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Child Online Safety: Teens experiencing cyberbullying, sexting at record levels –Report

Children Browsing the Internet

*Researchers, child psychiatrist and FBI have suggested helpful ways for parents to tactfully safeguard their children and improve the situation

*Over 7,000 disturbing sextortion reports filed with law enforcement agencies 2022, says report

Gbenga Kayode | ConsumerConnect

Parents who allow their kids to use a digital device have enough to worry about – getting their dopamine fix, falling prey to gaming addiction, and teens spending more time with their faces on TikTok and Instagram than in a textbook.

Researchers submitted in the study findings those digital detours had led to a growing concern that a child’s mental health is at greater risk because of what they encounter online than ever before.

ConsumerConnect reports the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has been in the vanguard of promoting the concept of Child Online Protection (COP) in the West African country’s digital ecosystem.

READ: Cybersafety: Regulator Cautions Parents Against Uncontrolled Exposure Of Children To Online Activities

The telecoms sector regulatory Commission in Nigeria also has designed several youth-oriented programmes and initiatives to advance sensitisation for protection of the young consumers in cyberspace in the country.

A new report by Bark – a company that produces phones, apps, and Internet monitoring devices to give parents more power over what their children see and who and what can communicate with them online – echoes that sentiment.

The report also indicated that the menacing tweens and teens endure is hard for any parent to imagine.

RELATED Cybersecurity: NCC Management, COP Ambassadors Stress Importance Of Child Online Safety In Africa

A third of such youths in the age bracket think about self-harm suicide: 35.7% of tweens and 64.3% of teens were involved in a self-harm/suicidal situation online in 2022

Over half shown sexual images

62.4 percent of tweens and 82.2 percent of teens encountered nudity or content of a sexual nature, and four of five are being bullied, translating into 71.2 percent of tweens and 83.3 percent of teens experiencing bullying as a bully, victim, or witness.

Kids on mobile devices

Alerts for cyberbullying range from mean-spirited teasing to hateful threats and provoking statements.

‘Sex crimes running rampant’

Underneath the statistic about sexual content lies greater concerns, according to research from Thorn.

READ Interview: How Sustained Cybersecurity Awareness Will Address Online Frauds In Nigeria ─Expert

In studying the topic, Thorn said it had heard from some kids as young as age 9 being solicited online to send nudes. Among all kids who have shared their own nudes, 43 percent confessed they had shared them with someone they didn’t even know.

FBI’s concern about ‘sextortion’ in cyberspace

The United States Federal  Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has also sounded the alarm about sextortion – an eruption in incidents of minors being pressured into sending explicit images online and, then, extorted for money.

RELATED CyberEspionage: NCC Alerts Nigerians To Hackers’ Targeting Telcos, ISPs, Others

It was gathered 2022, over  7,000 disturbing sextortion reports were filed with law enforcement agencies, resulting in at least 3,000 victims, primarily boys, and more than a dozen suicides.

How parents can get ahead, and stay ahead

While the statistics are troubling and there are apps and phones like the ones that certain Bark offers, parents still have to make the effort to safeguard their children.

On key steps to protect children, and to find out what parents should keep an eye out for, adolescent psychiatrist Larry D. Mitnaul, Jr., MD, MPH, MS said: “It is difficult, if not impossible at times if we [parents] are not in the habit of monitoring our child or teen’s presence online.

RELATED: Danbatta Restates NCC’s Commitment To Broadband, Consumer Protection, Digital Economy

“The situation can be especially tough if children are on devices or social media platforms and parents are unaware.”

Mitnaul also opined that “as the adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. “The first step is having safeguards on devices that a child or teen may be using – preferably ones that have the capacity to send parental alerts if concerning messages are being shared.”

Anyone who’s been a parent knows the fragility of trying to have a discussion with a tween or teen, but Mitnaul says parents can ease into the discussion by beginning with a question rather than an accusation such as “can you help me understand what’s been going on?”

He stated: “Children and teens are likely to balk at any perceived intrusion into their use of social media.

“It can be helpful for parents to recognise that the consequences of bullying on social media (such as suicidal ideation or withdrawal from healthy connections and activities) are worth the trouble.”

Tackling potential cyberbullying

When it comes to cyberbullying, Mitnaul said the characteristics he suggests parents put on their radar are simple:

If they see their child going through big emotional changes such as feeling angry, overwhelmed, or sad after being on a device or social media.

READ Special Report – NGCC: NCC’s Digital Gender, Youth Engagement For ICT Literacy And Skills

They notice their child tries to keep their use of devices at home secretive (outside of typical hours or in common spaces at home for example).

Uncharacteristic changes in behavior without evidence of changes in school, peer relationships, or home life start to show up.

The child deletes certain social media accounts or opens new ones – a “cure” that teens tend to use when they’re experiencing anxiety on social media.

If they seem anxious or startled when receiving a notification, text, e-mail, or message.

For the parent who receives an alert about potential bullying, he suggests parents remind their child that although they may discover things about their social media usage they would rather hide, your goal is to help them by safeguarding their reputation.

“Bullying, like other wounds, tends to worsen if kept hidden while being continuously reinjured,” said Mitnaul, Jr.

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