Reflections on 2017
This year I’ve been to Perth, Kangaroo Island, Tasmania, Townsville and Griffith among other exotic locations. It is fascinating to see how each location differs with their approach to online safety and how the community is, or is not… getting involved. I was heartened to see some of the smaller communities I visited like Kangaroo Island, put in so much effort to provide education for their students and parents. The Kangaroo Island parent community provided free dinner and drinks to help their parents, some who travelled well over an hour to get to my talk, and who would have missed dinner as a result! Now thats dedication.
I also experienced other school communities where the protection of children online is left entirely up to schools and police seemingly because parents don’t feel confident to even try to learn about the technology their children are using, or they don’t see cyber safety as something they need to know more about. Children are therefor largely navigating these spaces on their own. As a result these schools are sometimes struggling to deal with online incidents, due to lack of support from their parent body.
The one thing all the schools in all the communities I visited agree on, is that the technology children are using is changing faster than they can keep up with .Educators are also very concerned that adult social media apps are being adopted at an alarming rate by younger and younger children. This means that education of teachers, children and parents is essential to keep kids safer online and functioning well in schools. If there is a big upset within a school community due to an online episode, bullying or sharing of inappropriate content for example, it effects the schools ability to do what they are tasked to do, educate children.
Kids as young as 8 years old on 13+ Apps
The increase use of Instagram, Snapchat, Musical.ly in the younger years in primary school is frightening. More and more parents are contacting me for advice in how they deal with the overwhelming trend to have kids on adult online platforms, when they want their children to abide by the COPPA law of 13+ and protect them from these adult spaces. Just this past year I’ve seen about a 50% jump in adoption. Some schools have around 50% of kids in years 3/4 on Instagram and Snapchat. And it’s more like 70% – 80% on Instagram and Snapchat by year 6 when children are often only 10 or 11 years of age. At this rate I’m sure I’ll be seeing children in years 1 and 2 on Snapchat and Instagram in significant numbers over the next few years. Yes, I have heard reports from teachers of kids in these years already signed up to these adult apps.
The age limit set by COPPA at 13+ for all social media apps, is certainly not working as a deterrent for underage users of these apps, and parents are clearly not helping their child to comply with them. Parents are caving in to pressure from their children and their community, and trusting the popularity of these apps amongst children as a measure of how safe they are. “If other parents think Instagram is safe, then how bad can it be?”
These adult social media apps can expose children to explicit adult content. Most parents don’t know that Snapchats “Discover” feature has media with stories that include sexual themes, drugs and alcohol. And Instagram has more explicit adult content than any other social media app I’ve ever reviewed. Just do a #Hashtag style search for a few key words and there you have it. (Not helping you there!)
Adult Apps Have Adult Content, And Have Serious Consequences For Younger Users
Other than the adult content children may encounter, these social media apps can expose children to online bullying and an adult world that can sometimes be all about popularity, appearance and lifestyle aspirations. Depression and anxiety has hit an all time high in primary schools. It’s no coincidence that children’s exposure to adult content and adult online environments has also hit an all time high. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-27/schools-at-crisis-point-mental-health-concerns-among-students/9192386?sf174349569=1
Increased exposure to online adult content is also something that I’m hearing more and more about, through children’s misadventure when using an online browser with search, with some parents literally breaking down when telling me of their experiences with their very young children. In all cases, loving caring parents simply didn’t know you could or should restrict search with the available safe search options. (All step by step in my Manual)
I’m afraid this exposure to the adult world will get worse before it gets better, with younger and younger children being effected. If parents don’t understand the negative effects these apps can have on children they won’t try to limit them. Adults don’t use any of these social media apps like children do, if they do use them. They often don’t see the extreme adult content, or experience first hand the social implications on children, so they think these social media apps are largely harmless.
A Question I’m Often Asked. “Why are other parents blind to the effects of these adult apps on children? It seems we are the only ones that care!”
Answer: The majority of todays parents don’t really understand the ramifications of exposing their younger children to these apps, and believe the risks are low in regard to harm.
Before the internet….most parents understood that adult content was not healthy for children. T.V was restricted to children shows as was Video and Magazines. Children were encouraged to be…children.
I think that many parents these days, simply don’t believe adult content is damaging to children. Some parents also ignore age ratings on adult video games and movies. Some children are being encouraged to be mini adults. They dress like adults, and party like adults before they are actually adults.
It Was Easier Back Then….
With the advent of the internet, it’s harder for parents to really understand what an online platform contains, adult content is essentially hidden from most adults, unless you go looking for it, which some children do, and those children are sharing it. The results for some children has been devastating.
Sadly, I see way too many parents who discover the damage this exposure can do, after their child has been subjected to bullying, or extreme adult content within the safety of their own home through one of these apps. In some cases this exposure has resulted in visits to therapists to try to unravel the damage that has been done. Simple steps like filters, passcodes on parents computers and phones and education about what is out there, would have prevented this. But often parents simply don’t think they need it, or simply don’t know such settings exist. How can they find out about these settings? Parent community support really helps, sharing what you know. Also parent education on Cyber Safety in todays digital world is essential, but so many parents simply don’t turn up….until something bad happens.
It Is Now Harder Then Ever To Swim Against The Digital Tide
If you are a parent who is struggling to maintain a healthy digital environment for your child, I know that this year must have been very tough. Longer term if you are supervising your child online, keeping up to date with the changes in technology as best you can, keeping conversations and engagement with your child around technology open. And delaying as much as you can, exposure to adult platforms your family are going to be better off. But its made more difficult when now the majority of other families are allowing access.
2018 I will be continuing my commitment to try and educate as many children, educators and parents about the best way to embrace technology safely.
My latest Cyber Safety Manual has all the latest privacy/safety settings for the above apps, including a step by step guide to the new parental controls for Roblox, these help to protect your children from being contacted by strangers within the game, and limit really scary games on Roblox. Click Here To Find Out More About The Latest “Keeping Kids Safe Online” Manual.