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Mobile messenger – these are the risks

risks of mobile messengers
kids mobile messengers

Mobile messengers allow people to communicate in real-time. They offer extensive communication options while on the move and are particularly popular with adolescents. At the same time, however, they also harbor high risks of confronting children with inappropriate content such as violence, extremism, and pornography or being approached by unfamiliar contacts. Mobile messenger services, therefore, require cautious handling as well as selection and support by parents.

Most young smartphone owners use messenger services. Thanks to their mobile data volume, they use them to send and receive messages regardless of text length and frequency. According to the JIM Study 2020, WhatsApp is the most important online communication service. Around 94 percent of young people use it several times a week to communicate with others (86 % daily). The young people who use WhatsApp receive an average of 22 messages a day.  Eighty-seven percent of all students have a WhatsApp group with their class (girls: 88 %, boys: 85 %). However, the simple, quick exchange with friends in real-time also carries risks that parents and children had better not lose sight of while enjoying the benefits of messenger services.

Cyberbullying

Messengers are unmoderated: There is usually no way to report troublemakers or harassers. Therefore, the inhibition thresholds for harassment are lower here. Mobile messengers are often used for cyberbullying – excluding people from groups, creating hate groups, spreading embarrassing photos, and sending offensive messages. The mobility of the applications means that conflicts are carried from the classroom and the schoolyard all the way home. For victims, this means even greater stress and helplessness.

Parents can watch out for various signs that indicate cyberbullying. Here you can find everything on the subject. It is also essential that they are available to their children as a contact person from the beginning if conversations in messengers unsettle them.

Inappropriate content

kids mobile messenger

Another risk of mobile messengers lies in the confrontation of younger and older children with content that they cannot yet categorize and frighten them. This includes right-wing extremist and Islamist propaganda as well as pornography or violent videos. According to the JIM Study 2020, two-thirds of cell phone users know that such films are distributed via the smartphone. Twenty-three percent of those surveyed said they had already heard something like this among their friends, and 13 percent said they themselves had already been sent such content without being asked.

Contact risks

With smartphones and messenger apps, the possibilities of being approached personally by strangers are growing. Careless disclosure of one’s contact data in profiles or platforms increases the risk of being closed without permission. But some messengers also have a search function that makes accounts traceable.

If the few security settings that are possible to restrict the profile’s visibility and the contact options remain deactivated, unpleasant situations such as sexual harassment can occur regardless of one’s behavior.

Mobile messengers: not for children?

The various risks of messengers show a few things for parents and children to consider when using them. By far, the most popular application used by adolescents is WhatsApp. However, neither data protection nor youth protection is a top priority for the provider. It is, therefore, all the more important that parents use the few options available to make the messenger safer.

Online providers are not allowed to process personal data of children under 16 without the consent of their parents. This also applies to Messenger. So installation and registration of the offers are a matter for parents. In practice, however, most providers do not check this. It is often sufficient to enter the date of birth or a simple confirmation for data processing – so children can quickly enter data on their own.

School bullying: What is it?

school bullying

Bullying is an increasingly frequent occurrence in schools and occurs when a student or group repeatedly and continuously physically and psychologically assaults a child or adolescent. Aggression, intimidation, isolation, threats, insults, mockery, and other similar attitudes are different expressions of bullying suffered mainly by children between 6 and 17 years of age, but with a significant violence component between 11 and 15 years of age.

Bullying types:

School bullying

Physical: this focuses on physical aggression towards the victim (pushing, kicking, attack with objects, etc.) and is more frequent in primary school than in secondary school.

Verbal: This is the most common type of bullying and is based on insults and belittling the victim in public, trying to ridicule them at all times.

Psychological: it tries to generate fear in the victim, causing a very significant loss of self-esteem.

Social: the ultimate goal is to completely isolate the victim from her peers, achieving her total exclusion from shared activities within the school.  

