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

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

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

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

Why these conversations with your children are essential

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

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

The most important conversations with your children for 2022

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

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

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

Ukraine War

What happened:

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

Why it’s important to talk about:

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

Johnny Depp trial

What happened:

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

Why it’s important to talk about:

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

The Will Smith Oscar slap

What happened:

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

Why it’s important to talk about:

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

It’s time to BeReal

What happened:

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

Why it’s important to talk about:

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

The banning of Andrew Tate and Kanye

What happened:

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

Why it’s important to talk about:

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

Elon Musk buys Twitter

What happened:

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

Why it’s important to talk about:

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

Need help having these conversations with your teens?

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

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

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

Instagram Tips For Parents

Instagram Tips Dean McCoubrey

When you arrive at a blog with an urgent need for advice, you wish they would get to the point, and provide the tips straight away. We’ll do that. Here you’ll find the top Instagram tips for parents.

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

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

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

What parents need to know about Instagram

With over a billion users, Instagram happens to be one of the most popular social media apps in their digital portfolios. The app is age rated 13+ – but interestingly, the standard bearer for online safety, Common Sense Media, rates it at 15+. There’s a very simple reason why? The exposure to news, the approach from predators, and the type of content that can be seen can be age-inappropriate. That means it’s too much for young eyes. It requires certain skills to think critically and emotionally process various types of visuals and information. Some of the things that teens are seeing online, they are simply not able to manage. They’re new images, haven’t been experienced before, and can trigger emotional responses that are hard to understand – fear, insecurity, shame – all of which can be somewhat invisible.

It has been reported that Instagram is the leading cyberbullying platform in the United States. And the reason for that is that humans gaze into our screens as we scroll our feeds. But as it reflects back a stream of images, it makes us think about where we are positioned in that context and evaluates what we have and don’t have. ‘How do I compare? Do I have these looks, these clothes, these friends, these invitations and opportunities, and so on?’ This creates a form of ‘toxic mirror’ that makes us feel low at times when catching us off guard or on a bad day. Without the right tools, the media can drag us down. 

Instagram features

While TikTok steals the limelight in the broad portfolio of social media apps for teens and pre-teens, Instagram’s place has been as a visual news feed in its many forms, from its Feed to Stories, IGTV, Reels, and Live. And these different formats that Instagram offers have proven to be incredibly catchy as it continues to innovate with new launches and added dimensions to its functionality. This keeps the audience coming back for more. 

Moreover, what we see is that the aesthetic within Instagram, how images are shot, or filters are applied, has made it an enticing inspiration board, a shop window, a place for us to research or to dream about certain destinations or products, fashion, influencers and celebrities. It’s a wonderful escape. Or is it? Following popular figures online, we are sold a story by a personality with a motivation. Sure, that may be business – but without realising this simple nugget, we can consume their apparent ‘thought leadership’ without scratching beneath the surface. 

Finstas

Sadly, what you see may be only a portion of what’s out there.

One thing that children like to do is to create a second Instagram account called a Finsta or a Fake Instagram. It will be incredibly difficult for a parent to know the handle of that Finsta account because normally, pre-teens and teens do not publish their real name or a personal (recognisable) photograph of themselves. After all, this is for a closed group of friends, which actually later grows into a much larger group. This makes it very difficult for parents to know what’s happening in this growing group of friends or even what might be happening on Instagram.

Reels

Reels are very similar to TikTok, although it is basically not as cutting edge as the world’s most popular social media teen app. The reason for this? Reels came out a long time after TikTok. While it has enjoyed more success than many imagined, ultimately, the first-mover advantage that TikTok gained has been retained with reels, doing its very best to try and catch up. Take a look here if you need to understand Reels.

So, where does this leave parents?

Top Instagram tips for parents

Most need guidance around any app, but in the case of Instagram, the most important starting point is:

  • Parents need to understand what the app is and does. (see our links at the top)
  • What different ‘channels’ the app has created – and which ones your kids will most likely use (Feed, Stories and Reels most likely)
  • What are the dangers or risks, and what are the opportunities from there? Take a look here.
  • Grasping the settings creates a base of knowledge to approach your child with some facts and information that will help them to navigate the different settings.
  • Parents need to go into their own Instagram, click on the three lines in the top right-hand corner (which represent the menu) then, click on settings and then click on privacy. Within the privacy menu, you’ll find all the different options that are available to lock up the doors and windows of their child’s Instagram account, depending on what age the child is, of course, will relate to how much access you have to close up those ‘doors and windows of your child’s Instagram house.
  • If you’re looking for a specific tool to be able to monitor Instagram, of course, there are settings inside Instagram itself for parents to be able to manage their screen time. There is also an app called FYI Play It Safe, a South African-based app, which helps parents to monitor the type of content that is shown on the screen, not just in the account and it notifies the parent as to certain keywords, terms and images. Check out FYI Play It Safe here.

