Recently, concerned youth and parents in Kenya started a hashtag on Twitter and Facebook - it should reach the parents. This was after shocking nude photos of youngsters emerged on social media sites.
This sparked outrage and mixed reactions on what the future of teenagers is and how such photos can affect their future.
Most times, parents are accused of ‘absconding from their responsibilities’. Therefore, the question is – who should be blamed for this, and how can teens be protected from the negativity of social media?
Students have resumed school, and some people argue that it is easier to monitor students and how they use the Internet when they are at school, as opposed to when they are on holiday.
It is highly likely that some of them spend most of their time on different social media sites like Instagram and Facebook. However, do parents know what their children post on these platforms? How involved should they be, especially when it comes to checking the content of their children on social media?
According to Achille Gatari, an IT teacher at GS Kimisagara, while at school, it’s easier for teachers to guide and monitor students on how and what time they should use social media, and this, he says, boosts their performance.
He says that, in most cases, the gadgets used in schools are laptops and in some cases iPads, which help the students share information.
“At school, I think it’s rare for students to misuse social media, unlike at home where learners have the whole day to sit around and chat with friends. In fact, most of them browse site after site,” he says.
He says that this happens because it is possible that parents don’t have enough time to sit with their children and see what is really going on. Here, Gatari says, students end up discovering notorious sites.
Jackyline Iribagiza, a counselor and matron at Saint Martyrs School in Remera, a Kigali suburb, says there is still ‘a gap’ in parenting. She feels that this is so because of the busy schedule many parents have, making holidays a good time for children to ‘fall prey to social media’.
“Because of the limited time parents have at home, it gives learners a lot of time to be on social media. These children are left to browse the Internet, naïve of how it could affect them,” he says.
She, however, notes that in this case, if a parent knows that they don’t spend a lot of time with their children, they shouldn’t let them own these gadgets, especially when still teenagers.
Iribagiza explains that parents should know that teenagers have a lot going on in their minds, and can be easily influenced by things they see, watch or are exposed to when left alone.
“It’s easy to be manipulated by social media,” she observes.
Joseph Inkindi, a parent and mentor in Kigali, feels that for older students, parents should allow them to have the gadgets but find time to talk and advise them on what they should or shouldn’t do.
He says that a parent is in a better position to know the character of their child. He explains that this is because they have been around them since they were babies.
He notes that a smart parent is able to identify the weakness and strength of their child, and that they are able to know if the child is in a position to handle some things, including using social media.
“Here, I think they can know what age is right for their children to own these gadgets. It’s even easier to monitor such children, especially the ones who understand the repercussions and the effects of using social media in a bad way,” he says.
Additionally, Inkindi says, assessing the way the child uses the Internet depending on their age is crucial for parents.
How to be involved as a parent
Célestin Niwemwungeri, a teacher at GS Sihinga in Gasabo District, says in some cases, there have been circumstances of cyber bullying, and this can happen to youngsters because they don’t know how to prevent it.
He says that parents should follow up with them, find out what they are doing exactly, and the content they are putting online, so that they don’t fall victim to cyber bullying.
“Students owning iPods and computers have a lot of exposure to the Internet and what most of them aren’t aware of is that not all the people they chat with online are honest, some have bad motives,” he says.
Niwemwungeri says parents should ensure that their children are protected from cyber abuse and bullying. He adds that this should be done by watching closely what their children do online.
However, he warns that this should not be done in a way that will make the youngsters uncomfortable. First, the parent has to explain to them why they are concerned with what they do online.
Also, he adds, a parent should give the younger examples of how cyber bullying is on the rise and how it has affected many children his age.
However, he says that allowing a child to use social media in a safe way is also advisable. “It’s about you plan and monitor it”.
Depending on the age of the child, Aminadhab Niyoshunti, an English teacher at Apaper Complex School in Kicukiro District, says that children under the age of 14 should not be allowed to own any gadget whatsoever.
He notes that, as a parent, depending on the age of the child, helping your child to open a social media account and getting them to understand the platforms they use better is important.
“This involves setting boundaries and limits on using social media. This will help them conduct themselves in a responsible way because they know that they are being watched,” he says.
Recent findings released by American Academy of Pediatrics (APP) on the impact of social media on teenagers suggest that although there are real benefits to students using sites like Facebook, including increased communication, access to information and helping in developing a sense of self, there can also be serious downsides to all this online sharing.
The report indicates that social networking is on the rise and more teenagers are likely to log into their favourite social media sites many times a day. It says that this level of engagement online increases the risks of cyber bullying, Facebook depression, as well as exposure to inappropriate content.
Niyoshunti, however, says that when it comes to monitoring the content of a child on social media, it should start before the opening of any social media account.
He notes that a parent is in the right position to know which sites are harmful and good for their children. With this familiarity, it’s easier to help the child find the sites that are suitable for their age.
“If possible, creating an account for them is better, because here, as a parent, you can monitor the emails or content being sent to them, so that helps keep you in the know as far as your child using social media is concerned,” he says.
Emmanuel Mutavuka, Graduate
When I was in high school, I used to own a cell phone and my mother was very regulatory on what I did online. I was mad about this but I have come to realise that she helped me. Teenagers should allow their parents to monitor what they do, and most importantly, communicate in case of an issue.
Maurine Umutoniwase, Student
Making youngsters understand that social media can be useful if used the right way at the right time is important. Parents and teachers should explain to them how their education, career and future can be impacted negatively by social media.
Ignatius Rwasa, High school student
I don’t think there is an issue with teenagers using social media. However, problems could arise if teens don’t take advice from their parents or adults concerning the use of these sites, and setting boundaries.
Mollie Teta Imbabazi, IT specialist
Peer pressure can also influence learners to be tempted to own cell phones, especially when they see their peers on Facebook. It starts from there and grows into a bigger problem because some of them are so naïve about social media.