Consequences of bullying

The phenomenon of school bullying not only carries consequences for the victim, but also for the aggressor(s) and even for those who witness the bullying:

Victim:

  • Failure and school difficulties.
  • High level of anxiety.
  • School phobia.
  • Deficit of self-esteem.
  • Depressive symptoms.
  • Suicide attempts.
  • Low expectation of achievement.

They are submerged in an attitude of continuous helplessness as they feel unable to control the bullying situations by themself.

Aggressor:

Carrying out the bullying allows him to learn unhealthy ways to achieve his goals.

This learning places him in a position of high risk of developing criminal behavior.

The bullying provides him with recognition within the group and strengthens his leadership, although this is within the limits of a youth gang.

The success of his actions will likely lead him to generalize his behavior to other areas of his life, such as his family, work, or partner, which could lead him to acquire the profile of a potential abuser.

But bullying can also have negative consequences for those classmates who witness it without doing anything to prevent it (passive spectators), as they develop a lack of sensitivity to unfair situations and develop an attitude of tolerance and inability to respond to violence.  

10 guidelines for parents to prevent school bullying

School bullying

We refer to bullying when we talk about situations based on “inequality” between the aggressor and the victim, in which a dominance-submission relationship is established. We can describe it as actions or behaviors where one or more students insult, defame, threaten, blackmail, spread rumors, hit, steal, break things, ignore or isolate others in a systematic and prolonged manner over time. These acts produce feelings of helplessness and inferiority in those who suffer them.

For this reason, we propose the following tips to prevent and detect bullying in time:

Remain attentive to the warning signs:

If your child is suffering from bullying, he/she may avoid going to class, is more nervous or withdrawn, presents psychosomatic symptoms (stomach ache, headaches, vomiting, insomnia…), his/her school material disappears frequently, if he/she loses interest in studies or performance suddenly drops.

Stay calm:

Talk to them about their worries and their day-to-day life at school, conveying calmness. If we do not act calmly, children do not dare to talk about their problems for fear of our reaction and avoid distressing us, and therefore we will not be able to help them.

Talk to your child about how to solve their problems:

Give them some examples of your difficulties and how you have been able to solve them. By doing so, you are demonstrating two critical lessons: that we all have problems, that we are not alone, and that we need to talk about them to find solutions.

It boosts their self-esteem:

The value of being unique and convey to him that his differences make him special. Make an effort so that your child feels valued and loved, have a healthy vision of themself and realistically accept their defects.

Contact the school and inform them of the situation:

Schools are obliged to get involved and take action; they must also act in cases of Cyberbullying even if the bullying occurs outside the center. You can ask for a meeting with your child’s tutor to tell them about the situation. They will put in place an action protocol involving: the tutor, guidance counselor, head of studies and direction, to protect your child, help them, promote healthy social relationships and equality, and work with the student who is harassing. If the bullying is taking place through new technologies, there are specialized groups of the Police and Guardia Civil to which you can go to report the situation.

Ask the school center to provide training on bullying and cyberbullying, as well as on the management of emotions and conflict resolution:

Centers that carry out these types of activities and teaching essential tools for life identify situations that can still be prevented.

Help your child to put their emotions into words:

When your child is sad, angry or frustrated, connect with his or her emotion and teach him or her to understand and overcome his or her discomfort.

Teach them that there are limits:

They cannot be crossed, neither at home nor outside the house, and that violent acts have consequences for those who do them. Ensure they are clear about the difference between “being popular” (by being aggressive or bullying) and being accepted and liked by others for their healthy way of relating to others.

Indicate to your child that if there is a situation of violence in the school, they must be supportive:

Not defending a classmate and silencing the situation also implies being part of the bullying game and strengthening the aggressor’s position of power. “If you remain silent when bullying another classmate, you become an accomplice and a passive aggressor.” Help them to be empathetic: “put him/herself in the place of the victim.” Reflect with your child: If someone bullied you, how would you feel?

If your child shows violent attitudes to achieve some goal, correct them:

Do not let this be how they achieve their goals, and show them through your example as a parent that goals can be achieved without the need to be violent. Learning to respect others is essential in any coexistence relationship.

