Our young children and Social Media

One of the things many parents do which really worries me is to amble on, way ahead of a child, through a shopping mall presuming that their child is following them. These little ones wander into other shops or could easily be abducted by unscrupulous people. Many of you may remember the story of young Jamie Bulger (2) who was taken by 2 boys of 10 & 11 and murdered near a railway line in England, just because they wanted to! Children may not like being held by the hand or being restrained while out in public places but is that not better than having a child stolen and the parent does not even notice until it is too late? …but this is not the real purpose of my blog today. with regard to protecting children.

When one thinks of the internet and the various forms of social media and the dangers lurking there, it always seems to be what children should or should not do – don’t give out too much personal information; don’t put provocative pictures on your pages; only be a ‘friend’ of someone whom you know etc.  An opinion article by Amy Webb in the Mercury on the morning of Monday 9 Sept, made me sit up and think. How well do parents use social media and possibly place their children in danger? Amy’s article made me ask, “Have you (as a proud parent) ever thought about the dangers in the cyber world when posting pictures and information about your little ones?”

As Amy Webb says, there is nothing as wonderful as watching and witnessing the development of a new born into a child and on into adulthood but putting it all “out there” is not really such a wonderful idea. She refers to a post, loaded by a friend, of her little 5 year-old daughter in a bikini outside their home as they prepared to go on holiday. The picture clearly showed their home and address in the background.  Amy writes that she has seen a number of other photos of this little girl posted by her mother and not always appropriately dressed. These days with a touch of a button a photo can be sent out and then, go viral within in seconds. Once it is on the social media site it is public property according to most people. A photo can also be photo-shopped, airbrushed and altered by those who download them.

Firstly, as a parent you are showing the world what your child looks like, how old she is, where she lives and who her parents are. Some of this information is on your profile, remember. Is this fair to a young child? Is it possibly a direct offering to paedophiles?  We do this without really thinking it through. In fact, I am almost as guilty.  Although my children are adults and married, I almost always make a comment or like the photos posted by family and friends as they really are cute. This is also an opportunity for family and friends, who may not get to see them otherwise due to living in far-flung areas of the world. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends all love to have regular updates on your children. The sad thing is that we live in an age where privacy, respect for others and morality are not uppermost in many people’s minds.  Just think of the school principal, dermatologist, banker, a lawyer and others who were arrested last month in one do South Africa’s biggest child pornography busts. The Principal was highly respected by the  parents, scholars and staff alike and he had shortly before his arrest, written to parents warning them of the dangers of social media and the things people say and do.  Here was a perpetrator giving his “expert” advice!

I remember the fashion of a few years ago where children (and some women) wore neck-chains with their names on them. Thank goodness it came to an end when warnings were given of how children had been abducted as a stranger would came up to them called them by name. That gives a child a lot of security. Think how the first thing we ask a child is, ‘What is your name?” but how much safer the child feels if we can go up to her and say hello, ‘Jenny’, ‘Sagree’ or ‘Busi’. Similarly, there are many women driving around with personalised number plates using their names. I read of an incident of a women who had things stolen from her car when someone on the driver’s side said “Hello ….”. Of course she responded and at the same time his accomplice smashed the passenger window and stole things from that seat.

Having digressed there, I return to the subject and ask parents and family to think very carefully before they press the Post button on Face Book or any similar social media facility. Let’s not put our children in the hands of dangerous perverts.


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