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…
Is there a way we can reverse youth unemployment in this country?
In the midst of South Africa’s deep unrest, 15th July is World Youth Skills Day. Tragically, the country’s youth unemployment rate reached a new record of 32.6%, the highest since the quarterly labour force survey began in 2008, totalling 7.242 million people out of work. Employment lies at the centre of many socio-economic ills, given its capacity to fill time, provide purpose, generate income and drive greater equality. But employment can only be driven by skills training.
Africa is burdened with an additional challenge: many struggle with literacy, due to the poor delivery of basic education. So, where might hope and inspiration be found in the next decade? In our pockets.
Smart device costs continue to come down, and new manufacturers are bringing in devices at lower costs, as well as data prices slowly dropping, meaning increasing access as we move through this decade, and more opportunity to upskill via online learning on a phone, with a growing resource of training platforms which offers free training programs like Coursera, Udemy, Udacity and Khan Academy. But, explains Dean McCoubrey, Founder of MySociaLife, South Africa’s leading digital education and media literacy program, “There are many promises various governments have made about their promise of leadership in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), but how many understand the foundational digital skills required? You can’t just jump into robotics or coding, you need to understand what it is to be a digital citizen to embrace the free resources of the internet. Without it, you are driving a vehicle without a licence, or a map. How do you explore and grow safely?”
McCoubrey explains that the foundation is required in the same way previous generations were taught at length to hold a pencil and use those words they create more wisely. By contrast, increasingly, the internet is seeing spikes of misinformation and cyberbullying.
“With the basics in place of media literacy – understanding media, its power and influences, and fake news – as well as digital literacy such as privacy, cybersecurity and handling technology carefully, we can shift gear into exploration and expansion. We can find avenues of income. MySociaLife shows teens where they can learn photography for free, for example, and then show them where to sell their photos or videos,” adds McCoubrey.
Teens and pre-teens use the apps and devices so intuitively, and it’s a huge advantage. Some children are poor in school but brilliant online, which means there could be an alternative for young South Africans that could transcend the lack of quality basic education.
“We stand at a doorway to vault over other African countries, but we need guidance to know which keys will open it and prepare Generation Z for a 4IR future. We need to focus on basic digital education as well before it’s too late and we miss a glaring opportunity.”
Looking at TikTok and other social media and gaming platforms, popular culture has youth fascinated and motivated, with approximately 60% of its 1bn users globally found in the GenZ age range. We already sing, dance, shoot videos and photos, why not build on this, and start to use these skills? What if we taught them how to do it safely, intelligently and with purpose. Minecraft For Education, for example, is a way to game and code at the same time, learning a new “language”.
MySociaLife approaches the challenge by not only teaching kids foundational digital skills but also their teachers and parents on how to direct youth to opportunities and realise potential, while at the same time ensuring online safety too – “two sides of the same coin.” A South African EdTech training platform, it allows schools to simply log in and learn using eight hours of video training for learners aged 8 to 18 including subjects such as online safety, privacy, cybersecurity, digital footprint, bullying and intimidation, fake news, and ways to build skills and generate income online.
The World Economic Forum listed its top 10 skills for “The Future of Work in 2025” and these included technology monitoring, use and control, and also technology design and programming, critical thinking, social influence, reasoning and stress tolerance. “We teach many of these skills to kids in schools and they respond with such energy and enthusiasm. It’s something that ignites them.”“On World Youth Skills Day, this is a call to the government to understand both the challenges and the opportunities of media and digital literacy – and to accept how much they need to quickly grasp with regard to evolving popular culture, pre-teen and teen usage of devices simply because of the generational divide and technology divide. It could deliver a huge shift in employment, direction and momentum over time. We are completely missing this right now,” says McCoubrey.
“Even kids that are literate and have unlimited access are not fully utilising their devices and media platforms to their full potential. The outcome of digital citizenship is a more aware and responsible society because it reduces the negativity and polarity online, increases people’s ability to choose their next action, embracing the net for what it can offer – to share, to inform, to educate, to deliver income, to support, and much more. It’s apparent we would greatly benefit from this right now,” he concludes.