The impact of video games on children’s brains

video games on children's brains

Is it good for children to play video games? Does it affect their development? How does it impact their brain to spend hours in front of a screen killing monsters or playing Candy Crush? is it harmful to a child to fall asleep watching cartoons on a tablet?

In a blog by Peter Gray of Boston College, author of Freedom to Learn, we can read:

I know kids who spend vast amounts of time reading—just sitting and reading—without moving for 8 hours a day. There have always been kids like that, even when I was little. I never understood why they sat and read when they could come fishing with me. What a waste of time! Interestingly, I have never met a parent who limits a child’s reading time. Why is it better to determine TV time or play computer games or consoles than limit reading time? Why do we worry about kids who spend 4 hours in front of a computer doing what they like and not worry about the same child sitting at a desk for 6 or 7 hours, plus two hours of homework doing what others force on them? I suggest reconsidering whether the child learns more valuable knowledge, or enhances cognitive skills on the computer than in school, mainly because the laptop is chosen and school is forced.

Children come from series adapted to change; their brains are more plastic precisely to learn. They do not mind change; on the contrary, it stimulates them. Adults are less fond of change because it is not pleasant to modify our way of thinking when we have been doing it in one way for 40 years. When poetry and theater appeared, Plato criticized it in The Republic; the appearance of books in the Middle Ages was criticized because they corrupted minds. Later, television “stupefies” the brain, and now, more of the same, with computers, tablets, smartphones, and game consoles.

First, we must consider the child’s age-associated with their capacity for choice and responsibility and then assess the type of activity they perform with the device. Watching a Peppa Pig video is not the same as playing at killing monsters or interacting on social networks with stangers.

video games and children's brains

Up to the age of three

From the second year of life, children can interact somewhat with devices in basic games such as Which one is the lion? They are essentially passive spectators who do not interact with the device. In simple games, they do not last more than five minutes because they require sustained attention and proactivity that they cannot maintain for long. They get bored because they are not fully aware of the goals, achievements, levels, and rewards of the game, motivating at older ages; their interest does not go beyond colors and moving dolls.

Their relationship with electronic devices focuses on watching cartoons, singing games, or some absurd videos, such as a girl who opens 50 surprise eggs. From a psychological point of view, there is no difference between watching television. The proximity does not harm their eyes because if it bothers them, their eyes get tired or dry, they stop caring, something that older children do not do when they play actively.

In this regard, some research indicates that constant focusing at close visual ranges can stress and tire the eye and eventually lead to myopia. The study, however, finds no correlation between the use of these devices and myopia. The most crucial cause of intolerance in children is simply heredity. Children with nearsighted parents are more likely to develop myopia. 

The only precaution to be taken, apart from the volume, is the brightness and type of light emitted by the screen, i.e., if they are watched in the evening we must control the brightness since a high brightness and blue tones could delay their DLMO (dim light melatonin onset), the time of biological secretion of melatonin when the brain detects that there is no light and orders the pineal gland to secrete this hormone that induces the neurophysiological changes for the onset of sleep. The best thing to do is activate the blue shade option that blocks blue light or uses a similar application, or put a blue light filter. This advice is valid for all ages. As a general rule, exposure to bright light in the morning brings sleep earlier in the evening, and in the afternoon, it delays it.

Finally, the homeostatic component of sleep (the time spent awake) is too vital at this age for an electronic device to detract from rest; he will fall asleep no matter how interesting what he sees is. On the contrary, a tablet with the brightness and sound significantly dimmed can help him fall asleep on difficult days.

Between the ages of three and six

At this age, they continue to watch music, cartoons, and movies. They manage them repeatedly and do not follow the storyline even though they can repeat the dialogues by heart.

