Online dating – what your Teen should know

Would you sleep sound knowing that your 13-year old have just jumped on the back of a motorbike with an 18-year old? For that same reason, we cannot sleep while teenagers are interacting with strangers in their own rooms through mobile devices.

Being in love as a teenager can be such a fun and emotional roller coaster ride. The way your heart race at an unnatural speed when you see that guy or girl on the way to the next class is exhilarating. Or when you cheer for the rugby team, but the only player you are actually noticing in your spotlight is the one you hope will notice you in the crowd.

That same excitement and thrill is felt when teenagers find someone special online. The fact that their newfound love might live on another continent adds to the mysteriousness and wonder of online dating. It becomes an adventure with so many doors of opportunities to explore, any time of the day or night.

Many successful relationships came to life through online dating sites and there are wonderful stories to be told about finding true love online. However, when it comes to teenagers, certain aspects of the online dating world could be really dangerous.

A recent study done by the Youth Research Unit of the Bureau of Market Research at the University of SA, where 1 500 secondary school pupils in Gauteng were interviewed, showed that:

• 38.8% agreed to a love relationship online

• 61.6% became emotionally attached as they would do in real life relationships

• 75.5% attempted to confirm the identity of the lover

• 6.7% sent their private pictures or videos to the online lover and

• 44.7% had their private pictures circulated through out the social network without their permission

How does it work?

There are a huge variety of online dating sites and chat rooms available and they usually have a clear description of the type of subscribers they wish to attract. Terms and conditions with age requirements are outlined and other community rules stipulated for subscribers to accept.

Some of the teenage chat rooms request users not to share their real identity or any personal information. While we should never share our personal information on online platforms is true, but the fact that users do not have to share their real identity creates scary opportunities for stalking, human trafficking and sexual grooming.

As an adult, we should be able to discern between good and bad, however let’s remind our teenagers of a couple of risks:

• People lie and are most likely using someone else’s profile picture. Your daughter might be interacting with a 50-year old man or women pretending to be the cute 17-year old on the profile picture.

• Understand that these sights use algorithms to match people and that the data you provide will influence the ‘match making process’.

• Users have different agendas when they join chat rooms and online dating sites, could be used to lure other users into pornography, sexual grooming or stalking (

• Live video chats are good to ensure the person on the profile picture is indeed the person interacting with you when you have video chats, however be aware of your background, which that person will be seeing such as your family pictures, your room, your pets etc. The person could also start with innocent requests to show him/ her what you look like in your swimsuit, which leads to pornographic requests.

• They could be prematurely exposed to sexually explicit material, which will impact their behaviour and cause psychological and emotional damage.

• Webcams can be hacked and someone could be watching your every move. Rather cover the camera when not in use.

• Strange abbreviations are used and their meanings should not be part of our vocabulary.

Let’s teach the young-at-heart to rather:

• Be ‘fussy’ about the person who they allow into their hearts. To have clear boundaries and a set of criteria in terms of values, beliefs and priorities.

• To have real relationships with people they can connect with face-to-face.

• If you allow your teenager to sign up for online dating, then be part of the journey to ensure they understand the rules, the risks and the pitfalls.

• Take the pressure off – what society expects is not always the best and as a teenager, it is all right to be single, have lots of friends and enjoy an uncomplicated life.

It is hard to stay ahead of this digital game, however we can be vigilant, informed and personally involved in our kids’ lives.

Cyberbullying – does it have boundaries?

It is hard to really remember how we felt about school and the friends we had when we were younger, however for a moment, let’s put ourselves back into the shoes of our teenage selves. Imagine sitting at home on a Tuesday morning knowing the bell had just announced the start of the second class for the day. You know you are supposed to be at maths now, but the thought of showing your face is so unbearable that the repercussions of staying home will be easier to handle. You are not sure what this feeling you are experiencing is called (adults call it anxiety and depression), your heart is broken, you feel ashamed and rejected.

Adults keep on preaching that the future looks bright and that there is a big world out there, however that sounds so far out of reach that they might as well be speaking about you as a character in a sci-fi movie. For now, all you are is lonely. No longer part of WhatsApp groups, Facebook friends have unfriended you and you aren’t being ‘tagged’ in posts anymore either. The only traces of your existence on social media platforms are the horrible, personal and hurtful comments being posted by the bullies.

All of this leads to trouble at home, unsatisfied teachers and a wider gap between you and the friends you once had. Everything gets darker and the safest place to be is alone, with your own distorting thoughts. The only way out, it seems, is the thought of committing suicide.

While this sounds quite dramatic, the rejection and depression young people experience through cyberbullying is the reality that has sadly led to many people committing suicide.

What is cyberbullying?

The concept of bullying is not new and no matter what your age, you probably have been exposed to it at some stage in your life.