Conclusion

The final point here is that you can, of course, try and block and monitor all you can. But education is the power tool that will plant the seed of awareness that could last the longest. Without understanding and without the power to choose wisely, without the ability to self-regulate, kids will remain at risk even with the various settings in place. That’s why our program has been so successful. We at MySociaLife do that for schools, parents, teachers and students. Email us at info@mysocialife.com to ask for our products and pricing.

Zigazoo, the new “TikTok” for kids. But, is it safe?!

Zigazoo is the new “TikTok” for kids. In a nutshell, it’s an education/entertainment app, which engages students in meaningful learning and problem-solving activities whilst entertaining them. It doesn’t seem so harmful, does it? But, is it safe for kids?

The terms of service (but not the app description) clearly state that Zigazoo is meant to be used with a parent, and personal data is treated as though it’s from those over 13…. however that’s just words in a contract – how is that enforced?

Investment, investors and social media apps have a long track record of chasing revenue at any cost. Why would this be different?

So, back to the question: is Zigazoo safe for kids? Well, there are no such things as safe apps. How do we know if they’re safe, or not? We need to ask questions like:
How does the app guarantee it being safe? And for how long?
How can it be enforced?
Will parents use it with their child?
How is the age proven?

And, even though it’s an age-restricted version of “TikTok”, you are still allowing your child to post videos of themselves publicly (which is a privacy issue) and you are still encouraging screentime (even though it might be “more meaningful” screentime, it’s still screentime, which comes with a cost.

We asked Dean McCoubrey, founder of MySociaLife, and this is what he said:
“My view is that it’s fun and cool, and creative, but that comes at the cost of obsessing about other people’s lives / dance moves / clothes / bodies on screen, which isn’t that healthy – it directly targets the self-consciousness and need for attention of some adolescents. It eats time. And are the rewards of losing that time big enough?”

Tackling social media, mental health, apps, risks and other challenges, is difficult, especially if you don’t understand the context of this online landscape to the lengths that it stretches. However, the MySociaLife digital wellness programs make this easy for you, through four shared solutions. Let’s make things better online, with a new generation of conscious, informed critical thinkers. 🙏💥🧠

For more info, contact us! info@mysocialife.com

Parents and teachers fail to fully understand life online: Digital Citizenship Week South Africa

This week, 14 – 18 October, it’s Digital Citizenship Week South Africa (#DigCitWeek), but, as we witness online, it’s a relevant concept that’s important year-round and applies to both ‘tweenagers’ and adults. Media stories appear on a daily basis of cyberbullying, sexting, privacy breaches and mental health concerns relating to smart devices and social media.

Teens and tweens require a framework of how to be intelligent, sensitive, and resilient digital citizens.

According to Commonsense.org, digital citizens think critically about what they see online, understand the benefits and risks of sharing information, and balance screen time with other activities. But digital citizens require guidance — they’re taught by parents and teachers to be responsible, safer, smart and ethical digital citizens. Currently, there are very few digital citizenship programs in South Africa.

Dean McCoubrey, founder of MySociaLife, SA’s Premier Digital Life Skills Program, explains, “It took us three years to build our 10 different modules, given the extensive aspects of life online that needed to be covered. We use an international digital citizenship framework as our base, and then add some of the country’s top specialists, psychologists, mental health advocates and researchers. Consider the extent of the issues – the psychological impact on our children, the ever-evolving phone settings which need attention, the law, the vast landscape of apps, games and social platforms to cover – MySociaLife studies this every day, and it’s still a job to keep up. How will teachers be able to teach this topic at the rate of change in technology? Many students tell us that most adults don’t have a clue about their life online.”

Education requires programs like this to provide teens and tweens with a framework of how to be intelligent, sensitive, and resilient digital citizens – at home, their parents admit to being uncertain about how to teach it too,” says McCoubrey.

MySociaLife approaches the training by supporting all those in the chain of guiding teens and tweens – with four different programs that inform parents, teachers, school counsellors, and Grade 4 to 11 students with the end goal of helping children feel safer and behave smarter online. “This is not just about safety, though, it’s about the foundational skills to excel once you have the basic awareness. With the incessant headlines around The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), as well as reduced jobs due to AI and Machine Learning, those that are aware and conscious digital citizens will be a prized asset in the 2030 workplace.”

Aside from in-school training, McCoubrey speaks locally and internationally on the skills our children will need in The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Digital Life Skills and Digital Citizenship and will next be presenting at The World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha, Qatar, November 19-21 – a global reference point in new approaches to education.

