MySociaLife

Instagram Tips For Parents

Instagram Tips Dean McCoubrey

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. Here you’ll find the top Instagram tips for parents.

First, if you missed the interview on radio, start here.

Second, start here, released in Q1 of 2022, it’s the latest update on Instagram’s family centre

If you’re looking for a slower explainer, start here with our overview:

What parents need to know about Instagram

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’re 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 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. 

Instagram features

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. 

Finstas

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 are 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? Reels came out a long time after TikTok. While it has enjoyed more success than many imagined, ultimately, the first-mover advantage that TikTok gained has been retained with reels, doing its very best to try and catch up. Take a look here if you need to understand Reels.

So, where does this leave parents?

Top Instagram tips for 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 what are the opportunities from there? Take a look here.
  • 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 out FYI Play It Safe here.

Conclusion

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. 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 at MySociaLife do that for schools, parents, teachers and students. Email us at info@mysocialife.com to ask for our products and pricing.

2022 Recap: The most important conversations with your teens this year

With 2022 finally coming to an end, it’s time to ask yourself and your kids — what the heck happened? From wars broadcasted online and trials filled with fake news to harmful figures banned on social media and massive milestones for the human population — there’s been a lot to process this year.

But how much of it did you discuss with your children? And how well are they processing and understanding the events of the past year? It’s time to find out.

So while your children are caught up in their Spotify Wrap-Up for the year, it might also be a good time for you to review the biggest events from this year and see if you’ve had the most important conversations with children for 2022.

Why these conversations with your children are essential

In the world today, teens and tweens are exposed to so much due to the online world. And as much as you can try, you’ll never be able to fully control what they are exposed to — whether they’re shown things online by their friends or they find a way around your controls. So what can you do? Well, you can’t stop them from seeing things, but you can help them process and understand them better so they can respond appropriately.

To do this, you need to have these important conversations, as well as, an open stream of communication so that they feel safe to come to you if they are struggling to understand something. This is the key to equipping your children with the tools they need to be safer and smarter online.

The most important conversations with your children for 2022

Here are some of the top stories for 2022 — stories that your children heard about and likely followed, stories that possibly even influenced or affected your children without you knowing about it.

While each of these stories may seem irrelevant to your children’s lives, there are some really important lessons embedded in them that can help your child better navigate the online world.

Here are the top conversations of 2022 and why they’re important:

Ukraine War

What happened:

In February, Russia invade Ukraine leading to a violent war, mass destruction and civilian casualties — all of which were being broadcasted live on TikTok for everyone to see in real time.

Why it’s important to talk about:

  • Not only is social media a dangerous news source, but platforms like TikTok are riddled with both misinformation and disinformation
  • This is why critically discussing the news around the Ukraine War is vital so that teens learn how to question their news sources
  • Because children struggle to separate fact from fantasy, exposure to this extreme can affect the well-being of more sensitive children.

Johnny Depp trial

What happened:

The televised Johnny Depp and Amber Heard defamation trial was completely overwhelmed by the media, fake news, users on social platforms, and even opportunistic political groups who took advantage of the media coverage to spread misinformation.

Why it’s important to talk about:

  • It was interesting to see the rabid response of the media and our society to the personal lives of two actors  — what does this say about our society?
  • Enormous amounts of fake news circulated social media, confirmation bias was prevalent, and memes of clips taken out of context were used as weapons — it was so easy to be influenced by the fake news surrounding the case.
  • With the case concerning extremely sensitive and personal issues such as domestic violence and abuse, the media had a dehumanising effect, promoting a lack of empathy in users online and making people forget that the people involved were human beings too.

The Will Smith Oscar slap

What happened:

At the 94th Academy Awards, after presenter Chris Rock made a sensitive joke about Jada Pinkett Smith, husband Will Smith walked on stage and slapped Chris Rock live on air, resulting in a divided audience and a 10-year Oscars ban to Will Smith’s name.

Why it’s important to talk about:

  • After videos immediately circulated on social media and became an instant viral hit, destroying Will Smith’s career in a moment.
  • While a lot of people, especially boys, defended Smith by arguing that he was defending his wife’s honour and his own, there were more people who deemed his behaviour inappropriate, disrespectful and outrageous.
  • Whether you’re at the Oscars or on the school field, violence and acting on impulse is never the answer. There are always better ways to respond.
  • Smith’s consequences are enough to show why managing your emotions and maintaining respect is essential — one split decision can ruin your life.

It’s time to BeReal

What happened:

BeReal exploded onto the social media scene, becoming one of the most popular apps among teens and tweens. 

Why it’s important to talk about:

  • BeReal claims to be a ‘healthy’ social platform with the aim to create a space where people could foster genuine interactions online — is it successful?
  • Its popularity indicates that perhaps teens are finally looking for a new and authentic digital social experience and are tired of the sensationalized and toxic environment found in other social apps such as Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok.
  • But while BeReal claims to be a danger-free zone for teens and tweens, there are still some potential dangers that are worth investigating and discussing.

The banning of Andrew Tate and Kanye

What happened:

On two separate occasions, both Andrew Tate and Kayne were cancelled this year and banned from all social media platforms for spreading harmful messages and hate speech to their massive following.

Why it’s important to talk about:

  • After talking with some of the Grade 7 students we work with, it became very clear that they were very much exposed to the dangerous messages shared by the self-proclaimed misogynist, Andrew Tate, and the antisemitic hate speech spread by Kanye on social media.
  • Children seem to be divided about whether or not the messages they are sharing are actually harmful.
  • This is another important lesson about being very careful about what you share on social media, as well as the messages sent to you by the people you follow.

Elon Musk buys Twitter

What happened:

Recently, Elon Musk bought Twitter and immediately started changing the way Twitter works (and who works at Twitter) to focus more on making a profit.

Why it’s important to talk about:

  • A lot of notable figures left Twitter immediately or soon after Musk acquired it, knowing the parameters of the platform would change, and possibly not for the better.
  • With the focus shifting toward a money-making business, the platform will start serving the investors more than the users, removing structures that helped make it a safe and trusted space for teens and tweens.

Need help having these conversations with your teens?