Schools can purchase the course and “login and learn” – using lesson plans, tips and tools and an assessment, with over 8 hours of training
Parents can access a 90-minute training to navigate their child’s online landscape
Teachers can access a 75-minute training to guide their students
Delivering an 8-module ‘Digital Citizenship Curriculum’, via webinar or Learning Management System, to Grade 4 to 11 learners in South African Schools, MySociaLife is the leading Digital Life Skills Program in the country. The Program has unmatched efficacy (data) with regards to student impact and behavioural change from the extensive modules which include: critical thinking, cyberbullying and empathy, sexuality online, a digital values system, privacy and security, mental health and resilience, and screen time addiction. End goal? Safer, smarter kids online – who will be able to explore and excel way beyond their peers as we slipstream into the highly competitive and demanding Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The COSI also notes that South African children are among those greatest at risk of cyberbullying, for establishing risky contacts online, and for putting their reputations at risk online. This is despite low levels of mobile device ownership, likely exacerbated by low levels of parental guidance and online safety education, and relatively low access to the internet, compared to the other 30 developed and developing countries reviewed in the research.
One of the platforms most popular among children and teens is TikTok, a short-form video-sharing app that lets users create and share short videos with soundtracks on any topic of their choice, that loops when it’s finished. It has approximately one billion active users worldwide, with one-third of its users being between the ages of 10 and 19, with The Verge recently highlighting that children spend an average of 80 minutes per day on the platform.
“Children love how there’s so much happening in TikTok videos – there’s sound, and action, and insights into other people’s lives – particularly appealing during the pandemic, when social interaction has been limited,” says Dean McCoubrey, founder of MySociaLife, a South African in-school Digital Life Skills Program teaching digital life skills program for schools.
“The speed of the TikTok feed appeals to kids’ love of intensity – loud music, bright lights, something new every couple of seconds – but this level of information density may lead to addiction, bullying, and impaired mental health, while the platform’s lack of restrictions on how can join and post content meaning that strangers can easily engage with children, without their parents’ knowledge, and embark on malicious relationships with them,” he adds.
This is why it’s vital that parents, teachers and counsellors find out what content the children in their care are consuming, and that they navigate each platform’s privacy and security features to ‘lock up the doors and windows of their children’s digital houses’.
“Keeping kids off online platforms is simply no longer a possibility, so the best we can do is to teach our children about choice and responsibility – two of the key themes in MySociaLife’s online, blended, and face to face programmes offered to South African schools,” he says.
McCoubrey highlights that TikTok recently launched a Family Safety Toolkit, developed in partnership with the DQ Institute, which incorporates the DQ Framework, the world’s first global standard related to digital literacy, skills, and readiness.
The toolkit offers parents a list of digital tips they can refer to when setting guidelines for their children’s TikTok use, and includes suggestions like checking the child’s tech readiness, agreeing on family tech boundaries, setting smart limits on screen time, and having regular open and honest conversations about cyber-bullying.
Discussions about privacy, risky content and contacts, sexting, disinformation, and the importance of support networks will also help children navigate their way safely around TikTok, and other social media platforms.
“Teens and pre-teens have so much more to deal with than their parents could ever have imagined, which is why it’s important to equip them with the tools they need to navigate their way around the online world,” explains McCoubrey.
“Teaching them critical thinking, understanding the impacts of cyberbullying, and empathy, along with how to adopt a healthy digital identity are all essential steps for them learning how to embrace technology and use it safely, how to explore it without fear, and even to use it as a means for good.”
Equipping teens and tweens with awareness of online issues – on TikTok and on any other digital platform – helps them respond more positively and make better choices, whether or not their parents are watching.
Notes to Editor: About MySociaLife Delivering an 8-module ‘Digital Citizenship Curriculum’, via webinar or Learning Management System, to Grade 4 to 11 learners in South African Schools, MySociaLife is the leading Digital Life Skills Program in the country. The Program has unmatched efficacy (data) with regards to student impact and behavioural change from the extensive modules which include: critical thinking, cyberbullying and empathy, sexuality online, a digital values system, privacy and security, mental health and resilience, and screen time addiction. End goal? Safer, smarter kids online – who will be able to explore and excel way beyond their peers as we slipstream into the highly competitive and demanding Fourth Industrial Revolution. Click here, www.mysocialife.com
Zigazoo is the new “TikTok” for kids. In a nutshell, it’s an education/entertainment app, which engages students in meaningful learning and problem-solving activities whilst entertaining them. It doesn’t seem so harmful, does it? But, is it safe for kids?
The terms of service (but not the app description) clearly state that Zigazoo is meant to be used with a parent, and personal data is treated as though it’s from those over 13…. however that’s just words in a contract – how is that enforced?
Investment, investors and social media apps have a long track record of chasing revenue at any cost. Why would this be different?
