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Blogs

6th July 2020

Pornography, Pompeii & Incognito mode

Monday, July 7 2020

In 2020, the median age for first pornography exposure is 11 years old. However new research from the security technology company BitdefenderRead More

In 2020, the median age for first pornography exposure is 11 years old. However new research from the security technology company Bitdefender, has reported children under the age of 10 now account for 22% of online porn consumption in under 18 -years olds. These alarming figures and the fact that throughout the COVID_19 pandemic our children are more online than ever, prompted us to explore the topic further.

For parents, these statistics can be terrifying, but experts agree that talking to your child about pornography is the first step to safeguarding them. Some even go as far as to say that if you are not ready to talk to your child about pornography your child is not ready to access the world wide web. Viewing pornography used to be more prevalent amongst boys, but recent years have shown less of a difference in the way girls and boys are viewing pornography.

At Sassy Llama, we have seen a tremendous upward curve in the amount of times pornography or exposure to harmful content gets brought up in our workshops.

There are two problems we see with porn:

  1. What it shows
  2. What it neglects to show

Let’s deal with #1 first. Pornography is manufactured. What is shown is a fake depiction of sex. Additionally, the actors & actresses are preforming for the camera. Their bodies & performance are not an accurate depictions of what a real man or woman looks like or acts like. If pornography is your first exposure to sexuality, you might be left with a warped understanding of what sex and your role as a man or a woman is in the relationship. It’s objectifying nature messes with a young person’s sexual identity and creates unrealistic expectations of themselves and their partner in the long run.

Now for #2. Pornography strips sex down to the bare basics. It neglects to show context. This context includes a healthy, loving, mature relationship. The human connection that leads to a sexual relationship is removed. Values such as empathy, compassion, understanding and trust do not feature in pornography.

As parents we have two roles in managing our children’s digital lives: Monitoring & Mentoring. Both of these roles are pivotal from the day children are given online access. Monitoring plays a big role when your children are under the age of 13. This is regulating their online activities and putting rules in place for their digital lives. However, as they grow into teenagers, self-regulation becomes key. Mentoring the values, you’d like to see in them and encouraging open dialogue in the household from birth assists this transition and overtakes the need to monitor as strictly as before.

In line with this M & M approach, what are the things you can do from day one to safeguard your children from the pornography trap?

Monitoring:

  • Check your child’s devices. As part of monitoring, checking devices is a necessary evil in the first few years after giving your child online access. Open the device and chat about the photos, conversations & searches in an open discussion with empathy and values at the center of the conversation. Later when trust has been established this can be done with less frequency as he/she starts to self-regulate.
  • Install filtering software on their devices. Make sure that you have web filters in place that protect your child from viewing harmful content. Net.Nanny, SafeEyes and Qustodio all work wonders to make your child’s device a safer place.
  • Disable incognito browsing. Incognito mode allows a child to open a window within a browser that is isolated from the device’s main session which means that data and history from the browsing session is not collected or stored. Various filtering apps like Qustodio allows you as a parent to disable incognito browsing, thereby making it harder to hide what has been viewed on the device.

 

Mentoring:

  • Validate their curiosity. We were all curious creatures once upon a time. I personally recall dictionary searches of many a dirty term back when I was a teen. Telling your child that being curious is okay and that you were curious once too normalizes their feelings. Knowing that mom and dad are not saints and also made mistakes builds faith that their feelings are normal.
  • Don’t over-react. As parents we tend to react with emotion where our children are concerned. The shock realization, that your child has seen all the ugly that the world has on offer is upsetting, but reacting with emotion does nothing to handle the situation logically. Neither does it set the stage for open sharing later on.
  • Don’t under re-act. This is not a stage. Pornography is addictive; it is unrealistic, and it can cause major harm to future relationships and gender identity. Do not brush it off with a: “She will grow out of it”-narrative.
  • Be open about tech use. From an early age your screen and what you are seeing should be open for discourse at any time. Your smart phone should not be a free-for-all, but should your child want to see what you are giggling about, netiquette dictates that you should be willing to show them the screen. One can only hope that later in their life this openness will translate to the same behavior on their part.
  • Talk to them about pornography. The same sex parent or caregiver should talk to the child. Be honest, explain what it is, why it is unrealistic, how it can become addictive and why you feel it’s better to steer clear of it. Explain that the depiction of bodies in pornography as well as the behavior is not real and by no means a measure of how things ought to be. The best result you can hope for is a foundation of open conversation in your home.
  • Teach them to distract themselves. Oftentimes the reason for searching or watching pornography is not curiosity, but boredom. Teach your child to distract themselves when tempted to search for pornography. Healthier distractions could be DIY clips on YouTube, exercise or video-calling a friend.