Let’s be honest — having these conversations can be tricky. Especially with the technological and generational divide that makes it very difficult to understand what is happening in the lives of teens and tweens today. Plus, we all know how easily they switch off when they think you’ve gone into lecture mode. So now that you know which important conversations you need to have, how can you do it successfully?

That’s where MySociaLife comes in! With the help of our partnered experts and our GenZ team, we’re able to combine insight with experience of what it’s like to be a teen today. We go into schools and help parents and students have these tricky but important conversations, equipping the former with understanding and tools and the latter with the digital life skills they need to navigate these complex situations.

And we keep it extra relevant with our new program, OneLife — the world’s first social media current affairs video show in high schools. Stay up to date with the most important conversations of 2023 by signing up for OneLife today! Click here to find out more.

MySociaLife Launches a World-First Social Media Current Affairs Program in Schools – OneLife

OneLife - social media current affairs show for teens

Kids on social media are getting younger while the content they’re exposed to is getting wider and harder to control. Reports indicate that a third of children aged 7-9, and half of tweens aged 10-12, use social media despite the 13+ age restriction on most social media platforms.

While we’ll never be able to stop children from being social on games and apps, this exposure is costing them their mental health, attention, and focus, planting dangerous seeds in their brains that are either too difficult to uproot or too difficult to process. This often leads them to become secretive, causing feelings of shame and guilt — the results of a harmful snowball effect that never ends.

What is preventing us from solving this critical problem?

Currently, there’s no relatable teaching that bridges the generational divide — there’s a gap in education that MySociaLife, an Edtech digital citizenship, social media literacy, and online safety program, plans to fill. Parents, teachers, counsellors, and principals, most of whom are +35 years old, are unable to understand the new and complex landscape of those under 18. Even if they believe that they’re cool technologically adept enough to be in touch with what their children are experiencing, it’s simply impossible to understand a generational language because they’ve lived in a different influential environment. 

There is potential for there to be a current affairs show that actually relatably attends to all the different issues teens, pre-teens, and even children now face due to their presence online, including sextortion, cybersecurity, sexuality online, privacy, critical thinking, and more. This is where OneLife comes in — a one-of-a-kind web show that presents fresh, regular, and relevant content in a language that students understand, offering the experience of experts and creators that have grown up in the same world as the students and are especially well versed in teaching important life skills.

Our founder, Dean McCoubrey, says, “OneLife is essentially not just a life skills coach but a digital life coach for the new generation that bridges the generational divide using the mechanisms of a current affairs show.” 

The solution: OneLife

OneLife will take place as a 22-minute show with 6 mini news segments, such as Outrageous Untruths, Hacked Off, Explore and Excel, that can either be played by teachers during class or on students’ own devices, perfect for grades 7-11. Each episode comes with its own lesson plan and discussion points at specific points to guide teachers.

This differs from our other 8-module life skills program. Instead of 8 hours of lessons, OneLife delivers one 22-minute lesson with relevant discussions each month. Not only is this web show more accessible, and available on students’ own devices across the world, but it offers regular positive reinforcement of these essential digital life skills that are fundamentally relevant to the world our children grow up in.

Join the new age of teen education by bridging the generational divide and equipping the youth with the digital life skills relevant to the new and complex technological landscape that they are growing up in. Click here to learn more about OneLife!

5 Digital Resources to Help Teens Navigate Puberty

Let’s be honest — going through puberty is never fun. And for most parents and teachers, neither is trying to talk to teens about it.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It can be a transformative and empowering stage for teens. They just need a little reminder that they’re not alone — and neither are you. We’re here to help!

Why teens need some extra help during puberty

A lot of things are happening in a teen’s body that they don’t understand and often don’t even think are normal. Our bodies are all different, so what happens to one teen, might not happen the same way or same time as another. But most teens only know about the happenings of puberty comparatively through their peers. So how are teens supposed to know that their changes are normal and can actually be pretty cool?

Puberty is filled with feelings of confusion, embarrassment, awkwardness, shame. The problem — no one is talking about it openly and transparently. If no one talks about it, teens then think that it’s something that they shouldn’t talk about, or even ask questions about.

What can adults do to help teens navigate puberty?

So how can we help teens to navigate this tricky period and ease feelings of confusion and shame? Simple — we talk about. But sometimes we don’t have the words or they’re not ready to talk about it. So we can at least give them the best resources they need to navigate it on their own until you’re both ready to open up. With the technology we have today, there are some incredible digital resources that equip teens with the information they need to get understand, manage, and conquer puberty.

We’ve rounded up some of the best digital resources out there that guide teens through puberty (I honestly wish I had these when I was a teenager). Check them out!

Top 5 digital resources to help teens navigate puberty

Oomla and the Puberty Portal

Oomla and Puberty Portal Resources for Teens

Oomla was launched in 2020 with the mission of flipping puberty into a positive experience for everyone, as well as making it extra comfy for teens. They aim to bridge the information gap and provide answers to the tricky and uncomfortable questions both adults and teens have.

Here are the useful and effective tools Oomla offers:

  • Puberty Portal

The go-to hotspot for teens to get answers about everything puberty related with the message, “Body changes are normal, we help make them understandable.” From skincare, periods, and hair everywhere to real stories, moods, and mental health — you’ll find educated, appropriate, and positive answers here.

  • Puberty Podcast (for Adults)

Oomla founders, Dr Cara Natterson and Vanessa Kroll Bennett, shine a light on all the messy and uncomfortable and necessary aspects of raising teens through puberty. By sharing scientific research, parenting strategies, and hilarious stories, parents, guardians, and teachers can gain actionable advice on how to guide teens through this interesting time.

  • Oombras and Oomshorts

This one is less a tool and more one more way to ease the uncomfortable times of puberty. After noticing the massive gap in the market for comfy, stylish, and practical training bras and sleeping shorts (for all genders), they decided to make their own, called Oombras and Oomshorts!

The Trevor Project

The Trevor Project Resources for Teens

Quality information on puberty is scarce. Quality information for LGBTQ+ teens is almost non-existent — that’s where The Trevor Project comes in. The Trevor Project provides information and support to LGBTQ+ teens and young adults — 24/7, all year round. The Trevor Project is the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ+) young people.

This is not only an invaluable resource for teens but also an invaluable resource for parents who want to educate themselves and support their teens as best as they can.