So, back to the question: is Zigazoo safe for kids? Well, there are no such things as safe apps. How do we know if they’re safe, or not? We need to ask questions like: How does the app guarantee it being safe? And for how long? How can it be enforced? Will parents use it with their child? How is the age proven?
And, even though it’s an age-restricted version of “TikTok”, you are still allowing your child to post videos of themselves publicly (which is a privacy issue) and you are still encouraging screentime (even though it might be “more meaningful” screentime, it’s still screentime, which comes with a cost.
We asked Dean McCoubrey, founder of MySociaLife, and this is what he said: “My view is that it’s fun and cool, and creative, but that comes at the cost of obsessing about other people’s lives / dance moves / clothes / bodies on screen, which isn’t that healthy – it directly targets the self-consciousness and need for attention of some adolescents. It eats time. And are the rewards of losing that time big enough?”
Tackling social media, mental health, apps, risks and other challenges, is difficult, especially if you don’t understand the context of this online landscape to the lengths that it stretches. However, the MySociaLife digital wellness programs make this easy for you, through four shared solutions. Let’s make things better online, with a new generation of conscious, informed critical thinkers. 🙏💥🧠
Do you know what LMIRL stands for in a WhatsApp or text? How about WTTP? Or PIR? The answers are “Let’s Meet In Real Life’ ‘Want To Trade Pictures?’ and ‘Parent in Room’.
Smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, PCs and laptops, LTE, 5G, and WiFi have meant explosive access to the internet, especially for kids, who just a decade or so earlier wouldn’t have enjoyed such exposure or reach. But as each one stepped into the world wide web, who provided them with a guide, or an understanding of the vast landscape of media, influence, opportunity and risk that comes with consuming stories? Dependent on household income, teens and pre-teens will access devices at different ages, but I would hazard that only a tiny minority are educated at ‘inception’ about what it means to be media literate and online savvy.
MySociaLife teaches digital citizenship, online safety and media literacy to almost 4000 students a year and we teach them 8 modules be delivering these modules online or in person, term-after-term, over a year (ie resulting in 32000 learners or ‘seats’). We also teach their parents, their teachers, mental health professionals and GPs in South Africa, now in the thousands. We have requests for our Program from schools in China, Australia and Canada already which are in discussion. We have started teaching large corporates simply because business leaders are concerned that their vast workforce may not be media literal digital citizens and could drag their brand into reputational harm. As Warren Buffett wisely imparted, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
For the grownups, we can feel a little less sympathy, because it is understood that adults need to self-educate if we want to take control of our lives. By the time we reach adulthood, we (ideally) grasp that the future lies in our hands. But for teens and pre-teens, we cannot hold the same expectation. Adolescence is about being educated if you are fortunate enough, but then forgetting or ignoring the lessons, and then making the mistakes enough times or failing the tests to later force absorption of the teaching and bring about change.
But what happens when our kids are not taught about life online and so do not even have the basic information and tools to manage the complexity of privacy, security, identity, sexuality, mental health, reputation on this high-speed train of transient content?
We have the answer to this question. We are frequently dumbfounded by what we hear around South Africa from teenagers who reveal the extent of the challenges within social media and other aspects of their dynamic and exciting life online. We hear of ‘sextortion’ rackets in which teens are persuaded to share naked images and then bribed for money or more pictures, we see identity theft in which a Grade 10 loses her entire account of 1450 friends, with the cybercriminal casually approaching and later threatening the student’s sister and mother. We see incidents of ‘catfishing’ in which adults pretend to be to kids to approach them, or boys pretend to be attractive young girls to try and get sexts from them. Our work in schools offers a privileged vantage point and our unique differentiator is that we are good listeners.
Armed with this knowledge of where our kids find themselves, how should we help them in the form of a solution?
Kobus van Wyk, The CEO of ADESSA (Associated Distributors of Educational Supplies in Southern Africa) proposed this to me in a recent Zoom call. He holds up a pencil and says that decades ago we were taught how to hold it between thumb and forefinger. When we hold a pencil like a lollipop it doesn’t function optimally, and normally attracts attention from others with critical comments. Van Wyk believes we need to attend to smart device and app education with similar vigour and attention from early stages in school. But, moreover, what we do with that pencil – the power of our words to help or harm – is also equally important, but less talked about.