Pornography is as old as time. I will never forget the somewhat questionable imagery carved into the walls of the ancient city of Pompeii (Est. 6th–7th century BC). But over the years the content has evolved to suit a range of tastes as wide as the imagination can stretch and whilst looking at goldfish might tickle a fancy for a period of time it is a slippery slope from goldfish to whales. This variety and extremity is why pornography today is very different from what it was back in Pompeii. At all costs, as parents it is our role to protect and preserve our children wherever they might roam and this includes their digital spaces.

 

 

 

15th May 2020

Lockdown Screentime: Ditch the guilt!

 Friday, May 15 2020

Feeling guilty about the increased time your child is spending on screens during the nationwide lockdown is about as useful as a lace face maskRead More

Feeling guilty about the increased time your child is spending on screens during the nationwide lockdown is about as useful as a lace face mask. We are all in the lockdown boat together and being a full-time teacher, homemaker, entertainer, cleaning service and chef is no picnic. Additionally, maintaining a career whilst children are running amuck has even the most militant anti-tech moms reaching for the iPad.

For some time, media researches have been advocating the shift from screen time to screen content in measuring healthy digital consumption in children. High quality content, such as learning how to play a musical instrument through an app or chatting to a family member on Skype, cannot be placed on par with playing Fortnite or binge-watching You. Similarly, an hour spent socialising on WhatsApp is different to an hour spent drawing comparisons on Instagram. Children gain differently from using various forms of digital media.

If the lockdown has highlighted one aspect of our children’s lives it is the value they place on socialising. And although they are spending more time watching TikTok videos, they are also spending more time building relationships with their classmates whether it is through virtual playdates or Zoom chats. Obviously face-to-face socialisation is healthier, but connecting with friends digitally in the meantime will improve our children’s mental state.

In the current climate children should be given a little more rope than usual, provided the quality of the content they are consuming is topnotch. In other words, it needs to be uplifting, positive and adding to a healthy state of mind.

How can you as parent make the best of their increased screen time? We have developed 4 B’s to get you and your digital native safely on the other side of the lockdown.

  1. Be involved: Being involved in your child’s online life means watching TikTok videos with them or playing a game of Fortnite (and losing, much to their delight). Consuming the media alongside your child not only provides common ground, but it also gives you first-hand knowledge of the people they might be speaking to, the harmful content they may be exposed to and the influencers shaping their opinions.
  2. Break the Box: Putting your own spin on something or creating something new from scratch is an imaginative outlet. Creativity and problem-solving skills are two of the most sought-out qualities in prospective job applicants today. Breaking the box could be anything from teaching tweens how to write simple code to allowing your 4-year-old to collect ovals around the house by snapping photos on your smartphone as part of a lesson in shapes.
  3. Bring context in: Educating children as to the wider context around the media they are consuming can add greatly to their learning via screens. Let’s use the movie Moana as an example. Asking EQ-boosting questions such as: “How did Moana feel when…” or “Have you ever felt as angry as that?” improves their emotive vocabulary and allows them to freely express themselves in future interactions. Additionally, the wider context of the movie can be used to teach them general knowledge. e.g. “Did you know Moana is a Pacific islander? Where is the Pacific? Show me on the map.”
  4. Balance: As ever, we advocate a healthy balance. Exercise and sunlight are still excellent cures for the “lockdown blues” children are experiencing at the moment. So make sure that everything, even healthy content, is consumed in balance with other activities.