The Trevor Project offers a range of tools for teens, parents, and teachers:

  • Resource Center

Find articles, handbooks, guides, and more on topics covering sexual orientation, mental health, gender identity, community, suicide prevention, and diversity catered for teens and young adults

  • Support

As one of their main efforts to prevent suicide, The Trevor Project offers trained counsellors who understand the challenges that LGBTQ+ young people face, providing 24-hour support. Whether it’s through text message, phone call, or chat — they are there to give teens immediate crisis support that’s 100% confidential and 100% free for any struggling teens needing help but not sure how to ask for it.

  • Community

For many LGBTQ+ teens, finding a community of people who understand and celebrate their identities. TrevorSpace is is an affirming, online community for LGBTQ young people between the ages of 13-24 years old. Teens can find an understanding community, to explore their identity, or a safe, secure, and supportive space to speak to someone who understands. There’s also a team of moderators and AI-technology to ensure it remains a safe space for all where teens can be themselves.

AMAZE

Amaze.org Puberty Resources for Teens

Looking to find resources that take the awkward out of sex ed? AMAZE is your answer! Here you’ll find honest and educational information in fun, animated videos that give teens all the answers they actually want to know about sex, their bodies, and relationships.

Most famous for its educational YouTube channel, AMAZE combines the expertise of master sexuality educators, the creativity of animation professionals, the input of young people, and the power of the internet to create:

  • FOR TEENS: Engaging, educational, age-appropriate and often humorous sex education videos
  • FOR PARENTS: Educational resources to guide parents and guardians on how to better communicate with their teens on sex and sexuality
  • FOR TEACHERS: Toolkits, lesson plans, and other resources to help educators and healthcare providers

AMAZE also offers, amaze jr. which is basically a parent’s go-to guide for when little kids have big questions.

Luna

Luna App for Teens

Luna is an app designed specifically for teenage girls where they can learn, read, and ask about all things teen health and wellbeing. It gives teen girls a safe space where they can safely explore topics around puberty that aren’t always taught or spoken about enough.

Built by a community of young medical professionals and teens across the UK, this is a resource you and your teens can trust. Using articles, videos, and experiences, teen girls can explore a variety of topics from mental health, female health, and sex & sexual health to periods & hormones, body positivity, and relationships. Teens also have the opportunity to ask luna anything and receive answers from one of luna’s medical community.

While the app isn’t available just yet, it’s coming soon. Until it’s released, you can join the waitlist, become a luminary for early access, or check out their Instagram for relevant info, news, advice, motivation, and updates. 

Big mouth & Sex Education

Big Mouth Puberty Resources for Teens

If you’re looking for some fun, yet insightful edutainment, Big Mouth and Sex Education are two TV shows that can be a surprisingly good educational tool for teens. We’d definitely recommend these TV for older teens, as there is mature content.

Big Mouth

Big Mouth follows a group of 7th graders as they navigate the uncomfortable and awkward struggles of puberty, guided by a group of Hormone Monsters and other fantasy characters. While it’s mainly a TV show, it’s still effective at passing along some insightful advice on puberty that’s enjoyable and engaging for older teens.

Sex Education

Sex Education is not afraid to bear it all. While it does present a very open and unfiltered view of sex, sexuality, and sex ed, it also does an incredible job at giving teens an honest and down-to-earth view of the changes teens experience during puberty. The show asks and answers the questions that no one dares to ask but teens want the answers to. It normalizes all bodies, showing teens that their bodies are normal and natural. The characters discuss important topics such as sexuality, gender, sexual assault, contraception, and more. It also shows gives teens a balanced view of sex — presenting the dangers but also the pleasures that are often ignored. On top of it all, you also witness normal teens going through everyday struggles that all teens can relate to.

All in all, even if you watch these shows with your teens, they can be a great opportunity to start conversations and open the door to trusted communication about these important topics.

Conclusion

Using these digital resources, parents and teachers can better equip teens with the tools, information, and skills they need to navigate puberty successfully. By lessening the discomfort, awkwardness, confusion, and shame that often come with puberty, we can rather focus on the exciting and transformational side of puberty where teens grow into themselves and form their own identities.

Teens need to know that puberty is weird, bodies are weird — but it’s all normal. And it’s our job to show them that.

At MySociaLife, we equip teens with the digital life skills they need to be safer and smarter online, also showing them how they explore and excel in the digital world. We tackle challenges such as mental health, cyberbullying, sexuality online, digital identity, privacy, and more! Check out our student programs to help teens navigate the online world!

How to Protect Your Children From Online Gaming Fraud

Online gaming fraud is real — and children and teens are at the most risk!

MySociaLife founder, Dean McCoubrey, recently did an interview unpacking the recent increase in children falling victim to online gaming fraud and what parents can do about it. He details everything you need to know to protect your child and ensure their games stay a safe and fun space for them to explore.

You can read the complete interview here!

1. What are the dangers of letting your children game unsupervised?

Many adults (who don’t game) see it as child’s play, a space where teens and pre-teens spend their time. They also overlook that girls are increasingly keen gamers too. However, they fail to see the extent of adult players and the sheer size of the e-sports industry.

For this reason, children who game unsupervised are roaming these spaces among adults with various motivations — some gamers just want to game, while others want to make contact, ask for images, verbally abuse, or defraud.

When we understand the diversity of users on social media and games and consider why they might be on the platform, we can immediately be more security conscious. 

2. Why are more children falling victim to gaming fraud?

The pandemic saw more people stuck indoors or at home and an increase in screen time. This drew more people to online entertainment and escapism during a tough time around the world. In addition, younger children have been accessing games and social media — the barriers came down a little, to some degree.

These factors mean that, yes, more children (teens and pre-teens) are experiencing more online safety issues, not just fraud, than pre-pandemic. Education hasn’t caught up with the tools to inform learners of the wide array of risks and safety tools that need to be employed.

That’s what we do at MySociaLife — we teach 8 lessons in schools to kids aged 8-17 to be safer and smarter online. 

3. What are the most common ways in which children fall victim to online gaming fraud? 

Gamers are attracted to mods, skins, weapons, and tokens to improve their gameplay. It’s more interesting, it’s cooler, and it’s more powerful for the gamer which makes it an attractive proposition.

