South African courts are currently hearing a case between Facebook and a thirteen year old teen. The 13 year old girl is suing Facebook to release information of someone who bullied her on the social platform. Facebook has openly declared that should the court ask for it, they will help in any way they can to personally identify the bully.
The girl received rape and death threats from the individual in question. The bully also included details that affirmed he/she knows the victim very intimately in the real world. The girl has since stopped going to school in fear.
This is not an isolated incident. Another thirteen year old girl from Pretoria committed suicide in 2019. A social media bullying incident was alleged to be the cause. Our children need protection. In their eyes, a bad incident at school feels like the end of the world. They do not understand that in a few days, the world moves on.
My question, and excuse the French, “WHAT THE HECK IS A 13 YEAR OLD DOING ON SOCIAL MEDIA?”
We will not bore each other with the advantages of social media, or bombard you with the disadvantages. We are here to address why parents are not doing their jobs, and the horrible consequences this can bring about.
The sexual predator and sexting
We’ve spoken briefly about this in the past with cybercrime, but today we will expand on it further. In my line of work, I get to interact with a lot of younger school going children. I always insist that they get permission from their parents. I get inboxed by children as young as 13. These children are using their mobile phones without any oversight from their parents.
As an outstanding citizen, I do my best to bring the parents into the equation. There are other individuals who do not always have good intentions at heart. Your school going teen has no chance against an older individual should they deem they want to exploit access to your child for sex. Even if your child is of legal age, they are still a child and need to be jealously protected.
Sexting is sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photographs, or images. Often, our children are not aware of the dangers of sexting and sending compromising pictures of themselves to strangers. More often than not, these images are leaked to the wider internet by the receiver usually to brag.
Bullying and the law
Internet bullying is a real world problem now. It does not help that we still view mental health as a first world challenge and overly ignore it. There have been serious consequences to online bullying leading to suicide in several cases. Our laws have done very little in responding to the new ways we use technology.
It is still complex in more than 50% of the world’s countries to prosecute online bullying. There are few countries with laws that specifically consider it a crime and a bully with a good lawyer can get away with anything. Taking a reactive stance to social media bullying is not helpful.
Data collection, Adverts and Sales
Facebook and Bytedance (Bytedance is the company behind the video platform TikTok) have been caught collecting data from children frequently. They then use this data to tailor adverts for our children, urging them to buy goods they may not necessarily need.
Some platforms even sell this private data to third parties who then use if to influence the way your child thinks and their wider world-view.
What can you do as a parent
A lot of parents want to be the cool parent. They will compromise to gain smiles and praise from their children by relaxing on the rules they set. Do not let up as this could destroy your child’s future. Set these limits and do not ease up on them:
- Set screen time limits. There are several apps you can install on your child’s phone to control how much they use their phones.
- Groom your child to behave accordingly both in the real world and on social media. Just because they are online, it does not mean they can be mean and rude.
- Take the device away frequently, press them to read a book for example. This is a good way to prevent addiction to social media.
- If your child is younger than 15 years old, they have no business being on social media in the first place. Don’t let them loose on Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram etc. Not only do they have ready access to pictures of naked people, they are also at the mercy of sexual predators.
- Invest time in learning what the apps your child uses do. Pornographic websites for example, simply ask if you are old enough. All you have to do is click on Yes.
- Talk to your children about online dating. Nowadays it is easier to meet someone in a chat room. Often, those people are not who they claim to be and your child could end up kidnapped or raped. If they decide to meet up with an online friend, be present or have an older sibling nearby to monitor the date.
- Be friends with your child online and monitor their activity. Teach them what is safe to post and remind them regularly that nothing on the internet is truly deleted. Do not let your child post their address, the school they go to or where they hang out.
- Tell your children to never share their passwords with any of their friends, ever.
- Encourage privacy. Your child must not post their friends’ images or private details without consent from the friend in question.
- Your child should not accept friend requests from people they do not know in the real world.
As parents, we should always keep an active role in how our children use the devices we buy for them. The safety and life of your child is in danger if you choose to ignore the role that social media plays in their lives.