A single poor choice…often motivated by a desire to keep or gain a relationship, can lead to the dark, ugly world of “sextortion.” An article on the site HealthDay, recounts the tragic case of a 12-year-old girl who’d lifted her shirt online at the request of someone she’d never met in person (and who turned out to be an adult man). She did not give in to the threat of the exposure of that picture, and the extortionist followed through, with the sexual picture spreading around her school. She was then hounded by that man and others for years, finally committing suicide at 16. The difference between that high-profile story and the reality for most, is that perpetrators usually know the victims.
The health site “HealthDay” defines sextortion as “threatening to share sexually explicit photos without consent if a person doesn’t agree to certain demands, such as sexual favors or money,” and reports that 5 percent of teens have been victims, and another 3 percent have been perpetrators. That may seem like a small number, but that means that in every classroom of teens, across America, 2-3 people have been involved in sextortion. Certain groups are more at risk, according to the article: “Teens who identified as non-heterosexual were more than twice as likely to be the victim of sextortion…. Fifteen appears to be the most common age to be involved in sextortion, the new study found. One finding parents may find particularly alarming is that teens being victimized by sextortion attempts usually know the person trying to take advantage of them. They may have been a romantic partner or a friend. It’s unusual for someone to be targeted by a stranger, the researchers said.”
Talking to our teens about setting boundaries in relationships and in online interactions is critical to their safety, and specifically addressing sextortion might help our children stay safe when, in a single moment, they might be lured into a lapse of judgment that has years-long consequences. Even if it doesn’t happen to your teen, equipping teens to be wise and watchful can help them know how to help their friends stay safe as well.
I don’t have an iPhone, but almost all the teens I know do…as do many parents. Did you know Apple has made it possible for you to do all sorts of things to limit your teen’s use of their phone? And with the IOS 12 update coming in about 10 days, there are some exciting enhancements and new parental control features. According to Apple, these new features “include Activity Reports, App Limits and new Do Not Disturb and Notifications controls designed to help customers reduce interruptions and manage screen time for themselves and their families.” Here are a couple of articles that can guide you, including one where an adult reviewer borrowed a teen to try it out on…with success: Teen learns limits and Features overview
So what can do though your own iPhone (or directly on theirs) to help your teen get some of his/her life back that has been sucked into the vortex of social media? Here are some examples:
- Do Not Disturb during Bedtime mode dims the display and hides notifications on the lock screen until prompted in the morning.
- Do Not Disturb during family dinner (that means you too, Mom or Dad)
- Through Screen Time view daily and weekly activity reports to see where all those hours are going, and where limits need to be set.
- Set time limits for apps (Snapchat, Instagram, Fortnite Mobile and YouTube are obvious candidates for this).
I hear it’s easy to set up, so once IOS 12 comes out…go to it! If you have an Android phone, there are parental control apps (cost from $30 up per year) HERE.
Fortnite is the game every teen is talking about. It’s a multi-player shooter survival game (Mac, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One, IOS app, and soon on Android), with free and paid versions. The obvious violence (it’s about killing with weapons after all) is not graphic–no blood or gore. It is “cartoonish” rather than realistic. No sex, no nudity, although the bodies of the female characters are exaggeratedly curvy. One article explains why it’s so popular with kids: “Well, it’s free, it’s fun and it has a very silly, offbeat sense of humour. While PUGB has a serious, realistic visual style, Fortnite: Battle Royale has very bright, almost cartoon-like graphics as well as loads of ridiculous items and costumes, such as space suits and dinosaur outfits. You can also pull a variety of dance moves during the game, and some of these have taken on a cult appeal in schoolyards around the globe.”
I always urge parents to check out games, videos, etc. on Commonsense Media, and I also found a Good Morning America video discussing the game, its addictive qualities and how to set limits…things most parents are concerned about.
Controlling and/or monitoring your teen’s internet use is not an intrusion into your child’s privacy.
Wait…yes it is! But it’s NECESSARY. As parents, we’d throw ourselves in front of a speeding car to push our precious child out of the path of harm. In the same way, it’s our job, even duty, to both warn and protect our children from the darker things they can be exposed to on their phones, tablets and laptops. Even if it’s just making sure that gaming doesn’t chew up too much family or homework time, we have an interest in keeping track of what our teens are doing on the internet. There’s no one-size-fits-all software solution. But pcmag.org does have an up-to-date resource page with alternatives for monitoring and/or controlling internet use by your child.
Are you like me? Have you been sent/forwarded something that caused your “skeptical” alarms to go off? I graduated with a degree in Journalism, and I just can’t help myself from being a skeptic when faced with some wild and (truly) unbelievable story that is spreading like wildfire. If adults can be fooled, how about kids, who often don’t have a clue where to go for “real” news. Growing up in an age of newspapers, where journalistic integrity was at least held up as the standard (whether always followed or not), older generations are more used to researching, asking questions, and challenging a source when something seems “off.” But our kids are getting most of their news from their feeds, and who knows what they are hearing and believing? In fact, Common Sense Media in an online report (with great infographics) found that “less than half of kids agree that they know how to tell fake news stories from real ones.”
