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.
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.
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.”
It’s a constant battle for some of us to get our kids to go to bed at a decent hour. What is “decent” is actually not too hard to figure out due to recent research by UC Berkeley. An article discussing the research reported that “teens who went to bed later than 11:30 p.m. on school nights and 1:30 a.m. in the summer had lower GPAs than teens who got to bed earlier. They were also more susceptible to emotional problems.” This was not a short term problem, that sleeping in on weekends solves. The research showed an association with poor educational and emotional outcomes an entire 6 to 8 years later! What can we do as parents? One thing my husband and I did was put our router in our bedroom, with a timer on it so that the internet turned off at 11:00. With cell phones now offering 24/7 access to the internet, it’s important to cut off phone access at night as well. We are host parents for international students, and the private school they attend requires us to have the students park their phones outside their rooms overnight. We use a table in the hall outside our bedroom. Parents…do you have any ideas to share? We welcome your comments.
The “Ask Amy” advice column in the Chicago Tribune had a question from parents who had discovered that their 14-year-old daughter had very close online-only contact with an 18-year-old boy. Because I’ve also talked to teens who talk about the “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” they’ve never met, I realized this is something parents should be alert to. The advice, from Donna Rice Hughes of internetsafety101.org, may sound strict, but it strikes me as wise and necessary. The obvious answer in my mind would be to ban any further contact. But because a determined teen has ways to circumvent such a ban, she suggests:
“… you should check her texts (unannounced) to make sure they are not sexual and follow her presence on social media.
You should also open this up to the extent that you can get to know this young man whom she cares so much about. At her age, you as parents should make every effort to meet and get to know all of her friends, real world or virtual. This is non-negotiable.
Communicate with him via Skype, phone or email, with your daughter present and with an open attitude. Verify that he is who he says he is. (And does he know that she is 14?) Also connect with his parents to let them know of this relationship. Basically, you want to demonstrate to both that you are present and involved.
Limit your daughter’s phone time to make sure she gets her homework done and participates in family life. Encourage her to get involved with at least one school activity and help her to foster friendships closer to home.
I’ve been reading about ask.fm lately. The buzz is about teens that have committed suicide after being bullied on the site. For all the teens that resort to suicide, often after being urged to kill themselves by anonymous bullies, there are many, many more that are living in fear and despair. Anonymity allows teens to act on their worst impulses. I couldn’t help but think of the soul-crushing guilt or loss of conscience that the bullies must feel when they face the very real consequences of their cruelty. Heaven forbid, that my child, or yours, could be that bully. Chicagonow.com has posted an article telling us what we need to know about ask.fm, including the following:
- As is true of Facebook and Twitter, you must be 13 to use it.
- Ask.fm allows anonymous objectionable content, which it does not monitor.
- Therefore, it’s being used for the worst type of bullying and sexualized content.
- Users can’t increase privacy settings, as you can with Facebook and Twitter.
- Ask.fm content can be linked to Facebook and Twitter, increasing the spread of the bullying.
- “A user can disable his/her account, even if the password is forgotten.” Kids have been known to lie about that.
- One user can block another, but the person can still view any interactions under any profile.
Action YOU can take: Find out if anyone is posting hurtful or sexual things. Ask if these “friends” are friends in real life. It’s OK to insist on transparency…sit down and take a look at your teen’s account. Advise your teen, “Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your family to see.”