Fraudsters use the clickbait of an amazing offer to get you to click and buy something, leaving the game and sharing your bank card details. Or adding a username and password to a website that looks slick but is really just a ‘front’ to trick you into revealing your valuable password — one that might also open your other accounts like social media. 

If the fraudster takes over your gaming or social accounts, you can then be bribed to get them back, or they can damage your reputation by using the account to post negative content while still in your name. 

4. Tips to prevent children from falling victim to online gaming fraud

  1. Don’t click on links in emails that get sent to you. Spam has become very good at looking real. It’s hard to detect so exercise hyper caution as a standard. 
  2. Whatever you download could have malware (updates, games, etc.), so be sure you know the source. This will require a number of tests and checks. Not just looking at how the email looks or who it’s from. Only use official websites and not third-party websites when buying or downloading. 
  3. If the offer looks too good to be true, it likely isn’t! It’s clickbait! 
  4. Use a robust password of at least 12 characters with numbers and punctuation, but don’t make it easy. 
  5. Use Two Factor Authentication (2FA) to protect your account. No one should get into your account unless they go through secure gateways — one on a console and one on your phone, for example. 
  6. You mostly don’t know who you’re playing with despite what name they use or the avatar on screen. You need to see if the player is indeed someone who is a child on screen, matched to a voice, and then consistently check that the person aligns with your expectations as a gaming partner for your child (swearing, kindness, etc). In addition, persuading kids to share details or passwords while playing games with them, having built their trust, is a tactic to gain access to gamer accounts. 
  7. Use the safety settings offered by the game and work through them slowly. Google the settings if you don’t know how to find them or set them up. Someone will have prepared a settings guide already. 
  8. For young kids, chat is not a good option. They should only play the game and enjoy it on those merits ideally, as they are not equipped to recognize the online safety risks. 

Conclusion

Beyond fraud, issues like cyberbullying are real and can be just as harmful, although not financially. Privacy and how much data or info you are sharing are equally important — or you can be targeted with content or offers that may be inappropriate, or accounts are created which impersonate you based on how much info you share in public. 

[Article written by Havana Dauncey]

Are Predators Approaching Children on Roblox?

What Parents Need to Know

Child predators… Sex rooms… Gang rape? These have been some of the terrifying reports coming from parents about one of the most popular games among children — Roblox. Surely not, this is Digital Lego, to some extent, right?

63%, more than half, of Roblox users are under the age of 16, 25% are under the age of 9, and 55% of children aged 9-12 in the USA play Roblox each week. Clearly, Roblox is a force to be reckoned with. It’s a pretty amazing game… but only if you know how to use it.

So how we do allow our children to excel and explore Roblox, but also keep them safe from the very-real dangers online? Well, first, you have to know what Roblox is and how it works.

What is Roblox

First things first — Roblox isn’t necessarily a video game. Rather it’s a platform that hosts games — over 40 million games to be exact. More significantly, all the games are created by users. It was released back in 2006 to create a space where people can come play games, build games, and connect with friends. 

Like Minecraft, users create an avatar and enter an immersive multi-player world where they can explore and interact with other users. It’s become the go-to after-school hang-out spot for a lot of children and teens who join their friends in this digital world and play games together.

While Roblox is entirely free to download and play, it can be quite limiting unless you have Robux, the in-game purchased currency. By loading real money onto your account, you can use these Robux to buy accessories, clothes, and gear for your avatar, special abilities, bonus in-game content, as well as access to some user-created games.

This opportunity to spend also comes with the opportunity to make money. You can either trade your Robux or, if you create your game and make it has a Robux entrance fee, you can earn money from users playing your game. Then you can trade your Robux for real bucks.

Most popular games on Roblox at the moment:

  • Adopt Me!: In a Sims-like world, you can live as an adoptive parent or an adopted child, taking care of everyday needs — additionally, the new collectable pets have made it incredibly popular
  • Royale High: Experience high school as a supernatural noble where you have to balance your social life and your grades.
  • Brookhaven RP: A townscape where users can play any role they like and create a life for themselves with their own house and their own car.
  • MeepCity: Build and manage your own estate, basically a virtual business like a pizza place, school, or dance club, where other users can spend Robux to enjoy your estate.
  • Tower of Hell: This obstacle course, or “obby” as they’re known in Roblox, is known as one of the most challenging games in Roblox where you have to make your way up a challenging tower.

But what can be Roblox’s most popular game can also be its most dangerous.

Child predators on Roblox

As unfortunate as it is — where there are children, there are also child predators. What is the ultimate playground for children on one side also has a dark underbelly where sexual predators find their prey on the other.

There have been multiple reports around the world of children being targeted by predators and with inappropriate content around the world. One such report was of a 12-year-old being sent explicit messages and threatened outside of the game. Others include children stumbling into sex rooms, getting lured and locked inside rooms, being virtually gang raped, getting contacted by strangers, and herded onto other, more dangerous, apps and sites, and even kidnapping in real life.

The problem is that Roblox is essentially an open world — and most children are sent out into this world, free to explore and lacking the skills needed to stay safe, as they would need in the real world. If anything, it’s even more important online – It can take as little as two minutes for children to be approached online by a predator.

You might be thinking — when a child gets locked in a room with a predator, can’t they just turn it off, it’s not real? And yes, they can turn it off. But with the blending of our digital and IRL identities, especially with teens and children, they struggle to separate the fact that it is happening to their avatar, not to them — they still feel the emotional trauma from these situations.

What is Roblox doing about the situation?

Well, Roblox has responded to these reports by actively trying to remove dangers for children on their platform. But despite their best efforts — you cut off one head and ten grow back. Predators are finding more and more loopholes, and even if you report these tragic events to officials, they are so hard to trace that they just disappear and move on.

That’s why the best thing we can do as parents, teachers, and protectors of this young generation is to equip them with the skills to avoid, block, and report this behavior themselves so that they know what to do if a situation like this arises.

Other dangers for children on Roblox

One of the main problems that present serious dangers for children on Roblox is the chat feature. Like most multiplayer online games, you can chat with other users — friends, friends of friends, or complete strangers, depending on your chat settings.