So how does one teach good digital citizenship? One could start with these great guidelines, from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE):

1.     A good citizen advocates for equal human rights for all.

2.     A good citizen treats others courteously and never bullies.

3.     A good citizen does not damage others’ property or person.

4.     A good citizen communicates clearly, respectfully, and with empathy.

5.     A good citizen actively pursues an education and develops habits for lifelong learning.

6.     A good citizen spends and manages money responsibly.

7.     A good citizen upholds basic human rights of privacy, freedom of speech, etc.

8.     A good citizen protects self and others from harm.

9.     A good citizen proactively promotes their own physical and mental health.

“These guidelines are a good start and we have a specific set of our own that we have carefully sculpted, but smartphones, social media and online safety evolve faster than any other part of the school curriculum. What’s trending this term is over next term so it’s more about how we uphold these guidelines within the context of what’s trending, or what we are using daily, that matters,” says McCoubrey.

“Our ten modules – critical thinking to bullying, to digital footprint, and mental health, among others – unpack the prizes and pitfalls to thousands of students on a term-by-term basis. Any digital citizenship program requires frequency, returning time and time again, and building trust with this (often sceptical) audience. The irony is that, while these learners know a lot about the technology, they lack the critical thinking and life skills training, and how that is realistically illustrated to them with regard to their daily interactions on these platforms. It requires someone outside the school, an external voice – someone who approaches it differently – and has the knowledge of what’s trending to capture teens and pre-teens attention.”

Digital Citizenship Week South Africa is a call to action to SA schools to ask themselves if they have sufficient digital education in place. Is it covering the diversity of issues, and does the instructor have a credible voice, the buy-in, and the experience?

“These are fundamental learning blocks for a generation that is growing up online, and will enter a high-tech workplace. It’s an absolute no-brainer to get started on this as soon as possible and to do it right,” McCoubrey concludes.

Swimming upstream for respect

Has the smartphone and social media changed the dynamic of respect between parents and teens?

Thursday, 1st August, is International Respect for Parents Day, created in 1994 to encourage the appreciation of parents all over the world.

Although the celebratory day started before hand-held technology became ubiquitous, #RespectForParentsDay is more topical than ever, as the balance of power has shifted since the iPhone launched in 2007 and iPad in 2010.

“The goalposts moved. In the last decade or so, many kids became wiser than their parents in a specific area – technology. This gives them leverage on so many things – they know how to work around boundaries, hide private content and conversations, screen time limits, and most have access, and are exposed to, anything they might wish to find,” says Dean McCoubrey, Founder of MySociaLife, South Africa’s premier ‘Digital Life Skills Program’ in schools.

“Since these devices launched, there has been little guidance around digital life skills or ‘online values’. In our work with teens and tweens in schools, this increase in exposure has placed many parents on rocky ground without an updated tool kit to navigate this new world – tweenagers believe that they are better equipped to understand what’s unfolding in their generation, are empowered to argue decisions about what is potentially safe or dangerous, and expect more time and freedom in the (online) environment that they know better. It’s driving parents crazy!” he adds.

Ensuring safer, smarter kids online is important so that they can excel online later

“At the same time, parents have become more dependent on technology as well – kids are reporting that their parents aren’t savvy or in control of their own device usage – so they can challenge their parents about their own lack of self-control. It’s hard to accept that times have changed. Kids have more answers and arguments through their online exposure and tech skills than ever before. One certainty is that life doesn’t work in a straight line – working together is a success factor in human relationships.”

“Ironically, the debate between parents and their kids is the starting point to educate them, the platform to stay calm, be clear, build bridges to understand this new world, clear up misunderstandings and cement boundaries. Consistency is key. Many parents are now using a smartphone agreement these days,” he says.

Parents to stay calm, set clear boundaries and understand their new world.

Regardless of how angry a parent may feel, MySociaLife offers a few tips:

  1. Lead by example. If parents treat others around them – from staff to colleagues and other family members – tweenagers will learn by example and are more likely to mirror and reciprocate. We are essentially sponges to human behaviour.
  2. Identify situations where your teens were on the receiving end of disrespect, and have an open discussion about how that made them feel. They’re likely to have more empathy for others – including their parents – going forward.
  3. Parents are often afraid they’ll alienate their teens by refusing to accept their unreasonable behaviour. But fortunately, boundaries remain essential irrespective of which generation you come from. Remember that children who don’t learn how to treat others respectfully when they’re younger may struggle to engage constructively in social and work environments later on. A smartphone and social media agreement will help with clarifying these boundaries.

For more information, contact mary-ann@mysocialife or call 021 419 3144.