MySociaLife

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.

Ukraine war on TikTok

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.

How does this influence news on the Ukraine war?

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.

Which one is worse?

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.

How to guide your children to the light side of TikTok

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.

Conclusion

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 Minecraft.

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.

Need a digital citizenship program for your schools? Check out our student programs at MySociaLife!

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 the sexualization of teens on social media mean for our children?

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.

Equip your teen with the digital life skills that need with our student programs at MySociaLife.

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)?

Bitmojis

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’re 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 photos or videos, 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. Social media filters have been found to have harmful effects on teens’ mental health.

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

What has been perhaps equally popular is 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. However, these streaks often come to represent the state of the friendship, sending teens to great lengths to protect their Snap Streaks out of fear of damaging friendships.

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 with either a random stranger or 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

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 to 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 the same risks. Assess your child based on 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.

Snapchat settings guide

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 (like you’re doing right now!)
  • 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 find a selection of settings for you to monitor and adjust to protect your child online

What settings are the most important?

Snapchat settings guide
  • 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 terms 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 selecting 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 MySociaLife for current necessary programs that every teen and tween needs to see to be safer and smarter online.

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.” 


Cyberbullying in South Africa

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 challenges of cyberbullying in SA

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.”

What can we do?

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 guaranteed that your child will encounter sexual content.

How does Omegle work?

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 for 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.

What does this mean for our children?

The pandemic has caused people worldwide to feel isolated and seek interaction. Omegle grew from 34 million 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.

Mental Health and Social Media

 
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.

How to help teens manage their mental health

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.”

The role of education

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.

Conclusion

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. 

World Teachers’ Day: Our new program is here to “teach the teachers” about technology, social media, and digital potential

The rise of e-learning means educators need to upskill on digital risks while inspiring students to reach their ‘digital potential’

Today is World Teachers’ Day, and MySociaLife’s new program to ‘teach the teachers‘ about the latest challenges and opportunities of a life spent increasingly online, has just launched. 

The best course for teachers this World Teachers’ Day

The 75-minute online course uses a web-based ‘log in and learn’ approach to reveal what’s happening regarding social media, apps, trends, cybersecurity, scams, mental health, and essential privacy settings. From this foundation, they can approach their students with a greater understanding and deeper interest to find what excites them in the digital space.

Dean McCoubrey, our founder, explains, “We know the majority of teens and pre-teens are online more, so how are we guiding them to look behind the right doors with that screen time? While social media, apps and games are entertaining, there are also amazing websites, apps and resources to help educate, inspire, and, even make money from. It’s evident that there is a skills gap in our country already. We have to start earlier to mentor students in finding multiple interests in this rapidly evolving world of technology. Some of these students will only enter higher education in the middle of this decade and then graduate into the workplace in 2030. Jobs will be fiercely contested and relevant skills will be central. It’s a little like retirement, the earlier you start and the better the guidance, the returns will be greater.”

“By teaching the teachers, we can help them guide their students to other ways of using smart devices that may open doors for them, ones which can lead to a love of photography or programming or analytics. If you take the amount of time spent online by GenZ and borrow just 10% of it per day and direct it towards a passion or hobby, you can generate fresh momentum. It can also help with mental health too, given the deeper purpose that students find,” McCoubrey adds.

Tough times

However, most teachers do not feel equipped to deal with the diverse aspects of a digital social life, and it can feel like it’s a vast online landscape to understand, while others admit to being overwhelmed during an uncertain and difficult 18 months. They need training that is concise and relatable, given the pressures.

Accessibility 

The program seeks to first explain the different dimensions of life online for students between Grades 4 to 6 and also Grades 7 to 11 – the latest trends, social apps, gaming, cyberbullying, fake news, privacy and security issues. Increased screen time can also mean increased risk so you have to know what’s in front of you as a teacher first, so you can navigate the space with these age groups.

Our founder says, “Having taught this exact module myself in schools for several years and now moving teach it online, I am so delighted to make this accessible, not just to teachers in South Africa, but to other African countries. We have received interest from Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya for our program. The simplicity of our learning management system (LMS) means that educators can first download a lesson plan, plus a teacher pack of tips and tools before they watch the six instructional videos. It’s all about simplicity and accessibility.”

