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FROM READERS: The danger of technology and how to talk to your kids about it

Thursday, March 13, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Angela Lechtenberg is a social media consultant who lives in Columbia. She wrote this article for ColumbiaFAVS, where she is a regular contributor.

Do your kids Kik?

Are they Instagramming selfies and videos?

Do YOU know what’s going on in their online world?

It infuriates me when I see parents who do not teach their children responsible online behavior – especially the ones who let their kids have social media accounts without explaining to them what they’re getting into.

Our school’s home and school association brought in an expert, Andy Anderson of the Boone County Sheriff’s Department, to share with parents and teachers what they need to know to protect their kids in the age of instant gratification and social media.

I was a little disappointed that more of Our Lady of Lourdes Interparish School’s parents were not present for this discussion. It is so important to talk to our kids and remind them all the time about the rules of engagement online, and it seems like many parents feel intimidated and don’t have the information they need to teach their kids what they need to know.

Some of the talking points from the presentation, which focused on sexting and cyberbullying, presented quite a doom and gloom view of the Internet. Here are a few of the takeaways:

  • The number one form of communication for people under 20 is text messaging.
  • Excessive texting is dangerous not only to kids, but adults, as well. It’s been known to create anxiety and can cause sleep disturbances. Having your sleep routinely disrupted can cause developmental issues because the lack of sleep doesn't allow the brain to fully develop.
  • The nature of our new mobile, social universe and the instant communication it creates gives people a false sense of urgency, making us think we must respond immediately and be available for anyone at any time. This can create unhealthy models for relationships — especially for kids who have unsupervised access to cellphones. There’s no delayed gratification. This type of behavior can start as young as fifth grade and becomes very prevalent in junior high.

As if that’s not enough, here’s a look at some of the statistics:

Twenty-two percent of teens think technology makes them more aggressive. Many teens think that sexting is a part of the dating process: 61 percent of people involved in sexting feel pressured to send pictures and 31 percent have asked someone to send pictures online. Twenty-eight percent admit to sending inappropriate pictures and 13 percent of kids who are caught up in a sexting scenario try suicide.

Why do kids bully?

They feel anonymous online and think they don’t have to be accountable for their actions. They can also access social media and texting in secret, without adult supervision or guidance.

And sadly, the bully thinks it’s funny.

What should we teach kids about cyberbullying?

Every cyberbully needs an audience. If you do nothing, a bully takes that as condoning the activity. Encourage kids to take action against the bully, if appropriate. They should always tell an adult.

It’s important to know that developmentally, our children don’t have the reasoning ability to make responsible decisions online, especially in an instant — that’s how quickly something can go out online, and never be undone. That’s why we, as parents, need to guide them.

A personal note on the gloom and doom: I work in interactive marketing, and I’m active in social media. I was a social media manager for more than 3 years. I love the digital world.

I don’t subscribe to all the doom and gloom, but I know there is a dark side, and I’m going to be vigilant in protecting my kids from it.

Mr. Anderson’s presentation was indeed very eye-opening and I think every school should have someone come in and do a program like this one on a regular basis, for kids and parents. I wish his presentation had more resources for parents on what to look for and how to handle the situations.

Many of us parents are already scared of what can happen to our kids online, so the fear factor could have been better used on my sixth grader, who probably thinks he’s invincible to all of this.

Here’s what we do in our house:

Only give kids technology they can use responsibly. A 9-year-old probably doesn’t need a smartphone or a Facebook account.

Set boundaries about when and where to use technology appropriately. We only use devices for a set amount of time, in common areas of our house. All tech goes off by 8 p.m. — that means no Facebooking at midnight on a Tuesday when we’re supposed to be asleep.

Talk to kids about legal and consequences of what they post, and make sure they understand how to behave responsibly online. Run through scenarios, and check up on them regularly. Ask them what’s going on in their online world in order to create dialogue.

To learn more about the Cyber Crimes Task Force, go to bcsdcybercrimes.com.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.


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