In a world of comparison on social media, we would see a different society if we were taught to employ empathy and choose our words wisely. Digital citizenship is a multi-dimensional curriculum guiding learners to be responsible online. Media literacy has been defined as “being able to access, analyze, and evaluate information, which we receive through media. Being media literate means being able to create media messages and to use the technology tools available to us. It means being able to think critically and speak confidently.”
If you have seen any of the well-known movies like The Great Hack or The Social Dilemma on Netflix, these reveal an important truth about where we find ourselves – we are mere pawns in the attention economy, where monolithic social and technology platforms fight for our time online because time means ad placements, and that results in income and happy shareholder value. These media masters have worked out what humans want – photos, moving images, bold headlines, sensationalism – which is not that new, but the novelty lies in the algorithms that collect our data and serve us more of what we like and want, or what outrages us, to keep us online.
In these movies, their failing was that none of them delves deep enough into the impact on our impressionable kids. Media always had influence, but now it’s on another level. The Social Dilemma worked so well because it used the senior product developers of these platforms to admit to the fact that social media is not what they hoped it would b and reveal the darker side of corporate greed and competition. However, it failed to show how the tentacles that stem from this reach out and touch our kids in many ways, eroding self-esteem, exacerbating mental health challenges, and putting teenagers at risk.
In 2020 we have almost 4.5bn humans online, of which almost 4bn are on mobile devices. TikTok has had, prior to a recent ban in India, 800m monthly users, of which 40% were teenagers. That’s power. And I have to say that MySociaLife has been surprised by the dynamic activism of this generation possessing an unapologetic, vocal unwillingness to tolerate some of the irresponsible behaviour of the generations before them – climate change, #MeToo and #BLM. It’s no longer a case of “kids should be seen and not heard.” These adolescents believe that they have a right to impart their perspective and (often naive) wisdom because this planet and this multicultural diversity will indeed be theirs, and their children’s, to manage. In that event, it appears that South Africa should have done a much better job in educating our 12 million school-going learners to prepare and ready them for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. These kids are the future of work. They are our future workers.
But education hasn’t happened for a number of reasons. In some parts of the country, we cannot even get basic literacy right. We have a long way to go. Government’s mindset is to provide tablets to reach 4IR goals, and not provide foundational education in how to use the tablets for good, for change, for success. They are interested in what we teach in our Program but it’s long-winded and complicated to adopt the curriculum. We aren’t holding our breath.
It’s hard for adults to actually get it. They also consume content rather obliviously and lack the sufficient critical thinking skills expected of an older and wiser generation to question the authenticity of the text, images and captions that they are presented with. There’s no secret that many media titles and outlets lean to one side or another, to left or right, or far left or far right. In fact, a recent infographic painted a unique picture of the somewhat transparent bias within a number of the world’s most popular news outlets.
In fact, this Is arguably the first time in history that an area of popular culture is being navigated by the child and the parent at the same. Everyone is learning on the job.
So, there is only one solution and that is to get the ball rolling. Education leaders need to do a much better job of intervention. There is so much to gain through digital citizenship, media literacy, and critical thinking training simply because of the sheer volume of screen time and the diversity of touchpoints and devices which will not abate – teenagers are consuming one hour more media every year. And as they do this, the meaningful connections and moments in their lives, the key minutes and hours of face-to-face contact and sharing of values is starting to dwindle.
Digital identity, critical thinking, media literacy and fake news, privacy and cybersecurity, digital footprint and reputation, sexuality online, empathy, mind health and resilience – these are what we teach, and the students love it. This is square in their ballpark, but we reveal the corners they haven’t visited – the dark and the light, and share skills that may last them a lifetime and change the way they see technology, the internet, devices and social media. For better and for worse. It’s time for the government and education leaders to DTRT. Do The Right Thing.
We’re seen as social media and online safety experts, and we also help kids to move into exploration and excellence online. And in order to do that, we need to get them to understand what the media does to them, what impact it has on them, and what this visual world imprints into their consciousness.
This is quite profound because when you think about the life that we have on smart devices and particularly social media, we are spending so much of our day on YouTube and Netflix, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and we are scrolling all the time… we are looking at and consuming media and content through our eyes. Once it gets processed in our brain, it then gets stored in our own operating system – in our own iOS. And of course, if there is something that is either really exciting or really, really disturbing, then that, of course, can get more deeply entrenched in that iOS. It can change the perspective of the way in which we see the world.
For example, If you keep scrolling through content that has some influence about the way in which people look – that could be body shape, or it could be how wealthy they are or what clothes they have, or what privilege they have. And when you repeatedly look at that content, it shapes your view of both yourself and that type of stereotyped image or group. And yet, we all know that what you see online is not necessarily true – however, it still has a psychological effect on us.