On the other hand, they begin to play simple games as they do not fully develop cognitive skills for advanced competitions. Some necessary mental faculties of analysis, planning, and execution are not mature in their brain. Apart from the fact that the literacy needed for many games is being consolidated. They can try, but their attention span does not exceed a few minutes. In simple games, such as Candy Crush, if they can stay longer, they get tired, especially if there are other alternative games, outdoors, or with siblings or friends.

The precautions we must take are the same as for children under three years of age regarding time, brightness, volume, and additional protection. They cannot go to sleep playing because play requires proactivity and stimulation, and we would be going against the sleep vector that requires the opposite.

Between six and nine years old

We can take the section assessments between three and six years, but increasing the tendency to video games, especially by children with sports games and, most importantly, the beginning of computer use.

At this age, the consolidation of reading and writing has taken place. Therefore, the computer and smartphone open a world of possibilities that must be monitored because accessing unsuitable or inappropriate content is easy. At this age, the child should see as usual that we interact with them and, of course, the possibility of accessing the history of use to detect access to unsuitable content.

On the other hand, it is evident that the computer is the most effective information tool today and will be in the future. Therefore, learning and interaction should not be limited if done correctly. Suppose a seven-year-old child hears the word brontosaurus and goes to his electronic device to Google it’s meaning. In that case, it is pretty positive, just as it was in our time when we consulted the encyclopedia.

Regarding video games, now they can be more attentive because now they learn strategies, and their cognitive skills allow them more complex interactions of planning and execution. We can give some recommendations about eyestrain and dry eyes. Use the 20-20-20 rule; every twenty minutes, look for 20 seconds at an object 20 feet away.

From the age of 9

We enter the golden age of video games, as Barbara Chamberlin, director of New Mexico State University, rightly explains:

“Games offer immediate feedback; you can see your progress, you can try something and get frustrated for a moment but, when you beat it, later on, you learn more and more, and it feeds back into your reward center… That’s why the game is so appealing to us.”

Video gaming is here to stay. More and more of them are highly entertaining, connecting with a more significant number of people. 65% of households have one or more gaming devices, not counting smartphones which are now as powerful as computers.

From this age, we can take the above advice on light, volume and above all take into account these aspects:

  • The best play for early brain development occurs outdoors, with other children, and with physical components. Whenever that option exists, we must promote it in the child. If it is not possible, video game or computer use is not harmful; it is just another alternative.
  • Play better with friends or family both face-to-face and online.
  • Do not play before bedtime because it stimulates and goes against the sleep vector.
  • Gaming should never reduce hours of sleep. Until the age of 12, it is not advisable to use video games after seven or eight in the evening.

CONCLUSIONS ON THE USE OF VIDEO GAMES BY AGE

From the point of view of the environment where we have evolved as a species, the best play occurs outdoors, moving and in groups of children of different ages. Play is the best way to learn dexterity and cognitive skills of all kinds, including social skills. The benefits are immense, for example, on myopia.

The use of electronic devices for entertainment is one more alternative. Rather than rejecting it, we should integrate electronic devices into our children’s lives, taking advantage of their benefits and trying to avoid their drawbacks. Video games improve cognitive abilities; several serious studies corroborate this, such as optimizing planning, resource management, and executive functions. Even several multinational companies look for their leaders among the best video game players.

Children especially like the freedom, self-direction, and competition they find in video games. They make their own decisions, strive to overcome challenges of their choosing, solve complex problems, and exhibit extraordinary skills. In gaming, age does not matter, but talent does. In this way, video games are one more form of actual play.

When they are young, you have to control the type of light, brightness, volume, that it does not reduce sleep hours, and that it is not the only means of entertainment; electronic devices are just one more. As they grow up, you should supervise the type of activity and, more importantly, the content they access, especially on social networks.

If a child seems obsessed with video games and unhappy when not playing, don’t conclude that games cause unhappiness. Because we wouldn’t do that if he read ten hours a day, blaming it on books, and psychologically it’s the same obsession. Instead, we need to find out what may be missing or malfunctioning in other aspects of your life and whether or not you can help solve that problem. Many obsessed with playing in virtual worlds are because the real world does not produce the same happiness in the child, and we need to find out why. It may be school, parents, friends, or simply a way to escape from everyday problems.