The vantage point of listening 

Our programs approach the education of digital risk and digital potential using a four-prong approach of teaching students, their teachers, their parents and psychologists, the first on the continent to do so, giving them a unique vantage point of listening to all groups and helping to bridge the technological divide. The approach has seen us shortlisted this month as ‘StartUp Company of the Year’ at the GESS Awards in Dubai, with winners to be announced on November 15th. 

Ironically e-learning, with all its benefits, has also increased the need for foundational digital citizenship skills. We have seen a real increase in attention from schools this year. They have come to the realisation that e-learning, social media, gaming and smart devices are not going away. They are also more nervous about the reputational damage that can hit their schools if they don’t take a more active role. The only solution is to bring together the adults and the students in a more united approach to the challenges and the opportunities of this evolving space. 

From there, we can point students in the direction of their passions, so they can develop skills beyond their peers. You cannot see that path unless someone lights up the way.

Yik Yak Is Back: What You Need To Know

The infamous Yik Yak has resurfaced on the apple app store after a four-year hiatus. The once-popular app took its tumble after being blamed for cyberbullying, hate speech, and threats of violence. This time, Yik Yak has pledged to keep its users safe.

What is Yik Yak?

Yik Yak is a location-based anonymous social media app. The app was founded in 2013 by Furman University students Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington. It soared to popularity among colleges, universities, and schools. Users could view threads within a five-mile radius of their location. These posts were upvoted or downvoted, with the most popular rising to the top. The app reached its peak in 2014, racking up around 1.8 million downloads, but met a plummeting decline and ignoble end by 2017 after being delisted from Google Play Charts.

A change for the better?

Both the users and the business itself were the cause of the decline. The users utilized the anonymity of the app – bullying and hate speech were rife. At a point, Yik Yak was compelled to block middle and high school users when in-app harrying poured into real life. Menaces of bombing and gun violence caused some schools to go into lockdown in 2014. Yik Yak shared details of students who posted these threats with the police, some of whom faced criminal charges and arrests.

The company lacked action and responsiveness in resisting these behaviors, failing to implement proactive steps to remove harmful content and improve user experience. The eventual destructive in-app changes removed anonymity by creating usernames and handles, which led people to stop posting almost overnight.

An MIT media lab study compared Yik Yak to Twitter. Its findings showed that posts on the anonymous platform were only somewhat more likely to include vulgar words, with a difference of less than 1%. So what was it about Yik Yak that made the harassment so disturbing? Many have noticed the app’s hyper locality, knowing that the hateful content was not from a stranger in a basement somewhere but instead, from the same classrooms and dining halls where the students were.

Has Yik Yak changed?

The newly vamped company says it is taking a strong stance against hate speech and bullying, with a new one-strike policy set up. “If someone bullies another person, uses hate speech, makes a threat, or in any way seriously violates the Community Guardrails or Terms of Service, they can be immediately banned from Yik Yak. One strike, and you’re out.” They have also created mental health and stay-safe resources.

The development rights for the app were purchased from Square in February 2021 by new owners, who are currently unidentified. “We’re bringing Yik Yak back because we believe the global community deserves a place to be authentic, a place to be equal, and a place to connect with people nearby,” stated the website.

The new app is exclusively available to American IOS users for download, but the company says it soon intends to extend to more devices and countries. Students seek to express themselves where they feel heard. The anonymity of Yik Yak allows students to feel “safe” and free of judgment. The encouragement to be “authentic and anonymous” in an online space could prompt people to say or do things they usually would not.

Is Yik Yak still dangerous?

The promise of anonymity is misleading – personal information may spill via another person, which could be enough for a waiting predator. Upholding the guidelines is dependent on the users, meaning that banned topics could easily be seen by many before being removed. It’s important to remember that nothing posted online is truly anonymous, and threats of violence are a legal offensive in most places.

Yik Yak’s anonymous structure and interaction with nearby strangers may impose danger, specifically towards children. So the revival of the app has us wondering: Will Yik Yak be safer the second time around?

It’s unlikely. Do your due diligence before allowing this and similar anonymous chat apps into the suite of socializing channels that make their way onto your child’s phone or tablet…

– Article by Ruby Koter