By allowing communication with strangers, and even friends, online, you’re essentially opening a doorway for them to enter your home, your safe space. This unlocks an entirely new space for dangers in online games:

  • Exposure to inappropriate content: Despite Roblox’s chat filters, users still find ways to send explicit and inappropriate content through the chat filter, as well as behave inappropriately within the games themselves.
  • Information sharing: Children can be coerced to share private and personal information with strangers which could put their safety at risk.
  • Cyberbullying: Even among friends, children are faced with an overwhelming amount of cyberbullying through Roblox which infiltrates their social life IRL.
  • “ODers”: Also known as “online daters,” Roblox is flooded with users who use the platform entirely as an online dating app, forming digital relationships which can get quite explicit for children to stumble upon — if children aren’t honest about their age, they can also easily find themselves in one of these relationships if they’re not careful.
  • Robux: As with most things, currency is the driving force of Roblox, and children can firstly feel pressured to spend their own money to gain more Robux or be enticed to do certain things in exchange for Robux.

Roblox privacy settings and parental controls

So, with all these dangers creeping around, what controls has Roblox put in place to combat them?

  • Chat and content filters: Roblox has built-on AI filters that prescreen the chat and content to ensure there isn’t any inappropriate or explicit content.
  • Age restriction: While there is no official age restriction or age verification system, as a parent, you can set their age on the app where children under 13 have stricter chat filters, like blocking phone numbers that are sent in the chat.
  • Friend and chat settings: You can restrict your friend list by following only those who you know and limiting who can contact you — friends, friends of friends, or strangers.
  • Activity history: You can view chat histories, recent purchases or trades, friends/followers, creations, and recently play games.
  • Parental PIN: Parents can set a PIN that prevents children from changing the settings parents have put in place for safety.

Are these enough to make Roblox a safe and fun place for all? Clearly not. Children are very determined, resourceful, and probably know the game a lot better than you. If they really want to, nothing is stopping them from getting around any safety restriction you put on them. So what can you really do to protect your child on Roblox?

Tips for parents to keep their children safe on Roblox

The one thing you should avoid is policing. No matter how many passwords, restrictions, or outright bans, children will always find a way through a back door. The best thing that you can do to protect your children — have an open and trusting child-parent relationship.

What’s worse than your child experiencing one of these traumatic events is them experiencing it and not telling you. Most children are afraid to tell their parents when something bad happens. They fear getting into trouble, getting punished, or worse, facing disappointment and shame. You want your child to feel as if they can trust that you will respond in the way that they need you to respond, not the way you want to.

Banning the game also doesn’t help them in the long run. It means that they never learn these essential skills they need to avoid situations like this in the future, in the real world where they can’t just turn it off and you’re not there to protect them. Rather, teaching them how to deal with these situations empowers them and equips them with everything they need to be smart, safe, and explore online, not just on Roblox.

Teach them how to:

  • Block strangers
  • Maintain safe privacy settings
  • Report inappropriate content
  • Avoid high-risk situations
  • Speak up when something goes wrong

Conclusion

You can also see Roblox as an opportunity for your child to excel online. It’s an incredible place to develop digital skills such as coding, game-building, and business. Take Roblox and turn it into a positive and productive form of play — you never know, may you have a coding protogé on your hands.

“Roblox can be amazing. But like anything online, it also has adults wandering around exercising their voyeurism or fetish or having fun. It’s just that kids don’t fully understand this,” says Dean McCoubrey, MySociaLife founder.

While Roblox definitely presents real and harmful dangers to your children, if you set it up correctly, equip your children with the skills they need, and encourage them to explore their online talents, Roblox can be a pretty incredible place for children and teens online.

Want to find other ways your child can explore and excel online while being safe and smart? Check out what MySociaLife has to offer you, your child, and your school.

– Written by Havana Dauncey

BeReal Review: Everything Parents Need to Know About the Popular Teen Social App

New App Alert! BeReal is currently the fastest-growing app on both the charts and among teens. So what does this mean for us? Well, whether you’re a parent, teacher, or principal, you’re going to need the 411 on the latest social media app spreading like wildfire among teens and be aware of any potential dangers that might arise for your children and students

So what is BeReal, is it so different from other social media platforms as the creators claim, and why is it catching millions of teens’ attention all over the world?

Here’s your ultimate BeReal review and guide for parents, principals, and teachers — let’s dive in!

What is BeReal?

BeReal co-founder, Alexis Barreyat’s vision for the app was to create a space where people could foster genuine interactions online. And, unlike other social apps, connect with friends and family online.

Despite hitting the market back in 2020, BeReal only started to pick up some traction at the beginning of 2022. Now it’s heading into hyperdrive with a 29,200% increase in daily active users since 2021 with 2.93 million active users.

Declared GenZ’s favorite social media app, but also the most boring (in a good way), BeReal indicates that maybe teens are looking for a new and authentic digital social experience. They’re tired of the sensationalized and toxic environment found in other social apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok.

How does BeReal work?

Unlike other social platforms, BeReal has a rather restricted and unique structure. It all starts with a notification saying, “It’s time to BeReal”

At a random time each day, changing one day to the next, everyone in the same timezone receives a notification that it’s time to be real. When this happens, users have 2 minutes to take a photo of what they are doing in that instant — both back and front camera. All photos are unfiltered, unedited, and unscripted.

Within the 2 minutes, you can retake the photo as many times as you’d like. Though if you miss the 2-minute timer or you’re perhaps not near your phone or your phone is switched off, then your BeReal will be tagged as late for everyone to see. Your friends can also see how many times you retook your photo.

You can choose to publish your BeReal privately, for only your friends, or publicly for all BeReal users around the world to see. Only once you’ve published your BeReal for the day are you able to see the other on-the-spot selfies on both your private and public feeds. You can also react to your friends’ BeReals with a comment or a ‘RealMoji’ which is basically you taking a selfie with a face to match an emoji.

You can delete your BeReal, but only once a day. And before you do, you have to fill out a form specifying your reason with options ranging from “I don’t like my BeReal” to “Inappropriate content.” You also get a neat photo album of all your BeReals to reminisce — visible to only you.

BeReal has been carefully crafted to avoid the pitfalls of other social media apps that make them so dangerous and toxic to teens and even adults. So how exactly is BeReal so different from the rest? Why are teens starting to gravitate towards it and away from the other social apps?

What makes BeReal different?

