Technology can provide a variety of beneficial resources; however, internet access can potentially allow predators and bullies a way to target vulnerable individuals. As the school year approaches, many children will have access to a digital device for school use. Parents and educators must help teach their kids how to use them appropriately and safely while online. Technology is constantly evolving which presents new challenges, depending on the age of the children. The internet and online gaming platforms are so easily accessible now that many adults struggle to shield their kids from inappropriate content. Developing and maintaining clear boundaries is critical to your child’s safety. In a digital world where our youth are virtually surrounded by dangerous influences and perverse behaviors, having constructive conversations about the negative impact of social media and sexting are necessary. When adults are not fully aware of their daily activities, kids will often follow their peers or even seek attention from strangers to better “fit in” by using popular forms of modern entertainment.
Smartphones, tablets, and laptops provide opportunities for kids to make poor choices that could cause irreparable damage. Numerous harmful behaviors are often linked with using the internet, such as sexting, sending pornographic images, trafficking, or cyberbullying. Sexting occurs when individuals are sharing suggestive images or messages that may seem innocent but can result in long-term dysfunction or legal consequences. Furthermore, private pictures or messages meant for a single person can quickly become widely dispersed among thousands, creating embarrassment and emotional trauma for years to come. Discussing these risks will teach your children how to stand up to peer pressure and avoid those situations or groups attempting to normalize such inappropriate behavior. These conversations can help your child feel comfortable coming to you if they see inappropriate content or feel unsafe. If you discover your child is engaging in these actions or is a victim of online harassment, there are trained professionals who can help successfully navigate these complex, uncomfortable situations.
Trafficking is another way that predators target children. Often these individuals use false identities to try and have conversations with the child to gain their trust. Warn your child of the dangers of messaging anyone that they don’t know. Please remind your child to keep location settings private, not disclose personal information, and know that many predators will lie about themselves to trick children into trusting them.
By setting expectations, you will be able to both educate and protect your kids from potential harm. Adolescents need to be reminded that once they post or send anything inappropriate on social media (whether on a website, popular app, or text message) it cannot be retrieved. They should always consider how their choices will affect their future, innocent bystanders, and their family members before sharing anything questionable. Most importantly, don’t wait until something regrettable happens to have these heartfelt discussions. Start talking to your kids now so they know exactly what to do when facing these everyday dangers.
If you have questions or would like more information you can contact SOS or go to Common Sense Media to stay up to date on current apps or parental control options. The SOS Helpline number is 800-825-1295 or visit www.commonsensemedia.org.