How to protect your children from harmful online content

Deliberate efforts must be put in place to protect children from negative effects of social media. [iStockphoto]

As children remain at home for holidays there is no doubt that they are interacting with social media platforms  - X, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok.

They are likely to access smartphones from their peers, parents or caregivers as well as interacting with desktop and laptops connected to the internet.

While social media provides useful information on many aspects of life, it has also proved detrimental to minors who cannot discern and control the type of content they are consuming. Predators and hatemongers take advantage of the vulnerability of children and expose them to hurtful and harmful content that has the potential of negative mental and health effects on them. Deliberate efforts must be put in place to protect children from negative effects of social media.

It is worthy to note that social media content is designed to hijack and hold the user’s attention all the time as one is bombarded with content in a split of seconds. The majority of this content has psychological biases and capitalises on the vulnerability of children who will always want validation and are afraid of any form of rejection.

Children are at risk of being lured by the content they are exposed to since the predator designs it to trigger feelings of envy, self-satisfaction with life and self-inadequacy. Additionally, children are exposed to a luring content of fake life and quick riches. Studies reveal that such contents can lead to depression, anxiety, sleep deprivation, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) - a condition that leads to differences in brain development and brain activity that affect attention, the ability to sit still, and self-control.

Majority of children and teens have one way or another been bullied while online. A UN report reveals that over a third of young people in 30 countries report being cyberbullied, with 1 in 5 skipping school as a result. A child can be bullied in many ways including peer-to-peer violence, body shaming, lifestyle comparisons and actual insults, intimidating shapes, signs and messaging.  As a result, they are likely to suffer mental instability and become violent.

Contents showing individuals flaunting pornographic content, praising drug abuse and celebrating gender-based violence online can easily instil negative influence on children and that may affect their future adult lives. Additionally, in extreme situations, cyberbullying has led to suicide.

Parents and caregivers must closely monitor the content their children are consuming. This can involve encouraging responsible social media use habits and warning the children of possible misguiding social media content. Further, parents and caregivers must encourage children to engage in other activities such as physical games with peers and face to face interactions.

It is healthy for parents and caregivers to pay attention to concerns raised by children and teens concerning their interactions with social media. This way parents will in a timely manner counsel and advise them on the best way to use social media. Moreover, teens’ voices should be considered when developing policies concerning social media.

Authorities must engage tech companies and designers to design user-friendly tools that help parents create age-appropriate environments. In addition, authorities must regulate the content and ensure it is distributed at an appropriate time of day to cushion minors from adult content.

-The writer is an editor at AR Films