  • It’s friends, not followers: Instead of having different numbers for your followers and following, an easy point of comparison for teens, BeReal takes an approach similar to Facebook where you add friends with a mutual friend request.
  • Follower count or the number of likes doesn’t matter: Teens can’t spend hours comparing and obsessing over followers and likes if both them and nobody else can see them — in fact, teens are preferring smaller and more exclusive friend circles on BeReal
  • No more filters, edited images, or videos: Because your BeReal has to be taken on the spot through the BeReal app, it’s practically impossible to post anything that has been filtered or edited, only your true and authentic self.
  • Significant social pressure to play by the rules: Even if you post 5 minutes late, your friends will notice, and a lot of teens are criticizing those late posters, claiming they aren’t ‘being real.’
  • Encouragement from peers to be authentic and vulnerable: Different from the hyper-edited and glamourized Instagram, teens on BeReal celebrate seeing the real and genuine you — the more honest, the better.
  • Little to no room to engage with strangers: Because there’s no private messaging function, as long as your account is private, there aren’t many ways that strangers can contact you or you could accidentally contact strangers.
  • You can’t get sucked in for hours: BeReal happens only once a day, and after 10 minutes of scrolling through your friends’ posts until you’re bored, there’s not much more you can do — there’s no algorithm designed to suck you in for hours at a time.

What are the privacy settings?

In the spirit of ‘being real,’ BeReal doesn’t have many privacy settings or parental controls:

  • Private account: When you create your BeReal account, it’s automatically private and ensures that only your chosen friends can see your content.
  • Location: All your BeReals are automatically geotagged, which means that your friends (and strangers, if your post is on the Discover Page) can see the exact location of your BeReal the second you take it — you have to manually go switch off the location setting.
  • Reporting: You can report any content that you find inappropriate.
  • 13+ age restriction: BeReal asks each user their year of birth when signing up to ensure they are above the age restriction, but this is easily thwarted by determined tweens and children.

What are the potential dangers?

While BeReal’s privacy settings and parental controls are very limited compared to other social apps, maybe it’s because it’s designed in a way that you don’t need endless measures to protect teens from harm. But no app is completely innocent — let’s find out what dangers lie in the BeReal app for teens.

  • Public posts: If your teen decides to post publicly on the Discover Page, anyone around the world can see whatever content they post.
  • Information sharing: Not only is your location dangerous to share, but by posting every day, people may start to know your routine, like where you are at certain times during the day.
  • Sharing your surroundings: Because BeReal uses both the front and back camera, if you aren’t very aware of your surroundings, you may share something that you don’t want others to see.
  • Inappropriate content: Despite BeReal’s trusted content filter and reporting feature, there’s still a chance that inappropriate content could slip through.
  • Phone attachment: Teens want to be ready for when it’s time to BeReal with the fear of being late, meaning they might want their phones on them at all times.
  • Social implications: If a teen’s friend request isn’t accepted or they see that all their friends are together by the BeReal or location, and they weren’t invited, this could hurt their social identity.

BeReal review: Our final verdict for teens

BeReal has certainly given a convincing solution for a healthy and safe social media platform for teens to enjoy and explore. But that doesn’t mean that it’s immune to dangers on the internet.

We love the intention behind BeReal — a response to the current toxicity out there on social media with the aim of restoring social media’s fun, safe, and social environment. And we believe they did a pretty good job. However, it’s our responsibility as parents, teachers, and principals to guide teens to avoid any potential dangers and ensure it remains a fun, safe, and social environment for everyone.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Talk to teens about the importance of remaining private online and the dangers of posting publicly.
  • Teach them how to discern which friends to include in their exclusive circle.
  • Ensure their location is switched off.
  • Show them how to report any content they find inappropriate.
  • Advise teens to be aware of their surroundings
  • Remind them that BeReal is still just a social media app, it’s not the end of the world if they post late, it does not define their social identity, and connecting with friends IRL is still so much better.

BeReal is still considerably new. So while it’s currently one of the better social media apps for teens, it’s important to keep a close eye on how it grows and develops. It’s hard to say exactly how it will affect teens in the long run. But we hope that BeReal continues to be real itself and remains a fun, safe, and social space for teens online. Need help guiding teens on how to be safer and smarter online? Check out MySociaLife’s world-class programs on digital citizenship, media literacy, and online safety for students, parents, teachers, and counselors.

[Written by Havana Dauncey]

Why TikTok Isn’t All That Bad and How Teens Can Actually Use TikTok for Good

Unpopular opinion among parents, teachers, and professionals in the digital safety industry: TikTok isn’t all that bad for teens.

Since TikTok first blew up during the pandemic, completely consuming teens, pre-teens, and even children and adults alike, parents, teachers, and the digital safety industry have set off the alarm bells. They’ve headed a pretty firm warning about the effects of TikTok and social media and the reasons why it’s not safe for teens. 

Maybe they have point — TikTok has been shown to negatively affect adolescents’ mental health. But maybe there’s more beneath TikTok’s surface that parents aren’t willing to explore. Well, teens are! And we’re here to guide the way for teens to explore and excel online.

5 ways teens can use TikTok for good:

Here are 5 fun, productive, and positive ways teens can use TikTok:

1. Find a creative outlet

TikTok was originally created for users to make fun, interesting, and creative videos. While it’s become distorted since then, the potential for TikTok to be used as it was originally intended remains. Similar to how Instagram promotes amazing photography, TikTok presents the perfect playground for those interested in videography to play, create, explore, and excel.

Some of the videos on TikTok are crazy impressive and require insane talent. There’s a corner of TikTok that’s positively promoting this kind of content that encourages creativity and develops teens’ skills. And it’s not limited to videography. Teens are showcasing their singing, art, design, musical instruments, make-up art, filmmaking, cake decorating and so much more. TikTok has become a hub for talented teens to explore and share their passions with the world.

One teen with some serious talent taking advantage of TikTok’s platform is Maya (@mayas_artwork). She uses TikTok to post her hyper-realistic artwork of adorable animals, tranquil bouquets, and even some pop culture icons from the show Stranger Things. She even found a way to make some money through commissions. Now that’s a smart teen using TikTok to do good things.

2. Start your own business

Many teens and young adults are taking their talents and passions and turning them into profits and careers using TikTok. And watching others fulfil their dreams on TikTok is inspiring even more teens to do the same.

