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

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