Would you drop off your child at the park and leave them unattended for a few hours? Most parents would answer “no”. So why do we allow our children on social media and online spaces without monitoring their activity? Diana Schwarz, a social media lawyer and child’s rights activist, tells us more
Every parent wants to protect their children from any harm. However, there seems to be an absence of informed parenting in the digital age in South Africa house when it comes to the effects of social media, the dangers facing children on social media and the law.
The internet has a wealth of knowledge and benefits for education, socialisation and connectivity. It is a great tool for children if used in a safe and positive way. However, there are also dangers that parents and children need to be aware of.
Ignorance is not bliss
If children’s online activity is not monitored and, more importantly, if they are not taught online safety, there could be dire consequences. High exposure to inappropriate and violent content online and a risk of social media offences are the most common results of unmonitored online usage.
In addition, many adults are ignorant of the legal implications of their own actions on social media. Statistics and experience have shown that 95% of parents are unaware of the social media dangers facing their children. Likewise, many do not know that there are age limits for using the various platforms. And, many are blissfully unaware of the legal implications of their children’s actions on social media.
Read our article on keeping children safe online.
What the law says
Children can be held legally liable for their actions.
The law defines a child as “a person under the age of 18 years old”.
Children aged 7+ can be sued in the name of their parent or legal guardian under South African law, while those aged 11–18 can be sued in their own name with the assistance of a parent or guardian and are deemed to be legally liable for their actions. They can be sued civilly or charged criminally.
Furthermore, children 11–14 years of age have criminal capacity. The onus to prove criminal capacity on the part of the child accused of having committed a crime, rests with the State. Children older than 14 years have criminal capacity unless otherwise proven by the accused child.
The age for users to create accounts on most social media platforms is generally 13 years old. This includes Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp etc. Some platforms require the consent of parents/guardians.
READ MORE: Parenting in a World of Screens
Danger lurks in cyberspace
Here are some of the most important dangers facing children on social media.
READ MORE: How to Be More Present in Your Child’s Life
Fake online profiles can trick children into thinking they are talking to children of their own age. This is how child predators gain access to victims.
Bullying that takes place online and on social media platforms through electronic devices. Schools all over South Africa are dealing with a high rate of cyberbullying – both on and off the school grounds. Therefore, schools should have proper social media policies in place to deal with all aspects of social media, as well as the use of devices or mobile phones. Disciplinary action should take place for social media offences.
Online harassment and stalking across social media platforms.
Adult/child predators use fake profiles or even their own profiles to form relationships with children over a long period of time. The purpose is to later develop a sexual relationship with the child.
Any naked or nude pictures of a child (a person under the age of 18) is child pornography. Distributing child pornopgrahpy is a criminal offence. For example, anyone keeping and sending naked pictures is deemed as being in possession of and distributing child pornography.
Catfishing, online grooming, and personal information being made known online can possibly lead to kidnapping.
Parenting in the digital age can be a daunting task. The internet and social media is here to say, therefore parents need to ramp up their skills to navigate this new digital era.
Diana Schwarz is a social media lawyer and child’s rights activist. She provides social media educational talks to learners and parents at schools.