Bullies are no longer just causing trouble on the playground though. Their devastating impact now exceeds barriers with the use of digital media. A study done by UNISA, published in 2014, focused on the “Online safety of high school learners in Gauteng” and was completed with 1 467 learners that were interviewed. The study found that 97.7% of these learners had access to the Internet with 87% using their cellphones to interact online. With so many young people able to connect, imagine the power of the communication shared. Imagine how their connectivity is being used for good, and sadly, for bad.

There are many definitions for cyberbullying, but most of them have the following in common:

• Rumours or hurtful messages are shared on social media and digital platforms

• Posts include images, drawings, words, comparisons, competitions and even references being made to people whom the victim knows or care for

• This leads to defamation, humiliation and even creating hatred in other’s minds about the victim

• The true identities for the bully or bullies are usually hidden

• It is a process that sometimes last weeks or longer

• It involves child-to-child communication. Once an adult gets involved it is termed as cyberstalking and harassment

How do you deal with it to set the boundaries?

Conversations and open communication is key, as we need to talk about acceptable online behavior. By doing this we can better ensure young people understand the risks of not only being a victim of cyberbullying, but also of being the actual bully. As parents you could also:

• Be a Facebook friend, with the intention to observe (and never to comment)

• Teach children to not respond to messages which could be seen as bullying or harassment

• Take a screen grab or photo of the messages as evidence and discuss the interaction with the child offline

• Set a good example when posting messages to friends or on social platforms such as news sites. Your kids will be able to see it if they Google your name

• Talk about child pornography and the dangers of taking compromising photos and also the risks of sharing these images

• Report pornography immediately. A place to start is on the Film and Publication Board’s website

• Watch and discuss video tools and movies on YouTube as a family. Films such as Disconnect ( ) and The Cyberbully Movie ( will give you as parent better insight and help to steer the discussion to ensure your children are well aware of the dangers.

Education and support are the first steps in eradicating cyber bullying. Don’t delay with having these open and honest discussions with your children. Take them out for an ice cream and have the conversation to ensure you, as a family, set some clear boundaries in place to stop cyberbullying.

What you don’t know about your photos

What your photos say without you knowing

You don’t have to be a private investigator to find people online. If a paedophile or stalker sees your photo on any of the platforms, Google Earth could be used to find your house. He or she can then use many techniques to find the owner of the house’s name, find you on Facebook, see who you are friends with and access even more photos of you and your family. Scary thought, isn’t it.

Every digital photo we take, records the date, the exact location (GPS coordinates) it was taken at and data about the actual camera settings. This is called Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF), which enables us to share lots of data in the form of a picture or image.

For the more serious photographers the EXIF data is key to see details about shutter speeds, focal length, aperture, IOS settings and metering modes. Professional printers also use the information to do better colour matching for the printed versions of your beautiful photo memories.

The days of taking your camera’s film to the photo lab to be processed and printed and having to wait in anticipation are long gone. There were moments of embarrassment, forgetting that you took ‘that’ photo and then there were all the ‘bloopers’ we had to pay for, only to throw them out. Luckily, you could take the photos and leave with both the negatives (film) and photos in hand.

Digital photos are geotagged, which is a process of storing latitude and longitude data inside an image's EXIF data. This information shares the photographer’s exact geographic location, which mapping services such as Google Earth can use to pinpoint it on a map. As parents we have to be very aware of the geotagging feature on the images we share, because strangers could find your favourite picnic spot, your child’s ballet class or the movie theatre you so often go to. Geolocation metadata is linked to the device you use and your location settings.

We have to consider our children’s, and other people in the photos, right to privacy and protection.

Craig Smith reported early in June 2015 that there are more than 75 million daily Instagram users and it is hard to fathom the amount of images and data being shared on the digital highway. Your photos form part of this massive load of data and are open for the world to see.

How to stay safe

1. There are ways to remove the EXIF data completely, however if you are a serious photographer and like to edit your photos, you might want to keep the information to inform your editing decisions. However, if you want to share your photos on social media networks, it is safer to at least remove the GPS coordinates before you click the ‘share’ button. This can be done with various types of software.

2. Before you take the pictures you plan on sharing, look for the ‘location’ icon on your phone and disable your location finder setting when you take photos or take the photos in ‘Flight Mode’ .

3. This should also make you think twice before you share your location or ‘check in’ on Facebook again. It is like putting up a sign outside your house announcing, “I am at the airport for a business trip, my family is not with me and I am not home”.

4. Remember that the images we share could become the property of the platform you use and it might be a good time to read the section about copyright again.

5. It is also important to ensure you and your kids are not ‘tagged’ in photos if you are not willing to have these shared with the world. You can untag yourself in Facebook by clicking on the dropdown arrow at the top right corner of the post.

