According to We are Social’s digital report of 2016, the average South African spends just under five hours a day online. WhatsApp, Facebook, and Facebook Messenger are the platforms the most time is spent on.

Figures state 41% of Facebook users are between the ages of 20 and 29 and 17% are between the ages of 13 to 19. With regards to young adults and teenagers, the picture is not looking favourable.

One reason for this is because exposure and access to content have increased dramatically over the past few years. There’s increasingly more to find, more social platforms to use, and more devices the youth can use to access these platforms.

Another potential reason is the fact that it is mostly left up to the individual to regulate themselves. Young people are protected by the law when it comes to harassment online, but it’s a very complex and adult issue, which youth should not have to deal with.

There is no limitation to what you can access on the internet and that is why safety is a concern. Certain websites do try and regulate use. For instance, if you visit a website marketing alcohol, you need to enter your birth date.

The downfall of this regulation is you can still say you are 18, even if you are 13, so it is up to the user to be truthful. This gives a young user a lot of power to decide what kind of information they want to consume, but also what content information they want to put out into the world.

Statistics prove that the youth do not fare well at ‘self-regulating’. According to World Wide Worx, Snapchat usage in South Africa has increased by 33% since 2015, and it is incredibly popular among the South African youth.

Furthermore, young users are leaving Facebook for Snapchat because it’s a young user group and their parents are likely not on there. However, all is not lost.

Here are some tips for improving the situation.

For parents

  • You are the gatekeeper, so it is important to monitor your young adult’s screen time;
  • Put some ground rules in place and communicate clearly why there are ground rules;
  • One ‘ground rule’ could be guiding the type of sites they can visit, and giving them a clear understanding of what content is appropriate to post on their social media platforms;
  • It is essential to communicate openly and honestly about the consequences and risks; and
  • Security software could be a solution. This way, you will know where your teen is going online and what content they are consuming. This has become much harder to achieve with the Internet and social media being available on a variety of platforms in your home.

For young people

  • Don’t give out personal information, such as your address or mobile phone number;
  • Tell somebody if someone shares something with you that makes you feel uncomfortable;
  • Don’t agree to meet with someone you met online without checking with your parents first;
  • Think carefully about the pictures and words you post online – a good measure of suitability is to ask yourself, ‘Is this a picture my teachers and parents can see?’;
  • Don’t give your password to anyone; and
  • If someone is writing untrue things about you or is mean to you on social media, tell someone. Don’t act in anger or react to their bullying. Tell a parent or adult you trust.

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