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Are our children overexposed to social media?

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The echo of children gleefully playing in streets is quickly disappearing – today, the interaction between children is restricted to a screen. As a consequence, teenagers are exposed to content that has resulted in them maturing at an alarming rate.

Where previous generations had to find pain-staking mechanisms to access entertainment, such as violent games and pornography, teenagers today have the ability to access mature content ‘at the click of a button’.

More shockingly, the use of social media platforms by teenagers, specifically teenage girls, who post nude images of themselves on social media platforms, has become a cause of great concern for parents. In a world in which technology consumes every aspect of our lives, the dangers that accompany the use of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is therefore becoming increasingly prevalent.

Overexposure on social media

One of the most concerning trends in recent years has been the sexualisation of youth on social media. It’s now become the norm for teenagers to expose more flesh and to pose provocatively in photo-shopped images in a bid to up the ‘followers’ or ‘likes’.

A social worker, who holds a master’s degree in child and family studies, Zainab Kader, explains that teenage girls are motivated to post nude or explicit pictures on social-media platforms in an attempt to gain attention. Attention seeking behaviour, she asserts can be due to; peer pressure, a desire to be seen in a certain way, or a form of rebelling.

“It could be role-modelling, where children adopt certain behaviour which they witness their older siblings doing. Often it is due to the lack of a father or father figure within the home environment,” she asserts.

In most cases, teen girls most prone to exhibiting themselves, do not have a father figure and tend to enter relationships with older males. These forms of relationships result in females adopting mature personas, where they dress more explicitly.

Children also have a tendency to submit to peer pressure since they naturally feel the need to fit in and “look cool”. Teenage girls, therefore, regard their physical appearance as important as it is the mechanism through which the opposite gender will be attracted. She further explains that due to the increase of bullying in schools, children tend to conform to what their peers consider to be “cool”.

With the advent of social media and reality television, which glamourizes the physical persona that an individual has created, teen girls have adopted television personalities as their role-models.

“If you are to look to at Lil Wayne and if you look at Beyoncé, is that really the type of people you want as your kids role models?” Kader urges.

The most important aspect of life as a teenager is friends, pleasing these friends and “fitting in is what they seek,” says Kader.

Teenagers have played into the social-media buzz and have built their desired identity on social media platforms. Their recognition on these platforms has altered the perception of their self-esteem and worth. For teenagers, one’s picture is only as good as how many ‘slays’ the picture receives.

She further explains that cyber bullying, a phenomenon where individuals photo-shop images of others and spread it on the internet, is becoming increasingly prevalent amongst teenagers. This form of harassment has resulted in bullying at schools. Kader further states that with the increase in cyber-bullying the rate of suicide amongst children has increased.

Do predators lurk on social media?

In cases where males are bullied, the victim in many instances “becomes” the perpetrator – the need for power, control and dominance being the main reason for the action. She further notes that the act of rape is not what gives the rapist pleasure; it is, instead, the dominance of a weaker individual that is the driving factor.

She asserts that rapists do not choose their victims based on their attire, but rather the desire for dominance. Victims, Kader explained, are generally younger children or the elderly; individuals who are vulnerable.

Many parents assert that the social media platforms on which their children sign-up are secure since it is only the friends of their children, who are provided with access, that is able to view their content.

Kader asserts that it is becoming more prevalent for perpetrators to be close relatives or a close family friend, or someone that the family trusts – “a neighbour, friend or even the uncle of the victim.”

She urged parents to realise that “perpetrators do not walk around with ‘rapist’ written on their heads.”

Have we evolved as a gender?

Health and counselling psychologist at the University of Cape Town, Dr. Despina Learmonth, explains that despite the wave of feminism, which occurred during the 1970’s and 1980’s, where females fought for the empowerment of women, society today is faced with a contradictory reality.

She further states that there currently exists “almost a ‘pornification’ of our culture and part of being open as a female is – almost – making a sex object of yourself.”

In a growing culture, where teenagers emphasize and glorify the ‘image’, teenagers should be made aware of their self-worth. Porn objectifies women and often results in the belief that one is only “worthy” based on one’s physical appearance, since females are expected to be “fun and sexy” – behaviour that men expect, but often results in the female being ridiculed and labelled ‘loose’.

Learmonth further explained that teenagers today find appeal in adopting celebrity personas, since they are exposed to various celebrities who gain acknowledgment in the media by exposing themselves.

The liability of parents

Lawyer Chris Briston explains that parents should constantly monitor the social media platforms on which their children are registered. In the event that nude pictures of children, which are placed on social media platforms, are used on pornographic sites, parents face criminal charges. A prison sentence, Briston explains, would depend on the magistrate and the actual content.

Briston notes that sexual or nude content of children placed on social media may call to attention the role of the parents in the raising of the child, and the ability of parents to adequately raise minors in a safe environment.

“It is a world-wide phenomenon where children are now posting nude pictures of themselves on social networks and later regretting it.”

In many instances children upload innocent images of themselves in bathing suits, it should therefore always be understood that once any photo is placed on the internet it is no longer in the control of the person that initially uploaded the image. Parents are, therefore, urged to acknowledge the reality that child-pornography websites use these images on their websites and potential paedophilic predators may make use of these images.

