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The risks and rewards for kids in the digital world

Most of our children are online every day. The number of mobile devices in the hands of South African children rises year on year at almost every age point between 8 and 18 years of age. None of this is surprising; the digital component of all our lives is ever-increasing and expanding - from work and school to leisure and socialising. This powerful wave of digitalisation brings enormous potential for improving lives and opening up opportunities; but it is also ushering in significant risks. As parents, the risks presented to our children can feel overwhelming to manage.

One of the greatest challenges of keeping our children safe online is how quickly the digital landscape changes. There are new games, new apps, new social media platforms targeted at children constantly coming and going. There are always new ways around parental controls and new trends emerging. It’s as easy as typing in a false birth year to sign up to any social media account under the parental radar. Parents cannot rely on age limits on sites and apps anyway, as they are there to ensure the developers are compliant with privacy laws, not to protect children.

Yet, the rewards of digital exposure and interactions are great, and parents want to balance protecting their children with giving them space to explore an incredible realm that’s packed with learning, supportive connections and endless opportunities to gain digital experience and proficiency, which is so important to their future. How to find the sweet spot amidst the risks and rewards is the subject of an upcoming FYI play it safe webinar for parents on 9 June 2022 from 11:00 to 12:00; or 19:30 to 20:30. FYI play it safe is a South African-developed app for families that’s gone global. It’s not a parental control but adds an extra layer of security to children’s devices through AI-powered monitoring of all their screens and generating alerts for parents if their children are engaging with inappropriate content or threatening contacts.

Mother of a teen daughter and the CEO/Founder of FYI play it safe, Rachelle Best will be updating South African parents on the latest data regarding children’s use of the internet and social media; their exposure to harmful and inappropriate content, and she will be demonstrating some of the dangerous apps families need to avoid. Rachelle says, “As parents, we need information and tools to help us enable our kids to build online resilience while they are developing their essential digital skills. There’s no one single action that we can take to keep our kids safe online while they do this. Parents need up-to-date information, use the resources in the ecosystem of online safety and have open, trusting relationships with their children so that they can help them safely navigate the risks.”

All too often, when it comes to risks, parents can unknowingly fall into the trap that’s dubbed the ‘not my child syndrome’. An example of this is when a parent sees the data showing that sexting has become alarmingly ‘normal’ and super-trendy for teens, and even tweens; they might believe it about other children but assert that their child is ‘more naïve’ or ‘less developed’ or ‘still not interested or even curious’. “Unfortunately, this kind of knee-jerk denial and disbelief that ‘my child would never do this’, actually raises the risks for the child,” says Rachelle. “As parents today, more than ever, we have to confront our blind spots when it comes to our beloved children and realise that they are engaging in a world where sexting is pervasive, and pornography is everywhere. Latest research shows that while 75% of parents say that they believe their child has never been exposed to pornography, 53% of children admit they have. We can expect there’s a sizeable percentage who also have, but don’t admit it, which is a significant reality check for all parents.”

On the positive side, the increasing focus on online safety for kids is igniting the development of improved tools such as the FYI play it safe app. “What’s important is that parents are active in understanding online risks and the digital spaces that are threats to children’s safety, mental health and well-being,” Rachelle concludes. “It certainly is the case that knowledge is power, and there are solutions that enable our kids to gain the rewards from their digital explorations and connections while mitigating the risks.”


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