MySociaLife

Digital Life Skills company introduces video training for kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wondering how to keep your kids safe and smart online?

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

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

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

Listen to the interview HERE

How to limit kids’ screen time during lockdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.mysocialife.com

Instagram: @MysocialifeSA

Facebook: @MysocialifeSA

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

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

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

Right now adults and kids need to think Critically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How DSG, Grahamstown, Gained Valuable Digital Life Skills

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

DSG girls have completed their digital      citizenship training with MySociaLife.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: It was very thorough and comprehensive.

Q4) What impressed you most about the MySociaLife program?

A: The appeal of the MSL programme is multidimensional:

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

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

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

Q6) Would you recommend MySociaLife to other schools?

A: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The TikTok #skullbreaker challenge is dangerous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safer Internet Day empowers youth to make smarter online decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Twitter, Instagram and Facebook: @MySociaLifeSA

Children’s Mental Health Week 2020

One in every ten children between the ages of five and 17 suffers from a psychiatric disorder, with these illnesses likely to persist into adulthood,  Children’s Mental Health Week from 3 to 9 February 2020 calls on parents and teachers to help children to identify the causes and manage these illnesses. However, many parents and teachers, even doctors and psychologists are feeling lost at sea by the technological divide.

Dean McCoubrey, founder of MySociaLife, a South African in-school Digital Life Skills Program teaching digital life skills program for schools, says that young South Africans are particularly vulnerable to mental health issues caused by the country’s complex socio-economic environment, but there are a number of reasons why mental health can be impacted by online activity and social media usage. As if the instability and risk in the country isn’t enough to manage in traditional media, it is amplified by social feeds and instant message – the always on nature of phones and virality of social networks places this exposure in the paths of teens and pre-teens through a diversity of devices – phones, tablets, computers, consoles.

“Although smartphones are relatively recent developments, there is already research linking social media use in children to depression and there are a number of ways smart devices and social media can affect children and adults,” McCoubrey says. “This includes obsessive overuse, disconnection from real-world relationships, anxiety about what we have seen or experienced online, self-esteem and body issues from over exposure and comparison.

The most common mental illnesses found among tweens and teens include depression, generalised anxiety disorder, self-harm, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and eating disorders. These can be triggered by a variety of causes, including long-term illness, a parent with mental illness or alcoholism, being bullied or sexually harassed, being close to a death or divorce in the family, or bearing the responsibility of care for family members.

McCoubrey adds that targeting of our youth by technology companies is akin to a ‘perfect storm’ – tech companies have designed and built the various platforms, and promote them relentlessly via advertising, and this intersects with the under-developed neurobiology and physiology of our children,” he says. “The impact of social media on their brain/body connection has a magnetic affect that pulls them in deeper into digital environments that may impact negatively on their mental health.”

It’s not uncommon for teens to be online for hours. And in that time, they are consuming hundreds of images, videos, text from news or social feeds, trapped in a cyberbullying attack, talking to strangers in chat forums, or comparing themselves to other teens, often damaging their self-esteem.

While it’s natural for tweens and teens to experience some anxiety, the incidence of mental health issues among young people has increased in tandem with the adoption of smartphones since 2007 and parents and teachers should take steps to help young people navigate this new territory in these ways.

Adults can help – parents, teachers and mental health professionals:

  1. Pay attention to marked changes in their behaviour – mood swings, sleep, attention and aggression.
  2. Ask questions about what is happening in their life online and talk to your children about what they’re feeling. While many do not open up, their response may indicate something is happening that is troubling the child.
  3. Share your view of what is acceptable online, and create firm boundaries of what you will tolerate with the consequence of limiting access to wifi, data or even the device. Make an agreement and put it up in your home where it can be seen.
  4. Encourage self-care by suggesting a break from the social platforms and lead the way by how much you are using your phone in the home and do things together in real life, to reconnect and to get active.
  5. Explain that images online don’t tell the real story or share the true background of what’s happening in a person’s life.
  6. If your child’s interactions with online platforms impacts their health and wellbeing negatively on an ongoing basis, get help from a counsellor or psychologist, to prevent it escalating. SADAG are an excellent guide.
Digital life skills training is vital for all children.