It all started by a visual representation, which we consumed, processed and stored. And of course, if the memory isn’t a strong one, then it just gets shelved, or archived and slowly fades away. But for kids, they are a little bit more vulnerable than that. They’re in a very interesting stage of their neuro-biological development. We need to understand their increasing life online. They’re reporting that they are using YouTube and Netflix and social media channels as their news services, as the inspiration, and if that content and stimulus doesn’t have the right influence, then it’s going to change the lens through which they look at life and other people.
Now, what can we do about that? Well, we need to talk to them about it.
Are they going to get offline because of this information – in fact, is that even the goal? That’s up to the principal and the teachers during school time or break time, and the parents while at home. But one guarantee is that they will be using devices for the rest of their lives and now is the time to entrench foundational critical thinking with regards to all types of content, influence, fraud, misinformation. This isn’t fear-mongering against social media, these are just the absolute basics which have been missed. And it starts with understanding what we’re doing as human beings when we’re consuming all of this visual content.
They do need to be able to stop, to turn a device over, and to take a break, to ask questions, to be media literate, to find out whether “is this fake news? I wonder…, I mean, maybe I’ll ask some friends… or maybe I’ll ask a parent, or I’ll ask an adult, is this true?” And if the content in which they’re seeing is not making them feel good… to stop. Just something as simple as that – just stop and ask a question. “Actually, I’m not sure if this is making me feel so good”.
These are things that happen invisibly. They happen automatically, to both adults and children. It’s simply because we don’t understand that we are consuming visual stimulus, processing it, and in some cases, storing it. And if we do that repeatedly, then that starts to change the way we view things around us, and the way we see the world. And that is something which is incredibly important and worth playing for.
– Article written by our conscious parenting consultant, Merishka Megnath
It must be named that it is normal to feel overwhelmed in these unprecedented times. Overwhelm is a natural feeling in such uncertainty. There is global weathering of a pandemic that is changing our lives and these changes that are coming in thick and fast. This can surely feel disorientating in ways. Again, what is felt now, is valid. Here is an invitation to pause. To take a deep breath. To take another deep breath.
We may forget or may not even consider that an integral part of parenting is parental self-enquiry and self-care. One of the greatest gifts of parenting is developing self-compassion. Why should we not be patient and kind to ourselves, after all, that would create space for us to be compassionate to those we love in times of trigger, fear and helplessness. We are living lives of fluid familial and societal roles challenging us to look at time and energy as new currencies, new resources.
How do we generate and replenish these currencies, these resources? First, we pause and invite ourselves to take baby steps in our homelife using tools for connection and cohesion. We can then utilize a knowledge system that shares the know-how of how to establish a foundation for self-enquiry and self-care from which grows a space of being supported, resourcing ourselves as we try to support our loved ones.
Conscious parenting is an approach to child-rearing. It is based on connection as a means for co-operation and growth within the parent-child relationship. It lives within a space of present-time, individualized understanding of the child and appropriate, essential knowledge of human growth and development. From this space, both parent and child tread their respective paths of growth in a healthy, supportive and independent way. Family life becomes a dance of connection`; including missed steps, stepping on toes all whilst finding one’s own and each other’s rhythm through a deep respect for the music and harmony of Life.
In contrast, unconscious parenting relies on fear, consequence and punishment to motivate a child to co-operate. It comes from a place of ignorance based on unquestioned ideas about relationship and relating. Co-operation between parent and child is then difficult to establish and maintain. Why? Firstly, we simply don’t have holistic knowledge to guide us in parenting and secondly, we look to a child’s behaviour alone to decide the path of action. Action ends up being a reaction rather a response – unrelated and impulsive consequence, punishment. Unconscious parenting is unsustainable in creating connection and co-operation between parent and child. Many of us have subjectively experienced the insufficiency of unconscious parenting yet we keep going back to it. A parent can use the action of consequence or punishment such as a timeout or locking away a cellular phone but how many days or weeks until the action is required again, and again? More concerning is that the real issue of boundary setting has not even been touched on in an individualized connected way.
An important, foundational principle learned through one of my mentors Rebecca Thompson Hitt is that behaviour and behavioural patterns of a child is communication. It is a signal to the parent to actually look beyond it. A parent finds opportunity to grow; to develop the pause, feel into your body if triggered, use a method of regulation and then connect to the child to regulate him or her. This must happen before a child can truly learn or understand anything of benefit. Important also to note is that the parent is modelling healthy self-regulation to the child. This is part of the process of healing and growing, as opposed to using an externalized, one-size-fits-all action such punishment.