One encouraging item in the above-linked report is that kids tend to trust news from family more than any other source. If you want to help your teen become a THINKING consumer of news media, there are some things you can do. Commonsensemedia.org has some great resources and ideas. I usually go there for analysis of TV shows, and movies from a parent’s perspective (you’ll find out in detail why a movie is PG-13, or R-rated for instance). But they also have a lot of insightful articles about how we as parents can help our kids use media wisely and well. Two articles there that will give you some ideas on how to talk to your kids are: “How to Spot Fake News,” and “Teaching Kids Media Smarts During Breaking News.”
Commonsensemedia.org is my go-to site to check out anything media-related. One of my goals is to keep parents informed about the teen world…and teens are into musical.ly, an app that allows you to “Create beautiful music videos with your favorite songs, and share with friends.” Musically.ly claims it is “the world’s fastest growing social network around music and lifestyle.”
These parents discovered a whole lot more:
“I thought it was just an innocent app where you can lip-synch and make music videos…. I took a look at what she had done, and there were some music videos that had inappropriate language in them…. On top of that, I realized that even without Internet access, anybody in the community could view her videos, and she could view theirs. There is a setting to set it up that only her friends could view her videos, but it still really bothered me.… After I started exploring the app, I realize that at the bottom of the video people could put hashtags. I clicked on a hash tag, which took me to another video with a different suggestive sounding hashtag at the bottom that I clicked on, which then took me to videos that were Adult content.”
If your child searches the hashtags, they WILL find pornographic videos. It took me less than a minute after I installed the app to find it. The hashtag that brought it up was #adult
“My kids had worked together and used our pets, stuffed animals and even we parents got in on making some pretty hilarious music videos. The BIG problem is that a lot of the available music and sound bites contain all the very adult language and innuendo you hear on the radio. So when left to her own devices, I found my 10 year old lip syncing to suggestive lyrics she didn’t even understand. And dancing and gesturing the way a rock diva does- not the way I want her spending her free time. What’s worse is that the rating system becomes addictive (see the reviews by the kids). She and her friends kept pushing the envelope to see how many “likes” they could get. What originally was supposed to be a private account became public for the thrill of getting the approval of strangers. Definitely started off sweet and innocent, then due to these unsavory lyrics, went down a bad path when I wasn’t watching. Family decision was made to delete the app tonight amid lots of tears and even I was sad to see our cute videos go.”
If you are a long-time reader of this blog, you know that we regularly encourage parents to discuss topics of safety and health with their children. One topic that bears regular repetition is pornography, and we are always happy when we can pass along a new resource to help you discuss the difficult topic with your teen.
Here is one such resource from Fight the New Drug.
On a personal note, please don’t shy away from this topic. The landscape of porn today is more more relentless, dark and dangerous than just a few decades ago. It is worth trying to steer our children away from it, however daunting the task may seem. You can be successful in turning young people away from porn. My husband recently shared a story from his childhood:
I went over to a friend’s house and brought Braveheart for us to watch. It was on VHS. Partway through, the movie stopped and Olympic gymnastics started. We thought the video had stopped, but no…it was still playing. Eventually, the movie came back on. Then I realized my dad had taken the VHS tape and recorded gymnastics over the part with some nudity.
My father-in-law cared about how his son grew up, the kind of man he would become, and the images he would see. It is humorous now, in a way, but also something for which I, as his son’s eventual wife, am forever grateful.
More and more, the students I talk to in classroom discussion time are telling me of the picture requests they are getting. And no, I don’t mean of their pet Yorky or family night around the Monopoly board. Sexy pictures. Naked pictures. Some parents (like me) believe in maintaining the right to do spot checks of our children’s phones, knowing that safety is more important than our son or daughter’s perceived right to privacy. But would you know where to find “inappropriate” pictures in you child’s phone? One of my friends sent me an article about apps like calculator%, hicalculator and calculator+, that are meant to look like calculators, but are actually code-locked gateways to a stash of private photos they don’t want anyone, especially parents, to see. I’d advise a little concerned snooping…just to be sure. There is a LOT of pressure to conform and pass around, or even worse, produce, these pictures.
The latest social media trend among today’s teens may surprise you. This report from The Onion describes the movement from Facebook to the comments section of a popular YouTube video of a slow-motion deer running.
Teens Migrating From Facebook To Comments Section Of Slow-Motion Deer Video
We’ve written before about various ways to monitor, control, and spy on your teens’ internet and phone use. If you multiply all the cell phones, tablets, laptops, etc. in your home, it’s no wonder parents get overwhelmed and give up. So instead of trying to manage, one by one, each and every wi-fi connected device in the home, one product can help you do it all from one place…the router. USAtoday.com recently reported on The Skydog web app and Smart Family Router (skydog.com), which can simplify and organize content control over many devices in your home, easily! Said one parent reviewer on CNET.com, “This amazing bit of technology is actually useful, relevant and solves a number of problems that I, as a parent of a teenage son, have been trying to solve for years now. What the Skydog will do for you is create safe zones for the users and devices that connect to your network. Depending on the level of filtering you want to apply to each person, you can drop each family member and their respective devices into groups that will monitor and block inappropriate destinations based upon rules you define.”