversations on Omegle, but the likelihood of both parties looking for that is extremely rare. Curiously in children is only natural so telling them not to use the app is insufficient. Talk to your children about the dangers of conversing online with strangers and remind them that what happens online is never truly anonymous. Click here to see a guide on how to block Omegle.

Our ratings of Omegle:
Trending factor 7/10
Online risk factor 10/10
Safety settings availability 0/10

Article written by Ruby Koter, Cape Town, South Africa.

World Mental Health Day: How can we make “mental health care a reality for teens and tweens?”

“If Instagram is such a positive force, have we seen a golden age of teenage mental health in the last 10 years? No, we have seen escalating rates of suicide and depression amongst teenagers,” she continued. “There’s a broad swath of research that supports the idea that the usage of social media amplifies the risk of these mental health harms.” These were the words of Frances Haugen, Facebook’s whistleblower testifying during a Senate Committee this week, just a few days before World Mental Health Day.

Mental health care for all: let’s make it a reality, is a theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day celebrated on 10th October, supported by the World Health Organisation. After 20 months and three waves of a pandemic, lockdowns and school and business interruptions, the task is as daunting this year as perhaps any before it.

 

“There’s a broad swath of research that supports the idea that the usage of social media amplifies the risk of these mental health harms.” –Frances Haugen, Facebook

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) notes that nine percent of all teenage deaths are by suicide, adding that suicide is the second leading and fastest-growing cause of death among young South Africans in the 15-25 age group.

Cassey Chambers, SADAG’s Operations Director, says 90 percent of adolescents who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness – frequently, depression. While some people do have a genetic tendency towards depression, others develop it as a result of loneliness, social isolation, bullying, loss, abuse, and conflict. There are additional contributors that this generation is contending with – the increased exposure to the news at an earlier age and the tendency to ‘doomscroll’ on social media or compare their life to others.

The first detailed study of how social media affects the mental health of young users. has found that increased participation in social media networks, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp and others, is associated with increased psychological distress. With the effects almost twice as severe among girls.

We are seeing the effects of social media first-hand when we engage with teens and tweens about their online life during our 8-lesson in-school program.

“Students tell us about the pressure they feel around life online, and many agree that it can bend their character or values, leading to inappropriate or out of character behaviour,” says Dean McCoubrey, our founder – we also train parents, teachers and psychologists to help children feel safer and behave smarter online. 

 

The increased exposure to the news at an earlier age and the tendency to ‘doomscroll’ on social media or compare their life to others.

“This age group is not adequately equipped to manage the complexity of the varied risks, temptations and dangers online. When parents and teachers understand the development stages of kids and how these devices and platforms influence their neurochemistry at this vulnerable and immature stage, we can all start to grasp why this is happening,” he says. “Mental health is affected when we fail to have enough ‘in person’ contact, secondly a lack of exercise and thirdly repetitive thought patterns that are negative media exposure, known as doomscrolling. The gradual erosion of self-esteem that teens end up with, after comparing themselves to their peers highlight reels and the mental fatigue from cyberbullying or online intimidation also play a role.”

Education will have to play a bigger role in making mental health care a reality for teens and tweens. The detrimental effects of social media can be reduced by also adding in the training of parents, teachers and school counsellors. We created four programs, and not just a student program, because all the adults in the chain of care have to contribute. Not enough people understand the complexity of how humans react and respond to social media, and what the consequences are, especially because teens can keep things quite hushed.

Between 30 and 40% of teens and pre-teens say they cannot share their concerns with their parents, aligning with global data and emphasizing that schools and parents should take children’s social media experiences much more seriously.

It doesn’t help that teens and pre-teens explore the internet without the one-on-one guidance of parents or teachers, and even if filters are applied, they stumble onto content that they’re not yet able to process. 

Our program is pro-technology, which is changing the world in so many creative, entertaining, and philanthropic ways, but the fact remains that children need more digital education.

 

It doesn’t help that teens and pre-teens explore the internet without the one-on-one guidance of parents or teachers

So many kids are so ”social” and yet so many are also feeling alone – it’s the great paradox of social media. We will look back on this time, in a decade or two, and ask why we didn’t prepare our children more carefully and give them the tools to think critically and self-regulate.

World Mental Health Day gives parents and children the opportunity to start conversations about mental illness, emphasising that there is no shame in struggling with mental health while re-establishing those vital real-life connections. With 75 percent of teen suicides having spoken about their intention before proceeding, there’s a strong possibility that parents, teachers and friends that listen carefully to depressed teens may indeed be able to act in time to save a life.