“It’s vital to teach young people how to be good digital citizens, equipping them with the skills they need to make smart decisions about their online lives,” McCoubrey says. “Once they have those foundations, they will be able to make good decisions for the benefit of their mental health on their own, and their ability to do so will stand them in good stead in the employment world of the future.”

Anti-Bullying Week – South Africa ranks high in global survey on cyberbullying

South Africa showed the highest prevalence of cyberbullying in a recent report by Ipsos Global, based on research in 28 countries. The report showed that more than 80% of South Africans said they were aware of cyberbullying and almost three-quarters of South Africans believe that the anti-bullying measures that are in place are insufficient. A Vodafone survey from 2018 ranked South Africa fourth for teen cyberbullying out of 13 countries, and Dean McCoubrey, founder of MySociaLife, a South African in-school Digital Life Skills Program teaching digital life skills program for schools, says that it’s likely even more prevalent, based on student feedback.

Cyberbullying is real, it’s here, and it’s harming South African children and teenagers daily, with its effects often being mistaken for ‘kids just being kids’ by parents who are yet to understand how rife and damaging cyberbullying can be. Anti-Bullying Week 2019, from 11-15 November, is a good time for schools to pay attention to the extent of cyberbullying, and for parents to get a handle on what they can do to avoid and deal with it.

“The challenge with cyberbullying is that parents can’t permanently monitor their child’s devices,” explains McCoubrey, whose programme teaches thousands of students, parents, teachers and psychologists to help children feel safer and behave smarter online.

“Parents and teachers need specifics – not just the broad term of ‘cyberbullying’ – as this is a broad and elusive form of ‘warfare’ on these devices – and parents will definitely find it difficult to track or understand what’s actually going on.

He shares the five faces of cyberbullying:

  1. Children can use negative, harmful, false images or text, chat, apps or social media posts to embarrass or threaten someone.
  2. The sharing of personal or private information that may cause the victim to feel embarrassed or humiliated. This can surprisingly hail from a friend (a practical joke) or a former friend, turned enemy. In that event, the controlling of a person’s account, posting photographs, starting rumours, or changing profile photos can also occur.
  3. Faking profiles, known as ‘catfishing’, when bullies create new accounts and borrow profile photos and names and pretend to be a person to create a false relationship – sometimes sharing the personal and confidential declarations made in confidence.
  4. Sexting or sextortion is the sharing of nude photographs either within group chats, or on social media sites, or websites (although less likely due to the possibility of tracking the source of the publisher). Sextortion is focused more on the threat and bribery associated with publishing photographs, rather than the act itself.
  5. Video shaming is the sharing of videos of someone being embarrassed, threatened or hurt, and then publishing these to allow the content to go wider, or even viral, compounding the psychological harm.

Students and parents have a few options:

  1. Record: Most importantly, kids need to be reminded to record the cyberbullying event by using the device to take a screenshot and even send the screenshot to a safe place (email, storage) so you can take it off your device. This can be used to prove the problem exists as bullies are cunning and cover their tracks.
  2. Don’t take the bait: As difficult as it may seem, reacting is what the bully wants, and kids need to avoid the situation and remove themselves from groups or feeds which aren’t supporting their mental health. It may be hard but it’s necessary.
  3. Seek support: Parents and schools need to create safe spaces to discuss the issues and not ‘freak out’ – students often say that reactive parents and teachers who tackle the issue too abruptly can snowball or magnify the problem. Adults need to handle situations calmly with patience and maturity.
  4. Engage: From a mental health perspective, students need support, but it’s essential to select a trusted expert. This may be a counsellor or senior figure in the school to assist with the situation. Alternatively, you can seek out a social media lawyer or the police, dependent on the extent of the harm. Suggestions include SafetyNet for bullying, or the South African Depression and Anxiety Group for mental health concerns.

