World Mental Health Day - A Day to Check Your Child’s AppsOct 09, 2023
Tomorrow is World Mental Health Day! The entire objective of this special day is “to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilise efforts in support of mental health.”
In the context of sexuality and sexual health and wellbeing, I want to raise awareness of a potential threat to children's mental health and wellbeing by sharing a story from a parent about what they found on their 13-year-old’s snapchat app.
After a school incident the parents checked their child’s snapchat account, and what they found they were “not prepared for.” The parents had no idea that their child had been sent “horrific and sickening content” over many weeks by a group of other 13-year-olds known to them from their sports groups, schools and neighbourhood.
They found graphic hard core pornography, racist videos and videos of children of colour being bashed by other children, child sexual exploitation material, and videos of themselves graffitiing public property just to name a few. The 13-year-old had not known or felt able to ask for help, fearing the consequences from the ringleaders. The child was relieved when the parents stepped in and has been compliant with the interventions from home and from the school.
Just today I had a call from a principal, desperate for help as several year 4 students, 9 and 10 year olds, had shared hard core pornography to classmates. We teach our children road safety, water safety and body safety, but are we keeping up with the increasing use of technology and the internet, and children’s exposure to various online risks?
This World Mental Health Day I urge parents and carers to check in on their children about the safe use of technology and social media.
According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) “spending time online is associated with both potential risks and rewards. Children are afforded opportunities for self-expression, learning and consolidating friendships … on the one hand, while being online also exposes children to risks such as harmful content and cyberbullying on the other.”
In my opinion, too many children are unprotected when it comes to the harms associated with technology and social media. You wouldn't allow strangers to enter your house and go into your child’s bedroom, so you need to ensure that you are protecting your child from strangers or other forms of harm online. This means monitoring what they are exposed to as well as prevention strategies and conversations.
By not teaching them to stay safe on the internet, by not checking their online activity or installing safety blocks, your child may be exposed to harmful things without you knowing.
You want your child to come to you if they were to see something concerning on their device.
Ask yourself, would your child come to you if this happened?
One of the things I have always done in our house when my kids have other kids sleeping over is request all phones be put on chargers in the kitchen in the evening and left there overnight. Obviously this rule has not always been popular with the kids (especially mine and especially as they become older), but prioritising child safety is not a popularity contest. I am horrified to hear how parents allow phones in young children’s bedrooms - let alone at sleepovers.
To protect the mental health and wellbeing of our children, we need to consider the harms caused by the online world. Create a safe space where your children can come to you if something pops up on their device and remind them they won’t get in trouble for showing you.
You can read more about this topic in my new book “Talking Sex: A Conversation Guide for Parents.”