“We know that social media networks are used by paedophiles, who pretend to be another child, to groom children,” Briston explained.

Importantly, Briston asserted that photos that are uploaded to the internet appear internationally. Nude pictures of teenagers that are posted on social media in South Africa will appear in the United States, the question of what law applies is therefore called into question. There is, therefore, a conflict of law between; criminal law, international law, common law and civil liability.

What the law says

Child pornography is described by the Film and Publications Act as being inclusive of:

Showing or describing the body, or parts of the body, of such a person in a manner or in circumstances which, within context, amounts to sexual exploitation, or in such a manner that it is capable of being used for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

The Act further states that any individual who knowingly makes available:

Any contents which contain depictions, descriptions or scenes of child pornography which advocates, advertisers, encourages or promotes child pornography or the sexual exploitation of children, shall be guilty of an offence.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) considers any image of a naked child posted on the internet as child-pornography. The NPA has, therefore, cautioned parents against publishing naked pictures of their children online. This ruling has proven problematic for parents who post images of their children as they grow up or images of children, specifically babies, posted by photographers that are commissioned by parents, with or without the consent of the parents.

Advocate Bonnie Currie-Gamwo asserts that the ruling is necessary since images can be “misused”; “what you do innocently, others take and abuse.”

In a review of the various laws that govern pornographic content on the internet, it is evident that clarification is required on what constitutes a pornographic image; where the statute only mentions boundaries and suggestiveness.

Is social media that bad?

Internationally acclaimed professional speaker, leadership coach, and social media specialist, Jamaaludeen Khan, explains that “social media is a tool like any other tool.”

“A knife can be used to cut bread, or it be used to stab someone. The dangers are great, yes, but the advantages are much greater.”

Since every place in the real world has its own danger, Khan advocates the usage of social media but warns against the dangers.

Khan further notes that the owners and engineers of the various social media platforms have practiced caution by implementing mechanisms aimed at protecting against the spread of child pornography. These mechanisms include the reporting of nude/pornographic images by users, which the administrators of the social media platforms will then “block” from spreading.

“There is little they can do to absolutely deter from these things spreading on social media,” Khan asserts.

Khan states that the onus is not on owners of social-media platforms. Instead, he states that the onus rests with the parents of children who frequent social-media websites.

Parents must exert themselves in understanding how the various social media platforms operate, how it is changing, and to educate their children on the various dangers, “rather than scold or remove their children’s phones.”

“My focus is on awareness and education; people need to understand the dangers of social media.”

Parents should, therefore, take personal responsibility when issuing their children access to social media. They should develop mechanisms and establish boundaries for their children who are frequenting social media platforms.

“Parents have to be reasonable where this is concerned, there has been a big shift from Facebook to Instagram, which among other reasons, was as a result of parents signing onto Facebook,” Khan explained.

Parents are, therefore, urged to practice caution when monitoring their children’s interaction, and respect their privacy.

Advice to parents

Kader asserts that in order for teenagers to maintain a healthy self-image, parents should provide their children with positive affirmation, “but it needs to be sincere.”

“Do not tell the child that they have done well in maths when you know that the child did poorly, the child will pick it up immediately.”

She also advocates that parents reward their children when they do something positive, moving away from constant negative affirmation when the child does something wrong.

She also advocates that parents reward their children when they do something positive, moving away from constant negative affirmation when the child does something wrong.

The child should also feel secure when they speak to their parents so that the child does not feel the need to engage in attention seeking behaviour. In order to facilitate a healthy setting for children, where they engage in healthy and wholesome activity, parents should limit the time that teenagers spend on social media platforms.

In the event that parents encounter nude or compromising content of their children on social media, Kader encourages parents to address the issue with their kids by speaking to them, instead of leaping to the instinctive reaction of scolding the child. By scolding the child, Kader explains, the child is less likely to engage with the parent about the issue.

“You need to control your temper and speak to your child in a calm and rational tone so that it does not seem like punishment, it needs to be done assertively, but come from a good place and it needs to be sincere,” Kader explains.

In today’s society females have increasingly entered the workplace; children are therefore left to entertain themselves when returning home from school. Kader, therefore, encourages parents to spend quality time with their children – time in which they are present and attentive.

In addressing the dangers of social media, teenagers and parents are encouraged to protect themselves against the latest phenomenon of “revenge porn”; where individuals share explicit images and videos of themselves with others, the recipient of that photo or video proceeds to share that content with the public in an effort to anger and humiliate the sender of the content.

Individuals should, therefore, understand that “when something gets shared, even to one other individual, you don’t know what that individual does with that photo.”

Teenagers and adults alike are encouraged to practice caution when posting information and photos on social media platforms as employers are increasingly making use of social media as a means to gain insight into the lives of prospective employees.

Predators monopolize on the innocence of children. Parents should, therefore, be aware of the dangers which lurk on the internet and are urged to constantly monitor social media platforms on which their children are registered.

VOC (Thakira Desai)


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1 comment

  1. Well to be fair I would agree but using Chris Briston as a reference for how to care for your children is a bit rich given his clear inadequacy of raising his own, given that I myself haven’t even heard from him ever, and I’m now 26. A bit rich for one of the worst fathers to ever walk the face of this planet to give advice.

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