Sassy Llama would like to implore parents to cut themselves some slack during the COVID19 pandemic. With so many economic, social and health pressures upon us we need not add guilt to the load.

 

 

 

 

15th August 2019

Sextortion: The biggest cyber threat to our teens

 Thursday, August 15 2019

A top Eastern Cape private school recently experienced the cruel nature of sextortion when a male scholar catfished on Instagram… Read More

A top Eastern Cape private school recently experienced the cruel nature of sextortion when a male scholar catfished on Instagram. The teenager had recently broken up with his girlfriend and first created a large following on his fake account before posting nudes she had sent him during their time together. The girl was shamed and ridiculed. The story leads one to wonder what conversation the estranged couple might have had before the photos were leaked. Were there threats and intimidation? Was the pictures used as blackmail? And who is to blame? 

The Journal of Sexual abuse defines sextortion as: When individuals threaten to spread sexual images and/or videos unless other sexual content, sexual favours, or money is provided. According to the US Justice Department, sextortion is the fastest growing cyber threat to children in the United States. And South Africa isn’t far behind.

In Johannesburg, a prestigious school was baffled when as many as 10 phones were stolen out of students’ school bags each week. The students all came from wealthy backgrounds and had their own smart phones. Closer investigation revealed that the phones were being stolen for their content. The teenage hackers used the pictures, videos and WhatsApp messages on the devices to blackmail the owners for money.

News 24 recently reported that a 14-year-old boy in Bloemfontein called the suicide helpline after being blackmailed with photos and videos he sent to a girl named “Melissa” on WhatsApp. The “girl”, whose identity still hasn’t been revealed, connected with him via a friend and started sexting him. He reciprocated with sexually explicit videos and photos of himself. She then demanded he send more extreme material and threatened to expose the content he had shared previously if he resisted. When she wanted to meet in person, the 14-year-old realised that she was not who she claimed to be. Since then Melissa has been linked to an international child pornography syndicate. A medical student from Bloemfontein who was connected to the syndicate, has been arrested on charges of intimidation, sexually grooming a minor and violating the Films and Publication Act.

Naturally victims of sextortion feel that their lives are over. These teens cannot see a way out of the harassment without being shamed in front of their parents, peers and teachers. This is what drove Criminology professor, Sameer Hinduja to sample over 5,000 middle and high school students around the U.S.A. to conduct a research study into sextortion. 

She discovered that: 

  • Males were significantly more likely to have participated in sextortion, as both the victim and the offender, than females. 
  • Youth who identified as non-heterosexual were more than twice as likely to be the victim of sextortion.
  • Most sextortion experiences occur in existing friendships.

In South Africa, most schools have not yet developed sophisticated protocols for handling sextortion. In general, the victim is blamed for sharing the content, when in actual fact, the victim should be protected from further harassment and the perpetrator should suffer legal consequences. Some schools also prefer to handle the matter “under the rug”, fearing reputational harm. 

According to Mike Bolhuis, Specialist Private Investigator, sextortion in South Africa is out of control for two reasons: One, our police system responsible for cybercrimes is totally overwhelmed with as many as 1000 cases per officer per week.  And two, many sextortion incidents are not reported as the victims fear public humiliation. 

With many schools still trying to find their feet when it comes to cyber safety and our police system overwhelmed, what can we as parents do to protect our llamas from being blackmailed?

  1. Educate them. Teach them that there is no such thing as online privacy and that anything they do and say online can one day become public.
  2. Talk to them about sexting. Explain the potential consequences and teach them to say: No! to nudes.
  3. Create a safe space. When your teen shares something they have done that you do not agree with, try to keep calm. This will lay the foundation for open conversations in the future.
  4. Share your mistakes. Tell your llama about mistakes you made when you were their age. Show them that mistakes are part of life and that one can overcome them and learn from them.
  5. Explain what blackmail is. Many llamas we encounter do not know that blackmail is illegal. They believe that the victim is to blame. Explain how blackmail works and that the perpetrator is committing a crime. We love this YouTube clip from Thorn that explains sextortion using animated cats.
  6. Check your teen’s phone. If you have given your llama access to the digital world, you have a responsibility to protect them be it through checking their phone or installing apps such as NetNanny or Qustodio to keep tabs on their online conversations.

