Social media is an excellent tool to remain in touch with loved ones by sharing photos, videos and chatting up with them. But it also brings one in touch with strangers who may have devious intentions. With children signing up on social media websites, they are unfortunately becoming targets of cyberbullies and sexual predators.
Dangers of social media
Unlike adults, children do not have the maturity to understand that people might exploit them emotionally and sexually. A few kind and humorous words are enough to make kids believe that the stranger they are chatting to is a ‘good’ person. Unfortunately, reports of cases of child abuse are only increasing.
The minimum age required to open an account in social media websites is usually 13 years. However, many who are under that age lie about it to set up accounts. And once on the social media site, the ‘popularity’ bug bites them, driving the kids to do all kinds of crazy things just so that many people like their posts.
Today, girls as young as 12 and 13 years are posting sexually suggestive pictures on their Instagram accounts. Why? Because their peers post such photos and get a huge number of likes, making them feel as if they are not beautiful. Once such an inferiority complex is formed, the kids just start posting racy photos in order to get validation from others.
Toss in a middle-aged pedophile who knows how to manipulate the girl’s need for validation and soon the child ends up sending nude photos of herself willingly. The images usually get circulated on the internet, bringing her shame and damaging the girl’s psyche for a long time. In worst case scenarios, the girl might even be lured into the predator’s place and manipulated into physical intercourse.
“I have seen hideous cyber bullying and harassment at that [primary school] age, I’ve seen exclusion, I’ve seen kids set up accounts in other kids’ names and use that as a tool to bully and harass other people… I have seen children groomed by predators [on social media sites] — including some as young as eight and nine… I had one parent tell me, late last year, her 12-year-old daughter had been groomed on Yellow to share naked photos with someone who was much older,” Susan McLean, a former police officer and cyber safety expert from Australia, said to ABC News.
If you find that your underage daughter or son has signed up on a social media account, it’s best not to be too aggressive about it. Trying to force them to close the account might make them more defensive and stubborn that the child might end up throwing all caution to the wind and use the site recklessly.
Instead, have a chat and ask them why they opted to sign up for the site. You can then begin training them about the appropriate way of using social media, the dangers they should be aware of, what to do in case someone sends a lecherous message or photo, and so on.
Above all, warn them about not getting too cozy with strangers. If possible, ask them to notify you in case they receive any ‘friend requests’ from older men or women.