New SA App for parents boosts kids' online safety

Over the past festive season and with the start of the new year, many parents have put

new devices into the hands of their children. For many, this is an action primarily aimed

at increasing their child’s safety because it enables far more effective and direct

connection with us when they’re apart from us in the real-world. However, it also

kickstarts a whole new range of safety challenges for them in the digital realm. What are

the steps you are going to take to protect them from cyberbullying, disturbing and harmful

content, and exposure to online predators? How will you monitor their behaviour so that

you can guide them into becoming responsible digital citizens?


Parenting in the digital age has ushered in new family rules and routines so that parents

can effectively monitor kids’ online activity across multiple devices, incorporating a range

of apps and platforms. It’s not just about setting healthy limits on kids’ screen time, but

also includes overseeing their reach into the digital world and keeping them safe from a

range of potentially serious risks that can do lasting harm to their emotional health.


Kayla Phillips, spokesperson for The South African Depression and Anxiety Group

(SADAG) says, “According to the latest Ofcom reports, 27% of 8–11-year-olds and 31%

of 12–15-year-olds have seen worrying or nasty content online, including suicide or

suicide ideation content. Exposure to suicide and self-harm content on social media has

been linked to harmful mental health effects among children and teenagers. This shows

how important it is for parents and guardians, teachers and carers to stay connected to

children, have open conversations and be aware of what the children in their care are

doing online. Seeing age-inappropriate content can leave children feeling confused and

unable to process what they have experienced.”


While research shows that consistent parental monitoring of children’s digital interactions

does reduce problematic internet behaviours and can obviously help to reduce risks, it’s

not easy to do. Busy parents buckle under the weight of scanning through thousands of

teen texts every month; messages may be disappearing, self-destructing or manually

deleted; online chats in gaming rooms can slip through the cracks, and apps and

platforms are always coming and going. In addition, many parents worry that their

surveillance of kids’ devices is intrusive, and can unnecessarily curb their independent

exploration of the digital world. Some parents of teens are actively cultivating trust-based

relationships with their increasingly independent kids and believe that regular device

monitoring works against this.


For mother and tech innovator, Rachelle Best, there had to be a solution to both

responsibly monitoring her daughter’s online activity while still affording the teen

reasonable autonomy and decision-making powers. Drawing on AI and Machine

Learning, Best’s team has developed and launched FYI play it safe, a new global

parental app that monitors all the content of children’s online activity in a non-intrusive

way. The app provides alerts to parents of potential signs of online predator contact,

cyberbullying, engaging with content around various mental health issues and accessing

adult content without parents needing to do any phone and computer checks. FYI play it

safe monitors every online interaction and all apps, as well as in-game chats. New

accounts and apps are included by default without the need for your child’s account

credentials. Yet, the app is not spyware and it is not clandestine. Instead, it provides

parents and teens with the opportunity to mutually agree on the best way to stay safe in

the digital world.


‘Protect them, but respect them’

“This is the driving value of FYI play it safe,” says Best. “We recognise that the quality of

the parent-child relationship and the openness of communications is integral to the

optimum way to keep children safe. The app provides an extra layer of protection

whenever your child is online. It is not a substitute for parental control apps but works

with widely used free software such as Google Family Link. What it does is eliminate the

need for parents to conduct invasive checks on devices, chats and social media

accounts, which can lead to conflicts and resentments. Through natural language

processing, FYI play it safe picks up signals of potential harm or danger as it happens.

This means the parent or guardian gets an alert that they can act on. With the right

information at the right time, parents can step in exactly when their child does need help.

FYI play it safe is an enabler of the conversations that parents need to have with their

kids.”


By automatically including any new apps or sites that your child uses or visits, parents are

alerted the moment their child ventures into a potentially unsafe digital space. “This

feature is essential,” Best points out. “The range of digital environments where your child

is spending time is unlimited and ever-changing. It’s extremely hard for a parent to keep

up when it’s impossible to see, minute-by-minute, what our children are doing online.

When you consider that research has shown that it can take less than one hour for online

grooming to be successful, parents need in-time monitoring of every new digital space

their child enters, from the moment they cross the threshold. It’s not hard for teens to also

appreciate this level of protection, and tweens and teens prefer this way of monitoring

rather than their parents reading through all their content.”


In this way, FYI play it safe serves as a basic safety measure that parents and children

can agree on, like wearing a helmet when riding a bike. Best says, “Apart from saving

parents time and providing far more effective, in-time monitoring, FYI play it safe can

strengthen your relationship with your child as it reduces potential conflict around your

oversight. It finds the balance between failing to do enough to oversee your child’s online

activity and over-reaching.”


SADAG WARNING SIGNS OF CHILD OR TEEN SUICIDE IDEATION:

• Changes in eating and sleeping habits

• Loss of interest in usual activities

• Neglect of personal appearance or hygiene

• Withdrawal from friends and family

• Running away from home

• Alcohol and substance abuse

• Unnecessary risk-taking behaviour

• Obsession with death and dying

• Numerous physical complaints linked to emotional distress

• Feelings of boredom, agitation, nervousness, sadness, loneliness or hopelessness

• Children might be saying things like “I want to go to sleep and never wake up” or “I want

to close my eyes and never open them again”.