My son James is 13. He is starting to dabble in social media and text messaging. Right now, we allow him to be on Instagram. He will post the occasional picture and see how many likes he gets. In fact, when we were on vacation, we had a little contest to see who could get the most likes – James or his mom! As far as group chats are concerned, James doesn’t really spend too much time reading them because he finds that they are so lengthy, it is like reading a book. Most often the chats are really just plain dumb. (We’ve monitored the chats. They ARE dumb!) We’ve been monitoring his Instagram too. So far so good – all innocent fun and at no one’s expense. But that may not always be the case. It can be a big bad world on the Internet for teenagers! How do we keep them safe?
The following is a guest post by Hilary Smith with some great tips on how to keep our kids safe online.
Snapchats, hashtags, and text messages have revolutionized the ways our children communicate. The high levels of connectivity and easy access to technology encourages bonds and peer interaction. However, the digital world also poses many real threats to our children when it comes to cyber safety.
Social Media And Our Children
Parents need to consider the fact that about two-thirds, of the total 21.5 million, U.S. teenagars are registered to use Facebook and are utilizing other social medias at elevated rates. It’s evident that our children have a strong tie to their technology, but we need to remove our rose colored glasses and examine what exactly we are allowing our children to be exposed to everyday.
Figures show that between 62 and 87 percent of our sons and daughters have witnessed cyberbullying in some form. Data also unearthed that 25 percent of all teens have been bullied over the Internet. If those numbers aren’t frightening enough to warrant a heart-to-heart with our children, consider that only one out of ten children will notify an adult or seek help when they witness cyberbullying!
Methods Teens Are Hiding Online Activity
It’s awful to think that our children willingly keep secrets about their online activity, but one study found that a whopping 70 percent of our teens hide their actions on social media and cell phones from their parents. This number has risen significantly from 2010 when only 45 percent of teens hid their activity.
Today’s teens have developed a variety of maneuvers to cover up their digital tracks. The most common method used is to delete or clear their browser histories to keep mom and dad from following every click and site visited. While this can be a little unnerving, our children often resort to minimizing or dimming screens to keep prying eyes out of their business.
Unfortunately, 23 percent of surveyed teens admit to lying to their parents when it comes to their online behaviors. It is estimated that almost 15 percent of teens keep parents in the dark by creating private email addresses; while almost 9 percent use fake social media profiles. Many teens also seek out computers or Internet capable devices that parents don’t have access to throw parents off their online actions.
Overall, 64 percent of teens feel they are capable of hiding their online habits from us. All of this secrecy can get a parent’s head to spinning when they consider how inadequate safety measures can open our children up to frightening and disheartening scenarios that can impact their health and futures.
Cyberbullying, sexting, oversharing, and sexual predators all could be a reality facing our children at some point in their young lives. It’s easy to say “my child is a good kid and it won’t happen to us”, but even the smartest and sweetest children can become victims if they use social media. Unlike many adults, today’s youth aren’t worried about privacy or oversharing.
Here are eight suggestions to help guide our teens and keep them safe online:
- Begin an honest and open conversation about cyber safety, cyberbullying, and social media etiquette. Start this conversation when children are young and build on this as they age. Children who know what things to avoid will be able to protect themselves better in the digital age.
- Create ground rules and enforce them appropriately. It’s a good idea to have them in place when your child receives his or her first device to prevent future problems.
- Only allow cell phones, computers, tablets, and consoles in common living areas. This will help curb a child’s ability to sext, chat with strangers, or conceal cyberbullying from others.
- Document and open all messages with a child. If cyberbullying or another issue rears its ugly head, this will keep you updated on the situation and offer your child moral support during a very difficult period.
- Implement a social media or technology contract.
- Reduce data plans and time spent online. Technology does have a time and place to be used. One study found that limiting data plans was the best deterrent to sexting and it probably can be applied to a variety of other risky online behaviors.
- Look for ways to reclaim family time. Family dinners or activities are great opportunities to listen to our children and hear their thoughts, concerns, and hopes.
- Monitor your child’s Internet, cell phone, and digital activity. Don’t rely on them to keep you informed. Know a child’s passwords, user ID’s, contacts, and sites they use.
Cyberbullying and cyber safety can be difficult to discuss with our children, but this conversation and topic is important. In a world where teen’s strive to keep their digital footprints a secret, parents need to strive to keep them safe in the real and virtual worlds.
What will you do to help protect your children?
Born and raised in Austin, TX, Hilary Smith is a free-lance journalist whose love of gadgets, technology and business has no bounds. After becoming a parent she now enjoys writing about family and parenting related topics.
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