My wife and I lived in Arizona until recently, so naturally our kids spent a lot of time in the water to beat the heat. Water safety was a high priority in our home. We bought our kids life jackets, taught them safety rules, and enrolled them in swim lessons so they would be fully prepared. We didn’t believe in the motto, “just throw your kids in the pool and they will learn to swim.”
We are the ones Responsible for Teaching them the Safety Rules
Yet, as parents, we are letting our kids jump into the deep end of social media and technology, and all too often they’re left to sink or swim. There are very real dangers associated with the technology our kids use, and as parents, we are the ones primarily responsible for teaching them the safety rules and providing electronic “life jackets.”
Ask yourself these questions:
• Do I know which social media sites my child is using, and do I have access to them?
• Who has access to my child’s phone and social profiles? Are they being “followed” by anyone they don’t know?
• Have I talked with my child about what they should and should not be sharing on their phones and social media?
• Does our family have rules in place about technology use, and do I enforce them?
Cyber-Bullying Remains Constant for 12-18 year olds
Kids spend more and more of their time using technology to communicate, and not all of that interaction is positive. A recent study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 19.6 percent of teens had been bullied at school, with 14.8 percent saying they had been bullied electronically.
Another study from the U.S. Department of education related that face-to-face bullying is highest amongst sixth graders, and declines as kids get older. That’s not true for cyber bullying—the statistics for that remain constant for 12 to 18 year olds.
What is Cyber-Bullying?
Cyber bullying is defined as bullying that takes place using electronic technology, meaning deliberately cruel texts, posts, and pictures. It is a growing problem that is linked to depression, anxiety, severe isolation, poor grades, self-harming activities, and even death.
Cyber bullying is particularly scary for a few reasons. Unlike face-to-face contact, cyber bullies can be completely anonymous, which makes them far braver in what they say and do. It’s difficult and sometimes impossible to trace who is behind the bullying. And even when your children are safe at home, cyber bullies can get to them.
Cyber bullying can happen anywhere, anytime, even when your child is alone. Messages and pictures shared by these bullies can spread like wildfire, reaching thousands of other kids quickly. Once shared, they are pretty much impossible to erase.
Here are few suggestions that might help protect your child in their technology use:
1. Consider establishing a “digital sunset,” a phrase coined by a sleep researcher. Just as we start wrapping up activities when it gets dark outside, set a time a few hours before bedtime for your child to log off and disconnect. Nighttime use of social media can be linked to poorer quality of sleep, lower self-esteem, and higher levels of depression and anxiety.
2. Don’t be afraid to get nosy. Ask to be “friends” with your child on Facebook, and follow them on other social media sites. Be aware of what they post and what their friends are posting. It’s a good idea to periodically look at their texts and media usage to make sure nothing inappropriate is going on. If this upsets your child, let them know that you are doing it to keep them safe. There is a fine line between being protective and invading privacy, but it helps if you are open with your child about your expectations and the threats that are out there.
3. Have a discussion with your child about their technology use and thinking before communicating. Medical studies have shown that the part of the brain that regulates impulse control is not fully developed in teenagers. an adolescent brain has been compared to a car without brakes, not able to stop and evaluate whether that text or post is really a good idea. it may be wise to limit how teenagers use cell phones, social media, and other forms of electronic communication until they are more mature.
4. Make sure that strong privacy settings are in place on all the sites your child uses, and that they only grant access to people they know and trust.
5. Above all, talk to your child. Help them understand that content they share on the internet stays there forever and is available to the whole world. Ask them about cyber bullying that they see or have been involved in. Discuss proper ways to react to offensive comments or pictures, and make sure that they know you are there to support them.
My children do not always appreciate that we make them wear life jackets and practice safe water habits. More than once my five-year-old has assured me that she is an excellent swimmer now. She’s getting better, but she still needs oversight and supervision.
The waters of social media and electronic communication are pretty turbulent, and our kids are inexperienced swimmers. Don’t assume that your child can navigate them on their own.