Lastly, a note on judgement. As a society we are quick to shame the victim of blackmail for creating sexually explicit content in the first place or to label someone who sent a nude, a slut. When parents and educators punish and blame, it makes the behaviour go underground and the perpetrators walk free to extort another victim, on another day.

20th June 2019

8 Tips to prepare your daughter for her first period

 Wednesday, 19 June

Your tween is getting to an age where the “period conversation” is inevitable and although to you she still feels like your baby girl…Read More

Your tween is getting to an age where the “period conversation” is inevitable and although to you she still feels like your baby girl, you’d rather she hear it from you than from a friend on the playground or worse, from Google.

If at all possible it is better to have the period chat with your daughter before she actually has her first period, as this will prepare her for what is to come. Keep in mind that the average age for getting your first period is 12 years of age according to kidshealth.org. A good way to gage when your daughter might have hers is this: most girls get their first period 2 years after their breasts start to develop.

To help you deal, I have put together 8 tips to teach your daughter about her cycle and to handle this big change in her life constructively.

1) Normalise it. The first step to telling your daughter about her menstrual cycle is normalising it. Explain to her that every single woman on this planet has a period. Olympic gymnasts have periods, Astronauts have periods in outer space, her aunt has a period, Kendal Jenner has a period and so does Zendaya. Many teenage girls believe that when they are having their period they are sick and cannot achieve or participate in normal activities, therefor by explaining that a period should in no way hamper their ambitions it sets them at ease.

2) Don’t discuss the negatives. Instead of focussing on “Aunt Flo” and the mood swings, stomach cramps, nausea and headaches she may cause, deal with period symptoms as they crop up. Instead of telling your llama all the negative symptoms that some women experience, focus on the positives instead-she is growing up, she will one day be able to be a mother and she is healthy and fertile. Then if she does experience a negative symptom, treat it as it occurs.

3) Demystify it. Many girl’s imaginations runs riot when they first hear about menstruation. Using visual aids to explain the physical occurrence helps to demystify it. Girls imagine a rush of blood streaming out of their bodies. Cara Natterson, M.D., paediatrician and author of The Care and Keeping of You suggest that one should explain that your uterus is about the size of your closed fist, and the lining of your uterus is just the inside of that fist. When you get your period over the course of several days, that lining of old blood and tissue slowly comes out of your body. Usually it’s only about three tablespoons of blood total. “When you show them in a cup what three tablespoons is, they realize it’s not a lot.”

4) Show and Tell. When having the period conversation it is a good idea to show your daughter the various options available to her. Have some tampons in different sizes and pads in different shapes available for her to touch and interact with. Demonstrate how the tampon expands in your body by dipping it in a narrow glass of water. Also show her how to remove it by pulling the string. Remember that your daughter’s body might be different from yours and her cycle might be different too. Let her use what she feels comfortable with instead of pushing your personal preferences onto her.

If your daughter does want to try tampons it is a good idea to show her the step-by-step instruction leaflet in the packet. Some moms are hands on and want to help, while others prefer to instruct from outside the door. Both of these are kind, involved and supportive. Dipping a non-applicator tampon in a lubricant like Vaseline or KY Gel before insertion will help your daughter to “get it in” when she is just starting out.

5) Be prepared. Put together a first period kit for your daughter containing pads, panty liners, tampons, feminine wipes and a clean pair of undies. Put this into a pretty pouch that fits into her school bag. Starting your period on a on a camp or sport tour is every girls’ worst nightmare so make sure they have their pouch with them even when they leave the house for extra circulars. This negates the embarrassment that comes with having to ask for supplies. Remember to restock the pouch when she is having a regular cycle.

