This is what I tell school children when we discuss the legalities of WhatsApp groups in South Africa.
We have all witnessed the mess created when children say and do things on WhatsApp groups that they would never do or say to one another face to face.
Our children must belong to these groups to receive vital communication relating to sports, extra curriculars and academics. Yet few of us coach our children in how to manage WhatsApp group settings or what to do if they belong to a group where harmful content is shared.
WHATSAPP GROUPS LEGALESE
Therefore, should criminal content be circulated on the group, all the members of the group are liable for the content.
The only way in which your child can break the chain is by either:
PORNOGRAPHY ON THE CLASS GROUP
There was recently a case in which a young man sent pornography to a Grade 7 school group at 21:00 in the evening. Under South African law showing pornography to minors is a criminal offense.
Some of the tweens did not have their phones with them as their parents had already taken their phones in for the evening (high five to these parents).
Others spoke out on the group and asked the boy to stop. A few left the group.
One young lady (who had attended my course the previous summer) reported the content to her parents. Her parents alerted the school principal who contacted the parents of the children to warn them. The parents who had taken in their tweens’ phones could delete the content before their children were exposed to it.
As for the remainder of the group-some Grade 7’s sat idly, watching the pornography roll in. They did not want to leave the group or speak out for the fear of being socially ostracised. Sadly, these children were suspended along with the sender due to their failure to act or remove themselves from the chain of publication.
PEER PRESSURE ON WHATSAPP GROUPS
Peer pressure is amplified in digital spaces. Children depend on groups for a sense of belonging and being part of the digital group gives them the security that they will belong on the playground as well.
According to a study by American Phycological Association children have a heightened response to affirmation from peers when they are between the ages of 10-12. This is why a child is more affected by social media likes and comments than an adult.
This need for peer approval and belonging, in addition to digital peer pressure has a knock-on effect.
ADJUST YOUR CHILD’S GROUP SETTINGS
In the privacy settings of WhatsApp one can adjust who can add your child to groups. You are even able to disallow specific people to add your child to a group. Therefor if a child has a reputation for circulating harmful content you can exclude him/her from adding your child to WhatsApp groups and take back control.
OPEN CONVERSATIONS AND CONTINUOUS REMINDERS
We need to teach our children about the chain of publication and the danger of sitting idly on a WhatsApp group where harmful content is shared. More than ever, our children need to be reminded that doing the right thing is always more important than following the crowd or being popular.
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