With its massive audience and impressive engagement, TikTok has become the center of social media marketing. Teens are seeing this potential and are using TikTok to promote their business, generate leads, and make sales. This not only sets them up for the next stage in their life but teaches them invaluable life skills about business, growth, hard work, and success.

Gen Z digital creator, Joshua Heldsinger, is doing just this! He says, “Social media has always been a marketing tool. It’s not a place to fool around… it’s a place where you can build your brand. With the power of your phone and internet connection, you can travel the world and do what you want!” Click here to see how he uses TikTok to build his brand in a creative and engaging way.

3. Learn how to market other businesses

TikTok is no longer a luxury, but rather a necessity for any business looking to thrive. Many businesses from every industry, big or small, are jumping on the bandwagon. Many haven’t yet mastered the art of TikTok… but many teens have. Teens have a deep understanding of TikTok’s nuance and can potentially take what they’ve learned from hours of scrolling and engaging with the content and turn it into something productive and positive.

Teens are starting digital marketing agencies where they take on the marketing of businesses and help them boom on TikTok. With so many businesses trying to explore the wonderful world of TikTok, there’s a huge demand for experts to guide the way. And many teens are perfect for the job!

Kelsie (@sociallykels) is a 23-year-old social media marketer with over 350k followers on TikTok. She’s taken what she’s learned from being a user of social media and turned it into a thriving business as a social media marketer and content creator!

4. Gain awareness of the world

Teens get exposed to a wide range of content on TikTok — the good and the bad. Social media, especially TikTok, has been instrumental in the spreading of awareness of important topics such as mental health, sexuality, equality, racism, disabilities, and more — all from people having a platform to share their stories first-hand.

This not only exposes teens to perspectives they never would have encountered before but can be incredibly powerful at encouraging empathy. Teens learn to empathize with people they’ve never met. This teaches them important life skills, as well as educates them on important world issues.

Many young adults are stepping forward to share their stories with the world. One such young TikToker is Chloé Hayden (@chloeshayden) who uses her platform to share her experience with autism and ADHD. She not only helps with destigmatization but helps both teens and adults gain awareness about autism and ADHD.

5. Have a good laugh

What draws over 1 billion users to TikTok monthly? Most people are just looking for a quick escape and a good laugh to bring some brightness to their day in a world that can sometimes be a bit too intense. Relying on TikTok for a source of escape can be a slippery slope — we’ve all seen how quickly 5 minutes can slip into 5 hours in the TikTok blackhole.

But with some screentime limits and a carefully curated feed, teens can still get some great entertainment often with content that’s educational, clever, or simply just adorable. Watching cute animal videos has even been proven to have some real positive effects on the brain and emotions.

Khaby Lame (@khaby.lame) has officially taken the top spot with the most followers on TikTok. How did he do this? Entertain the masses with his hilarious yet simple videos without even saying a word. His bio says it all — “If u wanna laugh u r in the right place.” This 22-year-old Senegalese sensation knows what people want and knows how to give it to them.

TikTok’s nature does raise some valid concerns for parents — TikTok addiction, cyberbullying, the effects of the Ukraine War on TikTok, the sexualization of teens, the impact on teens’ mental health, and the viral trend to go viral at all costs. But this doesn’t mean that this is all TikTok can be. If you teach your children good and healthy social media habits, like curating feeds with good content, screentime limits, reporting inappropriate content, good privacy setting practices, critical thinking, and the importance of fact-checking, TikTok can hold a world of opportunities for your teen to grow, explore, and excel online.

Learn more on our website about how we, at MySociaLife, teach and encourage teens and pre-teens to make the digital world their own, being safer and smarter online.

[Article written by Havana Dauncey]

What the Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard Trial Can Teach Us About Fake News and the Media

– Written by Havana Dauncey.


Have your social media feeds been flooded with replays and parodies of the Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard trial for the last 2 months? Or has your newsfeed been overflowing with all the expert opinions and juicy insider details? Well, with it being the largest celebrity trial since OJ Simpson, it’s been pretty impossible to miss, whether you wanted to or not.

With almost 84k hours of the trial watched on YouTube, this cultural phenomenon has taken the world by storm. It’s completely overwhelmed arguably much more important issues, such as the Ukraine war.

While we aren’t particularly concerned with the details and outcome of the trial, what has captured our attention is rather the rabid response of the media to the Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard trial. More importantly, we’re interested in what this case can teach us and our children about the relationship between fake news and the media. This is an essential lesson for any teen and pre-teen online.

So let’s dive in and see what we can uncover!

The role of the media in the trial

While the media’s role in the jury’s decision is still debated, its role in the public view of the trial is undeniable. Like the viewers, the media chose sides and crafted their narratives to suit their side, often resorting to fake news and misinformation. The lines were quite clear: 

  • Social media and the general public tended towards team Johnny
  • Reputable news sources and published professionals leaned towards team Amber

There was not much room to sit in the middle. And it was particularly fascinating to see the tools used in the media to fight for each side. 

For example, hashtags played a large role. The hashtag #JusticeForJohnnyDepp amassed over 21 billion views on TikTok, while #JusticeForAmberHeard only gained just over 100 million. Other hashtags like #AmberHeardIsAPsychopath and #JusticeForAllWomen were also used by respective sides to fight their battle.

Another big propagator on social media was the use of memes, TikTok trends, and parodies. It was mostly targeted against Amber Heard, with re-enactments mocking her testimony, rhyming parodies of her words, and body language ‘experts’ sharing their ‘qualified’ opinion on whether Amber was lying or not. Even Saturday Night Live had a go at it.

Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard

But where Amber Heard was villainized on social media, Johnny Depp was deemed a hero. When Amber smirked, it was sarcastic and cruel, but when Johnny did the same, it was deemed witty and light-hearted. Social media focused on his child-like sweet tooth and innocent doodles but saw Amber furiously ‘pretending’ to write notes. Amber’s team of lawyers was mocked for every slip-up while Johnny’s team was celebrated for every small victory. The bias of social media was very clearly in Johnny’s favor.