Ultimately, in looking beyond the behaviour, we learn to create the space needed to look into our inner world of thoughts and emotions so we can help others in navigating theirs. This is part of what connection means. We can then begin to carefully construct a healthy boundary for the child’s benefit. Again, receptivity and learning are only possible when a human being is regulated. Regulation and dysregulation of the nervous system forms part of the conscious parenting knowledge system and it is conveyed in a simple way so that this knowledge can be used practically within the family.
This is an invitation to raise ourselves with understanding, patience and connection. This is what allows us to parent from such a place. When we see our children as teachers too, opportunities for growth in present time appear. Relationship begins to rise beyond the taints of past fears and future anxieties. Slowly and steadily we begin to question and go beyond labels of “good”, “bad”, “obedient” and “like me”; the very labels that we misplace on our children in vain effort to find our own worth and wholeness. A worth and wholeness that is birthright to each and every human being. Mom and dad, you are whole and worthy just as you are. You always were and always will be. May your strength and capabilities for life and living rise from this deep-seated knowing!
– Article written by our conscious parenting consultant, Merishka Megnath
More time online, less education, a problem for SA’s teens
Safer Internet Day is being celebrated in South Africa on Tuesday, February 9th, with the theme of bringing various stakeholders ‘Together For A Better Internet’. Humanity is at its most advanced point of access to smart technology, data, games, apps and social media platforms, which has accelerated many industries – like eCommerce, e-learning and streaming entertainment – by three to five years. But with so much additional time in lockdown, and out of schools, due to the pandemic, there remains a gaping hole in digital education to guide and protect kids online, some of whom are using devices for many more hours than they were a year ago.
South Africa’s leading Digital Life Skills expert, Dean McCoubrey from MySociaLife, questions whether education is doing all that it can.
He says, “Together for a better internet can be achievable if government and regulators work together with platforms to educate and protect children. But this is not even happening in most developed countries. The power of social platforms, and the failure to educate in digital citizenship, has placed the responsibility solely in the lap of parents, teachers, students, counsellors and mental health professionals to understand the extent of what children have to cope with and manage online, exacerbated by COVID-19. “Technology’s growth will not relent. Kids are using the internet more than ever before, so we will need to understand what they’re engaging with to support them.”
According to the App Annie Sate of Mobile Report 2021, casual games dominate downloads with the popularity of easy-to-use names like Among Us, ROBLOX and My Talking Tom Friends. Mobile gaming is on track to surpass $120 billion in consumer spending in 2021 — capturing 1.5x of the market compared to all other gaming platforms combined. Social media app, TikTok, with over 1.6bn downloads and 800m monthly active users sees over 1 billion video views per day.
McCoubrey believes in the power of technology and the positive benefits it can bring to our children’s digital potential, but he remarks that this can largely only be achieved when we provide them with an honest, relatable and balanced view of the prizes and pitfalls which exist in their life online. “We can show children more doors of opportunity after showing them how to become safer and smarter kids online. It leads to learning new skills, exploration and then excellence. It’s an opportunity for Africa to embrace digital literacy early.”
He adds, “For adults right now there is an overwhelming workload, as well as financial and health pressure at this time, but we will have to take ownership of the fact that we expect learners to navigate these complex devices and social media platforms, without providing them with a guide to navigate the content – and their emotional responses. It’s IQ meets EQ in a digital realm: DQ, or digital quotient.”
MySociaLife is an online life skills and digital citizenship program which operates in South African schools and provides an 8-module digital curriculum for Grade 4 to 11 students. The subjects covered include critical thinking, cyberbullying, digital identity, privacy, security, digital footprint (reputation), sexuality online and digital potential. The video is taught in schools via logging into a web-based learning management system (LMS) or also by instructors via webinars to students anywhere in the country.
McCoubrey adds that some of the schools he works with asked their students which of the 8 modules of the MySociaLIfe program they would first choose during lockdown, and 31% of the 265 respondents said mental health would be their first choice, while maintaining focus and attention would be their second preference at 22%, accounting for more than 50% of all feedback. “A lot is going on in kids’ lives, they are missing human interaction and engagement, and are exposed to a stream of negative news – understandably many choose to escape inside social media and games.”
