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”.