Kids are using Tik-Tok before they learn the alphabet, and it will get them into real trouble at school, psychologists warn

In Romania, children learn to use social media platforms before they know the alphabet. At least that's what the latest Save the Children study looks like. 32% of parents with children between 5 and 10 say their son/daughter uses TikTok, 21% Instagram, 19% Facebook and 17% Snapchat. And for this, only the adults around the children are to blame, considering that all social networks impose age restrictions for creating accounts, draw the attention of psychologists.

Campaign dedicated to internet safety – Photo World Vision Romania

Parents are the first responsible, there are also many parents who expose their children on their accounts. Parents must always know what the child is doing, but more and more are giving children the opportunity to spend time online without being controlled, censored. The child picks up a lot from the parent's behavior, and if the parents frequently use the phone in front of the child, the child will want to use the phone/tablet as much because he understands that it is important“, explains psychologist Keren Rosner.

And as the child gets older, parents monitor their online activity even less. Children spend less than three hours online, say 80% of parents, and 34% of 16-17-year-old teenagers spend between 4-6 hours a day online, and 14% exceed 6 hours a day, according to the Save the Children research.

How to get deepfake videos with minors

The consequences began to emerge. A study conducted by World Vision Romania shows that one in ten children had their image and voice falsified, and the content was distributed on the Internet. In addition, a third of the teenagers consulted by World Vision Romania (34.2%) say that they have been approached online, by adults, with messages of a sexual nature. While four out of ten children and teenagers have been bullied online.

“It's not artificial intelligence itself that scares me, so much as the horrible things people can do with it. Like sharing fake images of naked women and children that look real. Because it is already a phenomenon. It's called “deepfake porn” and it doesn't just happen to Taylor Swift or other celebrities. One in ten children who responded to a recent survey by World Vision Romania say that content with their voice or image altered has been distributed on the Internet. It happens both publicly and in smaller groups”, reacted Florinela Iosip, representative of World Vision Romania, on her personal Facebook page.

How do children end up with videos made by artificial intelligence? It means that they spend a lot of time online, they expose themselves, they show all kinds of poses from their lives, and then it's very easy for someone to take on a child's identity because they have material. A 5-year-old child should not have such an activity, and parents should protect him”says Keren Rosner.

The psychologist says that a child can be affected in several ways by viewing deepfake videos with their own image.

“A child, when he sees such a film with a clone of himself, is afraid. Scenarios arise, that something bad could happen to him, he lives with a permanent anxiety because when such a process is triggered, he cannot stop it. Often there is also fear of adults, of the things he did without his parents' permission, and from here all kinds of fears arise, his imagination can produce all kinds of dangerous situations in the future. He feels very confused: did I do this or did someone else do it? Especially since they are very similar copies to the original. I think it will be a problem of self-identity, confidence in one's own actions”, highlights psychologist Keren Rosner.

In case of online abuse, most of the students (more than half) would talk to the head teacher, a third would talk to their close colleagues or the school principal and a quarter would talk to their parents. A smaller percentage (just over 20%) would talk to a school counselor. In the case of revenge porn and grooming, one in five says they would call the police. While, one in ten teenagers does not inform themselves about online abuse, the World Vision study also shows.

Campaign made with the help of AI

That is why World Vision Romania is launching a series of videos made with the help of artificial intelligence, in which they teach children and teenagers how to act in the case of online abuse. Topics such as: revenge porn (revenge through pornography), grooming (an adult's attempt to establish a close relationship with a minor in order to sexually abuse or exploit him) and cyberbullying (aggression on the Internet) are addressed. The videos will also be popularized on TikTok. “These videos were launched by the foundation in partnership with the Ministry of Education and will be promoted in all schools and high schools in Romania“, states the foundation.

Keren Rosner says that such a campaign can be more helpful for parents to “make them aware of their responsibility and open their minds, to understand what the risks are for children and adolescents”. The specialist is of the opinion that students will always go to talk to people they trust.

How to protect our children from online dangers

Psychologist Keren Rosner advises parents not to allow “early” children access to phones and tablets and to spend quality time with them.

First of all, to show the child an activity that will develop other skills, the intellectual side, to learn something, to do things with the child, not to have a passive activity. And later, to know how to talk to the child about what concerns him, what interests him, but a friendly discussion, not an interrogation type, because the child will not cooperate. He must gain the child's trust and make valid arguments. Children understand and pay attention, but you have to know how to talk to them. The control is good to be direct, but also discreet, from the shadows, and to tell the child about certain dangers so that they remember and censor themselves. Online access cannot be totally restricted in the world we live in, nor is it desirable“, explained the specialist.

Otherwise, children will be affected if they use social media from a young age, before they learn to read or write. “There is a difference in the child's attitude and the way he looks at school, he studies differently now, anyway there are more influences besides. This habit that everything happens quickly, that information comes immediately, without effort, without exercising memory or making connections, the fact that everything is ready, will influence the way of thinking of the future adult, but also behavior and reporting to society”adds Keren Rosner.

And the videos present on Tik Tok, Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms leave their mark on the little ones: “a child is very easily impressionable, he is curious, but he cannot understand more complex things and you cannot explain them to him either. He can see some images and interpret them in his own style, he can be horrified by certain videos, characters. They are haunted by those images, they are left with fear, an anxiety about what they saw. And if it's about nudity, there will be curiosity, changing impressions with other children, and all kinds of distortions about it. If he frequently sees such videos, he enters the normality of the child or may be tempted to experiment with sexuality. And if it is an abuse that is frequently viewed, it is normalized. It should not be neglected, especially since this content can be easily accessed by the child“, says Keren Rosner.