Children’s Online Safety: Instructions for Use

Children's Online Safety banner
Children's Online Safety

Sex crimes in which the Internet is used to groom minors are on the rise. Recent statistics show that children between the ages of 11 and 13 are most at risk, but there have also been cases where victims are as young as 3 years old. For all these reasons, it’s time to make online safety a priority for parents whose children are accessing the Internet. Children and teens need help from adults to understand how to stay safe when surfing online.

Online safety is just as important as offline safety. The Internet is an excellent resource for children: they can play, learn, create, and even keep in touch with friends and family. At the same time, it’s a source of worry and fear for parents, not least because it’s challenging to keep up with the ever-changing digital world and technology, and the Internet can often be confusing and daunting.

First of all, it is good to identify the risks that children and adolescents incur while online and then put in place a whole series of protective measures to make surfing safe.

Online safety: what can you do?

First, your child may be sharing too much personal information, such as passwords, addresses, photos, or someone sharing images of the child that the parent would not want to be made public. Others could further disseminate this information to the point of losing control of who sees and owns it. As a result, the child is at risk of being bullied, teased, and ridiculed, significantly impacting self-esteem and reputation and being approached inappropriately by strangers.

In other cases, however, the child may be looking at age-inappropriate content online. This may happen accidentally, voluntarily, or forcibly if forced by others. Although curiosity about sex and relationships is normal, there is a risk of viewing pornography at an early age about building healthy interpersonal relationships.

Finally, it may be that someone misbehaves toward the child. Online abuse happens on the web, in social networks, in video games, with cell phones, and can have the characteristics of cyberbullying, online grooming, sexual abuse, emotional abuse of sexting. The danger can come from people you know as well as strangers.

Having a clear understanding of the dangerous situations that can arise from the uncontrolled use of the Internet and social networks by children and adolescents, it is up to adults to prevent or address them. Here are some tips to support and encourage parents in the difficult task of taking care of their children online.

Talk to your child

First, talk openly and regularly with your child about what they are doing online and ask them what they are doing at school. This is the best way to protect him because you can spot any problems and encourage him to confide in you if he feels concerned.

It is essential to be sure he understands what can and cannot be shared online. Let’s help him know who can see the information being shared and compare it to the information he would like to share offline. To that end, ask, “Would you give your phone number to a stranger on the street?”

Explain what personal information is, such as name, address, password, email, phone number, and why it is essential. For example, it’s vital to choose usernames that don’t contain personal information.

Let’s talk about the fact that photos convey an idea of one’s personality, so one must be careful not to share pictures that may give the wrong impression of oneself.

Let’s make it clear that not everyone you find online is really how they appear, so you need to be careful about sharing thoughts and feelings with people you only know virtually.

Explain that there are also images on the web that can be upsetting or make people feel strange and uncomfortable, reassuring them that they can always talk about it and receive our help.

In these types of discussions, we must always remain positive and show that we understand that the Internet is a great resource, but, at the same time, the parent must provide the confidence that they are the place to take refuge in case of frightening situations.

Set rules

Creating a family rulebook is an excellent way to start discussing online safety. With it, your child understands what behavior is appropriate when on the Internet. Set rules for children and practices for adults, and at the end, everyone signs up. It must be ensured that the rules are clear, always up to date, and take into account the child’s growth, wishes, and maturity.

The family rules can describe what sites can be opened and by whom, what time you can go online, and ask permission before downloading apps or spending money online. It’s also good practice to explore the digital world together, looking for apps and sites that are considered trustworthy.

Set filters

As a parent, there are many actions you can take to keep your children safe online. You can control privacy settings, use family filters and digital tools to manage sites, allowing your child to experience the web safely. Harmless online searches can lead to less-than-harmless results, but child filters can block them. Filters can keep inappropriate content away from children and are easy to install. They are efficient and instrumental software and tools for staying safe when children use smartphones, tablets, and computers.

