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

Article written by Havana Dauncey

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

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

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

Where do kids get their news?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could this exposure to violence lead to desensitization?

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

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

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

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

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

Misinformation vs disinformation — what’s the difference?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is TikTok all bad? What are the upsides?

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

Here are some upsides of TikTok worth celebrating:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do parents need to know?

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

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

Bitmojis

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

Snapchat Cameos

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

Stories

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

Filters

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

SnapMaps

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

Streaks

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

Lenses

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

Games

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

Privacy and data

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

Photo ‘storage’ and memory tagging

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

The Invisible Risks

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

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

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

The Well-Known Risks

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

Solutions

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

How do you get to the settings on the app? 

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

What settings are the most important?

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

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

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

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

Omegle: Setting up Kids With Strangers ???

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yik Yak is back: What you need to know.

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

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.

Both the users and the business itself were the cause for the decline. The users utilised 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 behaviours, 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 one per cent. 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.

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. 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 is 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 socialising channels that make their way onto your child’s phone or tablet…

– Article by Ruby Koter

TODAY, World Youth Skills Day: Unemployment driving unrest in South Africa

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.

About MySociaLife

  • 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. 

Online Safety Index highlights SA kids’ vulnerability

Child Online Safety Index 2020

South Africa’s children are the second most likely in the world to be exposed to risky content, including violent or sexual content, second only to Thailand.

This is according to the DQ Institute’s 2020 Child Online Safety Index (COSI) which helps nations better understand their children’s online safety status 

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.

Videohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6Cw10yr9OY

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

Additional training kits for parents (links)

Raising a Parent: What it means to consciously parent

– 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

Information Overload in the “Information Age”

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. [2]

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. [3]

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. [4]

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. [5]

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).

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

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.”