“IF only I had checked up on my daughter and was aware of who she was friends with. I didn’t even know she was on Facebook.” This was the desperate message of the mother of a 16-year-old girl, who was one of the victims of the so-called Facebook rapist.
It is cold comfort for this mother and the other four whose daughters suffered at the hands of the Mamelodi rapist, Sedzani Muthuhadini Ndou. Ndou was convicted in the high court in Pretoria on 16 charges, ranging from rape charges to robbery after he admitted to his crimes.
Charnel Hattingh, national marketing and communications manager at Fidelity ADT, said that while the internet has made communication faster and more fun, it also makes it easier for predators to approach vulnerable teens.
It is important that youngsters:
• never include personal information on social media forums, blogs or websites.
• do not agree to meet online contacts in person.
• block anyone who makes them feel uneasy.
• think about the information they post online and not post comments that could embarrass them or hurt and offend others.
• get the “OK” from their parents before downloading content or shopping online. Many items have copyright and credit card details may be at risk when buying from an unsecured site.
“To ensure the online environment always remains a positive addition to a child’s or teenager’s life, parents need to keep the lines of communication open and tackle the risks of social media head-on with their kids and teens,” she said.
It is also never too early to start discussing online safety. Hattingh cites the results of a 2018 study by the World Economic Forum in which it was highlighted that South African children face a higher cyber risk than most others in the world.
“Of significance, the report said children between the ages of eight and 12 are the most vulnerable online.”
The report found that 62 per cent of children in that age group has been exposed to at least one cyber risk, including cyberbullying, sexual grooming, the sharing of sexual content and video game addiction. This means that 64 per cent of these children have been exposed to one or more cyber risks.
Experts found 55 per cent of the children polled were victims of cyberbullying, 11 per cent had chatted with a stranger online and 18 per cent had engaged in online sexual behaviours. These sexual behaviours included sexual conversations with strangers and searching, downloading and sharing sexual content online.
“Online is an incredibly beneficial and exciting space for teens and children but there are some very real risks too.” Hattingh said by understanding these risks and talking about them, parents can empower their children and keep them safe online.
Here are some tips from Fidelity ADT on managing online risks:
Explore: Suggest going online together and checking out various social media sites, websites, etc that your child likes to visit. Show an interest in their online life as much as you would offline.
Who’s who? It’s crucial to know who your child is talking to online. Children, and especially teens, often don’t see those they’ve met online as strangers, just online friends. Explain that it’s easy for people to be someone else online and get your child to commit to also friending a trusted adult, or a parent, in all the forums they use.
Rules are rules: Set rules and boundaries about the time your child can spend online, when they can go online, sharing of images and how to treat others online.
Check: Make sure of the privacy settings on any online accounts your child uses and talk to them about tools to report abuse.
“Being safe online is a lot about respecting yourself and others but the most important rule involves the sharing of personal information. Children should never do this in forums, blogs or websites,” Hattingh said.
“Unfortunately, even the relative comfort of your child’s social circle can bring them face to face with situations where their judgement can be severely tested. Discussing some basic safety advice can empower them to take control of situations that could be challenging and ensure they’re safe in their online world,” Hattingh concluded.
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