Kids look incredibly competent online when they are using these devices and these platforms. But we can forget that, as human beings, we hide certain aspects of emotional distress, confusion, concern, or fear and anxiety, to avoid embarrassment because we experience shame or feel anxious and insecure.
“This makes it incredibly difficult for educators and parents to deduce if something a child has experienced online is indeed troubling them. That is why we need to equip these kids with coping tools and critical thinking skills to first avoid some of these risks. And secondly, to be able to apply coping and management skills to navigate this complexity, which includes communicating with parents. Safer Internet Day is incredibly important to raise awareness of what needs to be done to protect our kids. However, to truly achieve that goal, we have to accept that making the internet a better place can only be achieved in shared responsibility between our learners, our parents, our students, our mental health professionals, and of course, social media platforms, regulators and government. We have to be realistic that the latter will take time. In other words, it’s up to us – it takes a village to raise a child,” he concludes.
Too much information? Can there be such a thing? Well, the answer happens to be: Yes and No. In fact, information overload is starting to become a huge issue, and it affects our children.
In essence, information overload happens when your child perceives more information than they can process. Our minds are not bottomless and there’s always a risk that too much information can hurt your child’s brain.
The thing is that our cognitive processing capacity has its limits. In other words, when we get overloaded with information, our decision-making ability is compromised. If your child is overstimulated with info, they may end up making poor choices in their daily lives.
The whole concept of information overload has been around for ages. There were complaints about the issue, especially during the renaissance and the period of the industrial revolution.
In this generation, parents have an increased responsibility toward their children to define what information actually is and teach them how to defend themselves against things like false information and information overload.
Teaching your Child “Online Self-Defence” for Information Overload As parents and teachers, it’s essential to teach your child the right values to help them circumvent the danger of information overload online.
Here are some tips for helping your youngster ditch info overload:
Clear the Mind It’s important that we teach our children (and ourselves) to clear their minds from time to time. Getting stuck in a cycle of information can be extremely draining. Things that can help with this conscious action include meditating and deep breathing exercises for letting go of unnecessary mind clutter. 
Stay Focussed and Limit Distractions The younger generation tends to become a little distracted. That’s why we, as parents and teachers, need to step in and teach them to keep their focus on one thing at a time. A good idea is to teach a child to finish a project or, for instance, a specific online search before tackling a new task. To-do lists can also help your child keep their priorities organized. 
If we are completely honest, multi-tasking has become somewhat of a go-to approach in our busy world. It also affects our kids as they learn from the ways in which we do things. One of the best things you can do for your child is to show them how to get things done by remaining completely focused on one task at a time.
Take Breaks and Keep Nourished Children can easily get stuck behind their laptops, tablets, or even smartphones for hours on end. They could end up getting so distracted that they forget to eat. When our bodies run low on fuel, we get drained and if your child navigates the online space on an empty tummy it can lead to trouble. 
Scheduled Time Online As a parent or teacher, you might be familiar with the concept of teaching good values from an early age. The best possible scenario is teaching your child to schedule their online time. If they can manage to stick to only going online at planned times, they are much less likely to be draw into practicing unhealthy online behaviour.
Allow Your Youngster to Daydream How many of our children still daydream? Sadly enough, daydreaming is something that seems to have been forgotten by so many. It’s a good idea to encourage daydreaming as even scientific studies show that interacting with your own thoughts can improve the working of the brain. 
Simpler Times may Hold the Answers to Modern Problems Don’t you think it’s time to let our kids balance digital fun with some play-in-the-mud, run-around-on-the-playground fun? Remember when we were young? Though it may seem a little boring to them at first, your child will grow to love it.
You might be surprised at how your children respond to more conventional ways of having fun and gaining knowledge. The foundation they tend to lack from jumping over way too many hurdles to reach an ultimate goal might get better grounded. The result? A happier child who has a new-found appreciation for life with a new-found appreciation for different forms of playtime.
(This article is written by Mariska Ten Dam, content manager and writer specialising in health and wellness)
References: 1. Akin, L. (1998). Information Overload and Children: A Survey of Texas Elementary School Students. SLMQ Online: School Library Media Quarterly Online, 1, 11. 2. López Gamarra, M. E. (2018). Teaching mindfulness in the EFL classroom. The benefits of meditation and mindful breathing for adolescents. 3. Schrager, S., & Sadowski, E. (2016). Getting more done: strategies to increase scholarly productivity. Journal of graduate medical education, 8(1), 10-13.Ghk 4. Cryer, P. E., Fisher, J. N., & Shamoon, H. (1994). Hypoglycemia. Diabetes care, 17(7),734-755. 5. Naidu, I., Priya, A. J., & Devi, G. (2018). The hidden benefits of daydreaming. Drug Invention Today, 10(11).
