As parents, we have prepared our children to handle peer pressure, underage drinking, and sexual exploration. While we have had many heart to heart talks on these issues, chances are we have addressed them to the best of our ability. Unfortunately, the world our sons and daughters are living in is evolving with digital advances. These changes mean that we might be missing an important conversation with our children in one key area: digital safety.
Why Digital Safety Matters
It is imperative that we challenge ourselves to instruct our teens on digital safety to prevent their exposure to some very negative scenarios lurking behind the screens of our beloved devices. Here is a sampling of the most common pitfalls our teens may encounter: cyberbullying, oversharing, identity theft, sexting, and online predators. Up until a few years ago, many of these subjects were unheard of and completely off a parent’s radar.
Take for instance the case of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying has been linked to increased rates of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. If that isn’t bad enough, recent research unveiled digital aggression is so common that 87 percent of our children have encountered this trend. This is appalling on many fronts, but these statistics show within the last year cyberbullying rates have tripled!
While technology has provided easy access for bullies to their victims, it has also opened an avenue for sexual exploration. The digital world has led to a revolution of sexting and sharing racy images. Children who sext are opening themselves up to cyberbullying, harassment, exploitation, and prosecution for distributing or possessing child pornography. In fact, sexting is so commonplace that experts are now declaring it a normal part of development.
Those are frightening realizations for many parents, especially when we consider that 70 percent of teens take measures to hide their online activity from us! Children need to understand how their social media presence can impact future goals and opportunities. Employers, colleges, scholarship committees, and even possible offspring will be able to view what is posted online years from now.
Nine Ways To Embrace Digital Safety
Thankfully, parents have the power to take an active stance in regards to a child’s digital safety. Choosing to be involved allows us to instruct children on the correct ways to handle our devices. By reducing a child’s risks, we can ensure they have the opportunities to live a healthy and happy life enriched, not hindered, by technology.
Listed below are nine practical ways to embrace digital safety within our families:
Help teens set their privacy settings and passwords. One of the easiest ways to keep children safe online is as simple as using adequate privacy settings. Take a few minutes and check to see if a child’s privacy is protected and encourage them to never share their passwords.
Tell children to “friend” or follow people they actually know. Cyberbullies and predators are notorious for creating fake accounts which they use to gain access to their victims.
Limit data to prevent oversharing or sexting. Studies show that the greatest deterrent to sexting is as simple as limiting their data plans.
Track your child’s online activity. Be aware of how your child behaves online by knowing the sites they frequent and who their friends are.
Encourage a teen to seek help from an adult if they witness or receive menacing messages. Data shows that only one out of ten kids will do this! Surprisingly, when an adult intervenes the bullying will stop within ten seconds.
Develop a technology contract. As a family, create a list of expectations, rules, and consequences concerning the role of technology. This should help prevent future problems and arguments.
Teach social media etiquette and build on this as a child ages. In the beginning, stress to post only things they would feel comfortable with Nana or Papa seeing. As a child matures, include sexting and oversharing.
Understand how social media sites address cyberbullying or inappropriate conduct. Know the correct ways to report, block, or stop cruel digital activity to protect kids.
Utilize monitoring software that allows you access to deleted texts, web browser history, social media sites, and text messages. Teens are notorious for hiding their digital activity so it is essential to gain an accurate picture of how a child is behaving online.
As our children age, they might act like they don’t need parental input. However, they still need our guidance to safely navigate the digital world as they are coming of age. Parents need to take these advancements as an invitation to teach digital safety. What is one thing your family does to ensure a child is protected online?
Amy Williams is a journalist based in Southern California. As a mother of two, she hopes to use her experience as a parent to help other parents raise their children to be the best that they can be.