We explain how to report harmful content and offensive behavior on websites and social networks and even block people. We check the history and ask if the child can also consider content viewed by adults; if not, we delete the account to prevent them from accidentally opening it.

Discuss the Internet while remaining positive

In conclusion, although it is a complex subject to deal with, it is essential to discuss it while remaining optimistic about the Internet and showing your child that you trust the many advantages offered by the digital world. The best way to keep your child safe is not to leave them alone to explore new technology and to provide them with the tools they need to navigate with confidence.

Cyberbullying: important information for parents

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying or virtual bullying (cyberbullying) is a growing problem because more kids than ever are using cell phones and other digital devices to text, post, and chat.  But there are things parents can do to help kids socialize online appropriately.

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying

Also known as cyberbullying, this form of bullying includes a range of harmful words and actions in the digital world. Here are some examples:

  • Sending aggressive messages to someone.
  • Sharing embarrassing photos of others.
  • Making up and spreading false stories about other people.
  • Telling others to ignore someone or exclude them from activities.

Virtual bullying can occur by text message, social networking sites, apps, email, or online games involving multiple players.

How is virtual bullying different from bullying/harassment?

When cyberbullying first became an issue, experts were uncertain whether it was an entirely new type of bullying or whether traditional bullying was moving to new platforms. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report concluded that cyberbullying and stalking are more alike than different.  However, there are some differences:

  • When and where. Face-to-face bullying usually occurs during the day, for example, at school. But cyberbullying can happen anywhere, any day of the week, at any time.
  • No names are needed. While anonymous bullying is not common, either in person or online, virtual bullying can happen without knowing who is sending the messages.
  • Word spreads. Malicious or embarrassing posts on social media can quickly apply online and go “viral.” This can increase the harm or embarrassment (discomfort) of a bullying experience.

As with traditional bullying, children can experience cyberbullying in various ways, and roles sometimes change within a situation. They can be the target of bullying, bullying others, or witnessing online bullying.

Is cyberbullying harmful?

For generations, bullying was considered a childhood “rite of passage.” But research now shows how harmful bullying can be, both for the children being bullied and those who bully others. Some adverse effects of bullying include:

  • Academic difficulties.  Bullied children may avoid school, have trouble concentrating in class, or even drop out of school.
  • Physical and mental health.  Bullying increases the risk of depression, anxiety, and sleep problems. Studies show that it may also put them at greater risk for substance abuse later in life.

What should I do if my child is a victim of cyberbullying?

It’s difficult for parents to know the best way to react if their child is a victim of bullying, whether in person or online. Here are some examples:

  • Take away their access. Don’t threaten to take away the device or cut off your child’s internet time. This could be perceived as punishment, so they may be less willing to tell you about bullying situations in the future
  • Documentation. If there is evidence online, save a screenshot. This could be useful if there is a need to report it.
  • Support. Talk to your child about the experience. Studies show that having just one person listen and support them helps children who have been bullied handle the situation better.
  • Speak up. Most social media platforms have a process for reporting misconduct. If a classmate is bullying your child, you can report it to the school. If the bullying involves threats of physical harm, you can consider reporting it to the police.
  • Seek to support yourself. A child’s experience of bullying can also be stressful for parents. Parents may want to consider finding someone to talk to for support.
  • Seek out resources. Talk to your pediatrician about resources for dealing with bullying.

How parents can prevent cyberbullying?

  • Talk about “digital citizenship.” Talk to your children about the importance of being respectful online and how negative messages can hurt others. And remember: you are the role model. So if you use social media, be sure to set an excellent example of positive online interactions.
  • Be vigilant early and often. Ask your children what kinds of messages they see, send, and receive and how they affect you. Early online experiences are essential and can set the tone and expectations for your child going forward.
  • Make a plan. Use our family media consumption plan to establish guidelines and norms that are important to your family.