In conducting MySociaLife’s interactive social media and safety program, which includes a module about cyberbullying, McCoubrey has been surprised by students coming forward and admitting they had no idea of the extent of cyberbullying, the different sensitivities of human beings, and how different images, social media posts, chat forums and messages can hurt people, and impact them long-term. McCoubrey explained that of the ten modules they teach; cyberbullying is the #1 problem followed by mental health and self-esteem, then privacy and security and sexuality online.

But cyberbullying is an issue which starts early and continues throughout. It’s the nature of social media – we feel we have a voice to say good and bad things! “These are kids, and because they look savvy online, it doesn’t mean they have the maturity to handle the device.

“Four out of 10 kids don’t want to share their concerns. We need to find a way to engage, a safe platform to discuss these concerns, without withdrawing them from their community, unless of course, that’s a necessity to keep them safe.

According to Commonsense Media, there are four parties involved in a cyberbullying situation: the cyberbully that’s using digital tools to deliberately upset or harass their target – the victim of cyberbullying. The bystanders are aware that something cruel is happening, but who stay on the side-lines out of indifference or fear of becoming targets themselves. The upstanders are the kids who actively try to stop the cyberbullying cycle, whether it’s by sticking up for the victim, standing up to the bully, or notifying the appropriate authorities about what’s happening.

Cyberbullying is real and the impact it has on teens and tweens can be hugely damaging if not handled correctly.

“Parents and teachers can use Anti-Bullying Week to make children aware that it’s everyone’s responsibility to make the online and real-life worlds a safe place,” says McCoubrey. “Anyone can be an upstander by reporting a bully, flagging a cruel comment, or even just choosing not to forward or share cyberbullying content. Doing so will stop a cyberbullying episode from escalating, and will reduce or even remove the bully’s power.

“It’s also important to have open paths of communication with everyone and to continue talking about how to prevent cyberbullying from happening. That is why every school should have a digital life skills program in place,” he says.

The smartphone agreement. One-size-does-not-fit-all.

Download our smartphone agreement and tips here.

There’s something we so often miss when we decide to tackle the online issue with our kids. We listen to the media or industry specialists, and we apply their broad brush stroke rules to our own child. And yet every child is so phenomenally different. And so are every family’s values.

Step 1: Observe your kids and discuss with your partners (if possible) how concerned you actually are, how attached your son or daughter is to their device, what type of media they are consuming. Author Adam Alter explains that we can largely deduce if there is indeed a problem when we see a negative change in behaviour – for example, relationships, personality or normal ‘output’ (whatever that may be for them – across school work, energy, mood).

Step 2: We may have to open up to the notion that our kids can also fake it – fearful of being forced to drop habits, behaviours, or relationships, which they wish to hold on to. In addition, one of a teen’s or tween’s greatest fears is having their phone taken away which is one reason why an approximate 40% of teenagers (a Vodafone survey in 13 countries) don’t tell parents or guardians about the problems they experience online, a statistic we have seen in our education program in schools.

Step 3: Sit down and talk with your teen or tween and establish the house rules online – when and how much time, which apps are acceptable and which behaviours cannot be tolerated. But if you have a budding entrepreneur, a genius coder, or promising drone pilot, and he/she wishes to pursue a career in technology, does that allow for any flexibility? You’ll have to factor in how conservative or liberal you are in your household – one house is more lenient than another, after all. Here is the agreement.

Step 4: It’s ok for us to re-establish the rules as long as we do it fairly and clearly, and hold ourselves to the same principles. Kids frequently comment about how their parents have poor self-awareness skills around their own obsessive phone use.

Step 6: Think very carefully on these, don’t rush it because once you’ve created this together, you’ll need to uphold it … until its time for a review.

Step 7: Maybe go slowly at first, try not to be extreme – trust is the key – and every now and then it’s ok to relax a little every now and then, explaining that they’ve earned it as part of the reward.

Download our smartphone agreement and tips here.