However, you could say the opposite for published articles from reputable news sources in which the majority took the politically correct route of siding with Amber in the wake of the MeToo movement. Many saw this trial as representing the entire MeToo movement, rather than looking at the unique and individual context of the trial. Shocking clickbait headlines related to the trial were used to draw in readers and boost numbers.

Even more, this trial saw political groups taking advantage of the media coverage to push their agenda and gain attention from the masses by spreading fake news and misinformation.

For example, according to VICE, the Daily Wire, a notoriously conservative website founded by Ben Shapiro, spent tens of thousands of dollars on biased anti-Amber promotions on Instagram and Facebook. Additionally, members of both the feminist movement and men’s rights movement also took advantage of this trial to justify their opposing causes. This throws political propaganda into the mix as well.

What does this mean for the everyday person?

It means that people’s opinions and even what they believed as fact were heavily dependent on where they got their news and which media they were exposed to.

This trial showed that rational-thinking adults could be easily manipulated to believe fake news. Now imagine the effect of social media and other instances of media manipulation on young teens and children who are yet to learn how to distinguish between fact and fantasy.

In short, there didn’t seem to be much objectivity and sound evidence in the media surrounding the trial, holding both sides with equal weight and critically assessing both arguments. This resulted in an overwhelming amount of examples of fake news and misinformation.

Examples of fake news from the trial

Instances of fake news surrounding the Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard trial ranged from baseless claims to outright absurdities. You’ll find that the common denominator is a lack of sound evidence.

Here are some examples of actual stories from both social media and the news that made headlines during the trial and why we consider them fake news:

  • A video circulated on TikTok of a woman at Johnny Depp’s Lone Ranger movie premiere in 2013 who looked like Amber Heard’s lawyer, Elaine Bredehoft, claiming she took the job of Amber’s lawyer to be close to Johnny because she was a fan.
    • Despite getting over 11 million views on TikTok, there’s no evidence that the woman in the video is Elaine Bredehoft, nor is it clear that they even look alike with the poor quality of the video.
  • Another video on Youtube was posted claiming that Amber Heard’s other lawyer, Benjamin Rottenborn quit mid-trial, fuelling headlines.
    • There was no evidence of this claim, the video didn’t even try to support the claim, and Benjamin Rottenborn remained in court for the entire trial.
  • Social media users claimed that Amber Heard was copying Johnny Depp’s court outfits to troll and play mind games with him.
    • There’s no evidence for the claim, nor is it possible to assume Amber’s intention for her outfit choices.
  • A video circulated on TikTok claiming that Amber Heard posed for a photo while blowing her nose during her testimony.
    • There’s no evidence of any photo being taken, and by watching the video, it’s clear that while blowing her nose, the screen in front of her lit up with an image, appearing as a ‘flash’, causing her to pause and look at the screen.
  • Another rumor on social media claimed that Amber Heard stole lines from the movie, The Talented Mr. Ripley, during her testimony.
    • There’s no evidence of this, and if you compare the two videos, it’s clear that Amber did not say the lines word for word, as the rumor claimed.
  • TikTok users speculated on romance rumors between Johnny Depp and his lawyer, Camille Vasquez.
    • There was no evidence of this claim, and Camille has since debunked the rumors.
  • Post-trial, clickbait headlines claimed that Johnny Depp branded his daughter, Lily-Rose Depp, as cunning and seemingly called her out for her silence during the trial through his latest artwork.
    • Only if you read to the bottom of the article, do you see that this is not the case at all.

These are just a fraction of the endless rumors that caught wind during and after the trial. As you can see, with just a bit of critical thinking, some search for sound evidence, and checking of sources, these rumors are easily debunked.

What we can learn about fake news

So with all that being said, how does this relate to our children’s experience online and what can we learn about fake news?

Well, it appears that facts have become opinions and opinions have become facts. This completely blurs the line between what’s real and what’s not, making it incredibly difficult for both teens and adults to discern the truth online.

This trial was also another example of how people online will spread disinformation to gain media attention. Users of social media, YouTube, and Twitch noticed the attention that anti-Amber content received and jumped on the bandwagon. Even news articles found ways to capitalize on the attention with clickbait headlines. This shows how some people online will come up with an outrageous claim with little evidence and regard for the consequences of their claim all to gain likes and grow their accounts. It can be very easy for followers and fans of these accounts to believe these stories, especially teens who may look up to them.

What’s confirmation bias?

This trial also highlighted a prevalent cause of fake news — confirmation bias. This is when people take in content or evidence and spin it to support their bias, belief, or agenda. Confirmation bias was littered across social media and the news throughout the trial, coming from both sides. It shows that unless you critically assess the motivations and arguments of a source, it’s very easy to be manipulated by the stories that fall into the confirmation bias trap.

Lastly, and most heartbreakingly, the fake news and trial by social media had a dehumanizing effect that promoted a lack of empathy among users online. Despite the trial surrounding very serious, emotional, and personal topics such as domestic violence and abuse, many users saw the people in this trial as objects they could mock and use for entertainment and personal gain, disregarding the human beings and their lives that they might be destroying. This lack of empathy can spread almost as fast as the rumors and embed itself in the young minds of social media users.

How can we use this trial to teach children about the dangers of fake news?

It’s clear that, if left unchecked, fake news and disinformation can be incredibly harmful to not only the people involved but to our children’s ideas and attitudes about the world. So how can we empower them to not be manipulated by fake news and the media?

Here are some things you can do:

  • Show them how to check their sources and their sources’ sources.
  • Teach them how to tell the difference between trustworthy, reputable sources and sources, like social media, where anyone can post anything regardless of its validity.
  • Teach them critical thinking skills so that they can discern fact from falsehood by themselves.
  • Teach them about confirmation bias and how it appears in the media.
  • Show them how to report misinformation on social media and how to avoid spreading misinformation online.
  • Remind them that the people mocked online are still human beings and should be respected.

While the Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard trial brought out the worst of the media, hopefully, we can still take something positive from it. We can use it as a reminder to make our children aware of the fake news and misinformation floating around social media and the news. We can also use it as a learning tool to teach them the skills to overcome fake news so that they can be safer and smarter online

With the potential of an appeal, both this trial and the fight against fake news are far from over. So let’s keep fighting for our children’s safety online — click here to find out more about digital safety for teens and pre-teens.

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

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?

Social media filters — 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.

[Written by Havana Dauncey]