There are other factors to consider when we post images of our kids to ensure their safety, protect their online reputations (no embarrassing photos of me please mom) and pictures of other children without the parents’ permission.

Enjoy the moments caught on camera and share them responsibly.

The Cyber-Health Feature on the unBranded show, sponsored by SaveTNet

(The Cyber-Health feature form part of the unBranded show in the last 10-15 minutes of every clip - pre February 2017)

Sexual Grooming – happening right under your nose

One of the main reasons why people are drawn to social media sites is to make new friends, right?

When last have you had your cyberspace friends over for dinner, when last did you see them physically and do you know who they really are?

How many cyberspace “friends” does your child have? The chances are good that they might have long conversations with people they have never met, whom they think are coincidently interested in the same sports and who really care enough to spend time with them while the rest of the household is fast asleep.

This is how sexual predators build a connection with a child to gain their trust, specifically with the aim to sexually abuse and exploit him or her. Child sex offenders (paedophiles) feed the cycle of child abuse material and child pornography, which are made public and used as part of the bigger money-making network.

The child is usually unaware of the process and is manipulated in a subtle enough way for them to agree to do things they previously felt uncomfortable with and fall into the trap without even realising that they have been caught.

Besides the emotional devastation sexual grooming causes, the long-term consequences could reach as far as your child’s future employability, damaging their online profile.

Are you wondering how this could be true for your child?

A recent study done by the Youth Research Unit of the Bureau of Market Research at the University of SA, where 1 500 secondary school pupils in Gauteng were interviewed, showed that 24.4 percent of pupils were persuaded to perform sexual acts.

A total 13.3 percent eventually performed sexual acts against their will. Of that 48.2 percent entered into open sex talk and 59.6 percent took and sent pictures of themselves naked or semi-naked.

According to the survey, 18.8 percent of the pupils had conducted sexual acts via webcam.

The survey showed that 31.8 percent who experienced online sexual grooming reported the incident.

No child is immune and that is why we need to educate them.


How do they do it?

Social media platforms are great tools to use, however groomers use them to search for victims and then contact many to see whom answers. Once the child responds to this stranger’s initial request, the door is open for trouble.

These predators do this from the comfort and safety of their own homes with a specific goal in mind – to sexually exploit their victims by persuading them to take part in online sexual activity. They usually hide their age, true identity and often use profile pictures of someone younger.

There is no rush and the relationship is developed over time to ensure the child shares enough sensitive and personal information to be used to intimidate or threaten him/her at a later stage. They also use gifts, flattery, offers support or sympathy and even offer them jobs to earn money.

These tactics work especially well with children seeking validation and love, who are made to feel important and recognised.

What is the goal?

Online sexual groomers aim to sexually exploit young people by persuading or forcing them to:

• Have sexual conversations;

• Share sexually explicit images of themselves (which starts off with innocent swimsuit photos);

• Participate in sexual activities via smartphones and webcams,

• Which could lead to a personal meeting and direct contact

These videos, images and conversations are then used to blackmail the victims to keep them trapped and will probably continue to live in cyberspace long after the abuse has stopped.

The process (in cyberspace and with face-to-face grooming) involves:

1. Targeting the victim

2. Gaining the victim’s trust

3. Filling the need (be it financial, emotional or social)

4. Isolating the child and making him/her feel like ‘the only one’

5. Sexualizing the relationship

6. Maintaining control through further manipulation and intimidation

Tips on how to stay safe

Open communication and teaching your children about acceptable online behaviour is key. As parents we have to be cyber-savvy to protect them. Here are things to do:

• Be a Facebook friend and connect on the other platforms they use such as WeChat with the intention to observe (and never to comment)

• Use privacy and security setting on social network sites

• Warn teenagers against online dating sites

• Suggestive and flirtatious usernames will be seen as easy targets

• Is your child looking vulnerable online? A low self esteem is an easy target and they usually grab any attention (whether good or bad)

• Teach children to not respond to messages from online strangers until you have helped them to investigate

• If they ever receive inappropriate messages, take a photo of the messages as evidence

• Talk about child pornography and the dangers of taking compromising photos and also the risks of sharing these images

• Report pornography immediately. A place to start is on the Film and Publication Board’s website

• Forensic analysts specialize in finding criminals in cyberspace and in South Africa you could contact agencies such as if you are a victim

• Invite SaveTNet to come and speak at your school or smaller groups organised by a group of parents

• There are numerous videos available online, with great impact. Here is a video for the younger viewers that will also speak to the teenage crowd -

Kids should know that no boyfriend, girlfriend, family member or any other friends have the right to request inappropriate images or conversations from them.

Today could be a good day to ask your child to tell you all about his/ her social media friends. It might just save their life.