6) Keep it clean. Discussing personal hygiene and reminding your daughter of its importance especially when she is menstruating, is necessary. Educate her on how to deal with accidental leaks. Explain to her that she doesn’t have to wash with special products, but that warm water is good enough. Also explain the importance of changing a pad or tampon regularly. Often girls use larger tampons to avoid changing them three hourly. Please discuss the health risks involved with this with your daughter.

7) Get dad involved. Allow dad to be part of the conversation around the change in your daughter’s body. If your teen is comfortable to tell her dad: “It’s that time of the month,” it allows dad to empathise by discussing the changes they went through during puberty. By sharing stories of their own experiences such as “I remember when my voice started breaking…” or “The first time I noticed a hair on my chin…” they are leveling the playing field and opening the floor for future discussion.

8) Celebrate it. In many cultures around the world first periods are celebrated. In Sri Lankan culture a menarche party is held, friends and family gather to eat and drink together in celebration of a girl’s coming-of-age. The Bengal women from Ivory Coast, celebrate a girl’s first period by showering her in gifts and treating her like a princess for the day. The Navajo culture acknowledges a girl’s first period by eating cake, singing and dancing in their finest clothes. Many Westerners frown upon this-Why you would draw attention to something so private? But period parties are becoming more and more prevalent as our society opts to remove the shame and secrecy that surrounds menstruation.

Although a period party is not for all of us, a small celebration to congratulate your daughter on becoming a woman is special, memorable and will give her comfort in your unwavering love for her even though she is becoming a woman. Involving her dad or a father figure in the occasion confirms that she is loved and that her period does not change that. When my daughter had her first period my husband and I took her out for dinner. We didn’t invite her younger siblings along and spent the evening showering her in our undivided attention. She was allowed to dress up and we treated her like an adult to celebrate this new journey she was on.

I hope these simple tips will make the “period conversation” a little easier to manage. If you have any questions or suggestions I look forward to hearing from you. May we be united in our shared womanhood and may our daughters find comfort in one another through this new development in their lives.

 

26th April 2019

Cyberbullying only happens in public schools, right?

 Friday, April 26 2019

Before I had children of my own I was a smug, opinionated, pain-in-the-backside who said things like *insert the voice of Sansa Stark… Read More

Before I had children of my own I was a smug, opinionated, pain-in-the-backside who said things like *insert the voice of Sansa Stark here* “One day, my children will eat all their broccoli” or “I’ll never allow my child to stand on her chair in a restaurant like that” or “If my child is cyberbullied I’ll just put him in a private school.” When I think back on my ignorant, self-satisfied, plump, youthful little face, knowing what I know now, I wish I could roundhouse kick it into next Monday.

Sassy Llama hosts workshops with girls across South Africa, some girls attend because their parents saw it as a valuable investment into their daughter’s future and other girls attend, because we have incredible corporate sponsors that want to make a difference in the world by giving away an entry. We also do talks at underprivileged schools as part of our Corporate Social Responsibility.

We have hosted girls from lani private schools in Johannesburg and we have hosted girls from schools where shoes are not compulsory, because not everyone can afford a pair. In most of my interactions with them I ask the question: “Who here has been cyberbullied?” And guess what? Most girls, regardless of the school they attend, have experienced it in one form or another.

According to a global survey by YouGov in 2015 South Africa has the 4th highest rate of cyberbullying in the world. The survey found that one in five South African teens have experienced cyberbullying first-hand and 84% know someone who has been a victim of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying doesn’t check your parents bank balance before it comes for you. It doesn’t distinguish between white or black or coloured. Cyberbullying doesn’t only target children that go to aftercare or whose parents recently got divorced. And cyberbullying doesn’t only happen in public schools.

I was blown away by a conversation I had with a mom the other day. When I mentioned that Sassy Llama does talks on cyberbullying at various schools, she said: “You should really focus your efforts on private schools-the parents there care so much more about their children’s well-being.” Another flippant comment I have received in the past is: “If your child is being cyberbullied, you are probably not as involved as you should be.”

