Thousands of testimonies which highlight the prevalence of sexual abuse experienced by young girls have been posted on a website called Everyone’s Invited. The shocking number of testimonies has triggered an Ofsted review, which aims at introducing more protective policies and improving the experiences of females in educational institutions.
The findings of the review were published in a report by Ofsted on 10 June, which immediately shocked many parents, caregivers, and teachers. The revelations shed light on the high levels of sexual abuse and harassment which occur within educational facilities. According to Ofsted’s findings, girls in one school were asked for up to ten nude or semi-nude pictures per night by different boys. The report highlights the alarming problem of inappropriate sexual behaviour among children in schools.
In light of this issue, parents are naturally concerned about how they can protect their child from being abused, as well as preventing them from abusing others.
While the source of the abuse and harassment boils down to the education, upbringing, values, and mentalities of young boys, what also cannot be ignored are the tools which facilitate the exponential growth of these cycles of sexual misconduct. The prevalent use of smartphones and social media platforms by almost every teenager in the present has provided abusers open access into the lives of thousands of children. If this vicious cycle is not stopped, then the impact will be felt for generations to come.
These abuse cases stem from the unfettered access to social media platforms that children in the present have. Surprisingly, almost every child in the present age has unrestricted possession of a smartphone device. If the frequency of abuse cases is to be mitigated, access to smartphone devices must be restricted. Since every child and family is different, we should be open to adapting our approach for every unique situation. Parents with younger children are in a better position to tackle this situation more efficiently. But even for the parents of older children, imposing clear rules and boundaries may be the only way to prevent episodes of abuse from occurring on social media platforms.
In this article, I will outline the advice I often give to parents regarding the use of smartphones and social media.
1. Do not give your child a smartphone
Refusing to give your child a smartphone is not due to a lack of trust, but about giving them the right things at the right age. If a parent were to give their child a bottle of alcohol and permit them to play with it, do you think the child would not end up opening the bottle and drinking from it? Would we be surprised if the child ultimately ended up becoming addicted to the substance? Similarly, a smartphone can be a dangerous tool if placed in the wrong hands. If such devices are used improperly, a person can face numerous complications related to mental health, such as severe anxiety or depression.
Inform your child that they can have a smartphone when they turn 16, that is, once they start college or their senior years in secondary school. In the years before they turn 16, ensure that you educate your child regarding the benefits and harms of smartphones and social media. Educate them about the values of right and wrong, so that the process of learning and understanding becomes easier for them. You must also consider the fact that a child learns from what they see. Therefore, you must be a positive model by exhibiting the best behaviour with your smartphone and social media usage. If you are using these applications to the extent that they are taking over your life, your child will not value your advice and rules.
Owing to your strict guidelines, your child may feel like an outcast by being the only primary student who does not have a smartphone. In response to such concerns, you should educate your child by informing them that it is perfectly fine to uphold different values and standards. Inspire them by saying that we should be leaders, not blind followers of others. Remind them that during the technological age, it is extremely dangerous to obey others without thinking about the values of right and wrong.
2. If a phone is required, then consider giving a technologically inferior model
If you need to give your child a phone due to health and safety reasons, such as their school being located far away from their area of residence, then give them a technologically inferior device. By such a phrase I am referring to older phone models which do not have any smartphone capabilities.
This will enable your child to contact you in case of an emergency, yet they will not be able to have access to any smartphone features.
3. If a smartphone is required, then do not give it to ages under 11
If for whatever reason you feel that your child requires a smartphone, then do not give it to a child of primary school age. Only provide the smartphone when they are 11 years of age or older. The phone should not be under contract, and have no data plan. This way your child will only be able to access the Internet or mobile applications when they are in Wi-Fi zones. In addition to these measures, instruction about the appropriate use of smartphones is still necessary, and ideally, your child should not have any social media applications installed. Bear in mind that most social media applications are designated for the ages of 13 and older. You should also ensure that your child submits their phone to you whenever they arrive home, enabling you to maintain control of their device.
4. Regulate their time
If you wish to give your child some time to use their phone at home, it must be regulated. For example, they could be permitted one hour of phone usage straight after dinner. However, the use of the phone must be in communal areas to ensure nothing inappropriate is occurring. Under no circumstances should any technological devices enter the bedroom. After they have indulged themselves with the smartphone, they should hand the device over to you. It is also important that as a child’s first teacher, you must also appropriately manage your device usage. For instance, if your child is not using their phone at home, then you as a parent should also model that behaviour and try to avoid phone usage during after school hours. Instead, use it in the evening after your child has gone to bed, if possible.
5. Use limits and preventive measures
If you have agreed to let your child use some social media applications, then a few limits and preventative measures must be put in place. These include the following:
- Add a parent or guardian as a contact,
- Only add friends and family members approved by parents,
- Do not add acquaintances of the opposite gender,
- Do not allow your child to set their profile page as private.
This is still not the best option, but at least there will be some rules and regulations in place. These measures will mitigate the potential harm that your child may encounter during their use of social media.
6. No phone at night
Under no circumstances should you allow your child to have their phone with them during the night. It must be taken from them before bed, as this is a time of greater risk. In fact, studies confirm that most cases of harassment and cyberbullying take place at night, and most girls are asked for nude or semi-nude photographs during overnight hours. No child should ever be allowed to take a smartphone with them to bed. It is therefore essential that the bedroom remains a technology-free zone, and it is your duty as a parent to maintain checks and balances on your child’s night time activities.
7. Put parental controls on your Wi-Fi
Unfettered access to the internet contributes to the abuse and harassment of children. To combat this, there are a number of services that parents can utilize to help put filters on their home Internet network. Through these simple measures you can protect your child from accessing harmful content and other potential risk areas.
While we may face pressure from our children on these matters, we must nevertheless be mindful that as parents we assume the obligation of protecting our children and raising them up with good values. Smartphone devices and social media platforms are not age appropriate forums for children, even if the current degree of restrictions worldwide is limited. Besides the requirement of them having to reach mature age, you must provide your child with sufficient know-how regarding the advantages and liabilities found in modern technology. When a child realises that your rules come from a coherent value system which is designed to make them a better person, they will be more inclined to abide by your commands. This way, as parents we will face a lower degree of friction and ensure to safeguard our future generations.
I have been working with Parents, Carers and Schools to help cover difficult sensitive topics, with a view of helping to improve safeguarding.
Last year I published the second book part of the ‘Difficult Conversation Series’ and addresses several safeguarding topics.
‘Let’s chat about your body & privacy’ uses relatable scenarios and discusses issues around body safety, exposure to indecent images (pornography), and sharing of images via social media (sexting).
There are several thinking points in the book which encourage discussion and problem-solving. This book helps children, parents, and teachers to explore difficult situations and conversations in a child-friendly and sensitive way.
The book is designed for pre-teens and early teens (marked as suitable for children aged 10+) and helps prepare children for Secondary School and the teenage years.
The book is available to purchase on Amazon here