A global pandemic, lockdown, fluctuating COVID-19 cases, political corruption, and global instability that includes espionage by cell phone manufacturers and social media companies. The news is largely bad news.
“The trend of doomscrolling has never been higher than in 2020. The intersection of a health and financial crisis, the introspection of a lockdown, and increased screen time means that we have more access to local and international doom and gloom than ever before in history,” explains South Africa’s digital and social media expert, Dean McCoubrey from MySociaLife.
Can his claim be substantiated? If the pandemic had occurred a decade ago in 2010, the news surrounding the crisis would have been limited to just 2bn internet users. According to Statista, in 2020, there are now over 4.5bn users online with almost 4bn using social media and likely accessing news via the portable smart device in their bag or back pocket.
“When things go bad we can find out about it immediately due to social media feeds. They are spontaneous. Traditional news was never this quick. Moreover, the news that’s spreads online is not always factual,” he adds.
Despite some of the frightening and concerning things that are happening in the world, there are also many developments and reasons for positivity, especially being in the most advanced technology point in history. “Consider the development of the vaccine in which there are more than a few trials in advancing phases. If we saw a daily news report that opened on the latest development of the vaccine, would we see things slightly differently – with a little more hope?” he explains.
Negative news fuels fear and divisiveness as is now seen in politically unstable, or even apparently stable, countries like the United States.
“Consuming depressing or dramatic content affirms our belief that things are unsafe or dangerous. In one sense it makes us feel safe to confirm that the world is unsafe.”
McCoubrey questions if we didn’t consume as much negative media which include fake news, and are purposely driven to send more content of the same theme via its divisive algorithms, would we see people feeling less stress fear and anxiety?
“Would COVID-19 have been more manageable? (included space)Not less severe, but more manageable. Let me be clear that the news cycle has undoubtedly saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives, but there is definitely the fallout of an infodemic. In schools, the number one lesson that our students asked for in our digital life orientation program last month – out of the eight modules which we offer – was mental health, and the second most requested lesson was tools to help focus. With teens having similar access to adults via social media their brains are not necessarily equipped to process or manage this flood of information, even if they appear technologically confident and competent.”
“Due to app penetration, hundreds of millions of teens are now their own media publishers on apps like TikTok, Instagram and Reels. Fake news posing as memes can just perpetuate, as many teens lack the critical thinking to ask enough questions about what is true or false, safe or dangerous. It’s all about understanding media and it’s influence – known as media literacy.”
Doomscrolling is the fuel that feeds the new ‘attention economy’. It keeps us coming back for more, either the need to feel safe or the need to be thrilled and be part of the conversation. That has always been the lure of news. But right now there’s more bad news, more introspection, and more access all rolled into one.
“Parents need to be conscious of what they are consuming, how their news consumption rubs off on their anxiety and how that impacts their kids. Teens openly share that it’s too much, and the adults need to play a larger role in the management of doom,” he continues.
Mccoubrey cites three important biases to consider when consuming the news:
Negativity bias:This is where we focus on negative information, events or emotions more than their positive counterparts. This originally would have been used to keep us alert and therefore safe. But the same perils do not exist that used to hundreds of years ago. We are wired for caution more than may be required.
Confirmation bias:If we have been exposed to a piece of information, often we can seekq to confirm that ‘fact’ by seeking supporting information, stories or data, despite conflicting stories which may not prove it to be conclusive.
Availability bias: If we have been exposed to certain information or events, these are more ‘front and centre’ in our minds for a period of time, and we can overestimate their importance. They may have relevance, in some instances, but they could also be a snapshot of a moment in the news – and are not representative of the bigger picture in a country or city, for example.
“Yes, things are tough right now and there is no arguing they can be scary. But if we keep that flow of negative news coming in we will focus on that, and it’s hard to start seeing the positive aspects in every day. Ironically, that’s one way out. Take a break from the media and social media. You’ll be amazed by what happens, and it’s what the MySociaLife Program teaches teens and pre-teens in South African schools: how to navigate this complicated online landscape to be become safer, smarter and more savvy. This may be just as important as any other topic in school these days, given where we are headed in this decade,” McCoubrey concludes.
Expert: Our kids are “doomscrolling”, and feeling the effects online