These comments really get under my skin. We cannot be prejudiced and assume that social class, school or parent-involvement has a direct correlation with prevalence of cyberbullying. A 13-year old girl in Pretoria committed suicide two months ago while her mother was at her school meeting with her principal, to address the cyberbullying she had been subjected to. Jodee Blanco, who wrote: ‘Please Stop Laughing at Me’ addressing bullying, mentions that she attended three different schools and was bullied in every one of them. And Izzy Kalman, a Nationally Certified School Psychologist who has been working in schools and private practice since 1978 says: “Most of my individual clients happen to be students in private schools, and most of the schools that hire me to help with their bullying problems are private schools.”

The point is that cyberbullying is universal. The solution does not lie in pointing fingers at the parents of the victim, the economic circumstances, the school (be it private or public) or the platform on which it occurred. The solution lies in equipping your llama with step by step guidelines of what to do when it eventually happens to them.

Let’s not stigmatise cyberbullying victims, their parents or the schools they attend. In my experience most parents are kind, highly involved and desperate to find solutions. And most schools have implemented cyberbullying policies which govern procedures should incidents be reported. Let’s rather rally for education and empowerment so we can roundhouse-kick cyberbullying out of all schools for good.

4th April 2019

Is Monkey.cool safe for Teens?

 Thursday, April 4 2019

In our recent workshops a few of the girls mentioned that they were using a new app called Monkey to chat to other teenagers across… Read More

In our recent workshops a few of the girls mentioned that they were using a new app called Monkey to chat to other teenagers across the world.

According to the app’s creators, Monkey is: “The new hangout spot for Gen Z where genuine face-to-face conversations are being fostered, instead of chasing brief and shallow social exchanges like collecting likes on Instagram.”

I liked the sound of this but decided to try it myself in order to give parents an unbiased review of the app.

Let’s start with the age restriction. The AppStore rated it as 12+, I would argue this is too young. I only needed my mobile number to log in and my age was not verified. I posed as a 15-year-old girl and used the username MelCutie. I said I was from South Africa. Monkey is relying on the accuracy of the age the person is entering into the platform when signing up. This can obviously be exploited the way I exploited it, by any creep and his dog.

The app takes users through its community rules which promotes user safety and a positive experience before pairing you up with random users from across the globe for a 15 second video chat. After the 15 seconds you can chose to prolong the chat or switch to the DM facility on the app.

I was given a few options of people to be paired with and agreed on a pairing with a 17-year-old guy from the Netherlands. As soon as the screen opened I could see he was not 17 years old. He was shirtless and in bed with a joint and probably in his mid-twenties. He had a big chest tattoo and seemed friendly enough. He asked about the weather in South Africa and said that it was freezing in the Netherlands, but I had seen enough and ended the call.

By going on Monkey your llama is sharing 3 types of information: profile information (name, profile picture, date of birth), user contributed content (the photos, texts, videos, and screen shots shared with other users), and automatic information (browser, I.P. address). This is the privacy statement Monkey.cool released: Due to the inherent nature of the internet and related technology, we do not guarantee the protection of information under our control against loss, misuse, or alteration. This means that the app can’t control the safety of your content or information and also that a 3rd party could end up using your content however they see fit.

Sexual content and nudity is regulated. Monkey uses 2 different image recognition companies to scan content. However, two of the llamas I chatted to who used the platfrom had seen content they would have preferred not to have been exposed to and one was also asked to “trade” (sext). It was obvious in my experimental use of Monkey that the user I was paired with had a singular purpose for using the app. Luckily, I ended the call before that purpose was made clear.

Personally, I would not want my daughters using this platform. I feel uncomfortable on three counts:
1. Your child can be paired with an online predator.
2. Your child is sharing personal information with a stranger.
3. Your child can be exposed to user-generated pornography, bullying and other harmful content through using this app.

If your daughter is using the app and you’d like to get rid of it, you need to email her international mobile number to hello@monkey.cool ask them remove her from their database, then you need to delete the app off her phone.

If you would like to control the apps your llama downloads to a greater extent you can manage the AppStore in the general settings of her phone and set up restrictions for her AppStore usage. Google “manage AppStore settings” and follow the tutorials for your child’s specific device.

I hope this review was helpful. Have a llovely day!