I recently attended a cyber safety for parents’ presentation given by Deputy Clayton Cranford. It was chock full of helpful tips for parents raising kids in the digital age, especially since we didn’t grow up in the digital age! He shared alarming statistics about teen usage of social media, dangerous apps, and cases in Orange County of kids getting hurt by other kids using social media.
Most teens have a social media account and spend more than 40 hours a week on “screen time.” In a survey, most teens felt confident they could hide their online activity from their parents. Since, as parents, we don’t have 40 hours a week to improve our social media skills, it’s no wonder so many parents feel overwhelmed by technology. We need technology to help us protect our kids from technology itself! It was suggested to utilize Common Sense Media. As an educator, I also encourage parents to tap into the wealth of information on this website. It stays current with apps, websites, video games, books, and movies and rates them. It’s geared to educate and advocate for kids and families. Just what we all need.
Sadly, research tells us that only one in 10 teens would tell their parent if they were victims of online abuse. Why? Simple: they fear losing their phone. They would rather be victims of abuse online than be cut off from social media altogether.
Teens have their phones 24/7 these days. If abuse, such as bullying or sexual harassment is happening at school, it now follows them home. They can no longer escape it when they get behind their front doors. This leaves children in a vulnerable position. Cell phones and the internet were created for adults. Kids want nothing more than to have adult privileges. Deputy Cranford recommends delaying getting a tween a cell phone for as long as possible. When they do get a phone, it should be an “old fashioned” flip phone. Parents should then have a conversation with their child(ren), which includes:
- This is our (parents’) phone, not yours.
- It is a privilege to have.
- Expect no privacy.
- Expect that we (parents) will review your text messages, websites viewed and posts daily. This isn’t because we don’t trust you. It is because we can’t trust the 3.3 billion people with internet access. This is a way to try to keep you safe, and it is our job.
Also, make an internet and mobile device parent/child agreement. We provide such an agreement to families who participate in our Rites of Passage class. Deputy Cranford also has one in his book, Parenting in a Digital World. These agreements review do’s and don’ts for internet safety.
Apps change daily. Their popularity with teens changes too. Having resources, such as those already mentioned, in order to check the latest app is key! Here are some highlights:
- Snapchat: Big problem. Popular for sending pictures, sometimes nude, that “disappear” in seconds. However, everything on the internet is stored on a server somewhere in the world. Nothing truly disappears once posted. Also, teens can take a screen shot and share it with whomever they want.
- Instagram: A way to share photos and videos. Inappropriate photos are available. Default setting is public. Photos are available to all, until the setting is changed.
- Yik Yak: Big problem. Anonymous. Reject all apps that are anonymous or don’t allow you to historically view texts. This app is often used to sell drugs.
- Kik: Big problem. Texting app. Messages are hidden in the app, making it harder for parents to view texting. Also, strangers can text you.
- Ask.fm: Very big problem. Lots of bullying. Lots of inappropriate posts including porn and violence.
- Ogle: Campus-based app that allows students to post comments and pictures anonymously.
In our classes, we emphasize the importance of having open communication with children. Having regular conversations about their social media usage may help protect them from dangers such as strangers, bullying and exposure to porn. Participating in any parent education class on internet safety, offered in the community, is another way to stay up to date with technology changes. Having limits, such as charging your teen’s phone in your room at night, will help decrease their screen time and access to social media. Children are priceless. Giving access to them to strangers on the internet is no different than leaving them vulnerable to strangers on the street.
Susan Patcha is a nurse, an educator and a mom. She lives in Rancho Santa Margarita with her husband and twins. She is a PTA member, Sunday school teacher and the secretary for the Orange County Breastfeeding Coalition. She has been an educator for Birds and Bees Connection since 2014. Her favorite part of being a nurse is educating families.