You’re fully aware of the dangers of pornography, sexting, and bullying, and you may think that as long as your children aren’t engaged in any of that, they’re fine. We believe the best when it comes to our kids, which is why it can come as a surprise when you find out what they’ve been doing online.
“But my child would never…” you might think. Hopefully, you’re right. But they might be covering up all sorts of online activity, despite the rules you’ve set.
Shocked? Then you haven’t been paying attention.
We don’t want you to panic. But we do want you to be aware.
Kids Don’t Tell All
Maybe you’ve laid careful ground rules about internet usage and forbidden access to certain apps. Maybe your child agreed and everything seems fine, so you haven’t followed up. However, this article by a junior high school teacher outlines the results of a little survey she took among her students. Of 85 students, 70 of them said they kept social media secrets from their parents (and five didn’t even have social accounts!).
They also finished the sentence, “What my parents don’t know about social media is…”. Some of their answers include:
- You can buy drugs.
- I have an account I’m not supposed to have.
- Kids get bullied.
- There is lots of nudity.
- I talk to people I’m not supposed to.
- I have a secret, fake account.
- I’m on social media until 2:00 in the morning.
Can you say for sure that your children wouldn’t answer the same way?
They Learn About Sex
There’s a gap between sexual ignorance and pornography, and there are YouTube users who are filling that gap with sexual education.
This isn’t all bad. Some of the people who make those videos are doctors, and young adults have an opportunity to learn without feeling embarrassed or ashamed, particularly if their parents don’t maintain an open channel of communication about sex. These videos often provide a more in-depth look at sex: the physical, mental, and emotional elements as well as health and safety. Depending on your beliefs, what type of sex education is available at your child’s school, what type of relationship you have with your child, and, of course, your child’s age, this might be acceptable (or even a relief!) for you.
However, it’s still important that you know it’s happening, especially if you do want some say in how your child’s sex education is directed.
It’s Not Just Porn
This article talks about porn on the app Musical.ly, but says that’s not the worst thing:
“The worst thing is watching little kids (as young as eight) sexually objectify themselves. The kids who get it right…gain followers. The kids who get it wrong — those not ‘sexy’ enough, funny enough, savvyy [sic] enough — are openly ridiculed in the comment section.”
The app opens children up to bullying, shaming, and worse. The author talks about the dark hashtags that are used to connect users who are interested in self-harm, eating disorders, or suicide. In her words:
“There are #killingstalking musical.lys, which are dark-themed…videos showing boys putting knives to girls’ throats. There are #selfharm videos that show suicide options — bathtubs filling, images of blades, a child’s voice saying she doesn’t want to live any more. I saw a boy with a bleeding chest (yes, real blood). I saw a young girl whose thighs were so cut up I had to take a break from writing this article.”
And that’s just one app.
What Can Parents Do?
We want to trust our kids, and at some point, we have to. However, that’s easiest when we prepare them to make good choices.
The internet isn’t going away. These apps are here to stay, at least until their popularity fades as new ones take their place. Many of them try to push the envelope to attract users, and kids are curious. They’re looking for an outlet to express the complicated feelings involved in growing up. They want validation. They want to be heard.
- Listen. The best we can do as parents is to educate our children, and that starts with communication. Talk about what’s online, and let them know how important it is to tell you about what they see and what makes them uncomfortable. Let them know they can talk to you safely: they won’t get in trouble for telling the truth, and you won’t take any actions without discussing it with them first.
- Educate yourself. You can’t protect them from threats you’re not aware of, so stay up-to-date about the latest apps and trends. This includes hashtags, challenges, and popular sites. Sign up for Google alerts related to social media and teenage trends: every day or week you can get a curated list of the top news articles and blogs regarding those issues.
- Sign up for an account with any site or app your child wants to use and see what it’s like. How easy is it to set up a fake account? How easy is it to change the privacy settings? What type of material is being shared on that app, and how easy is it to find?
- Monitor their internet use. Good quality parental controls can help you block specific sites and apps, and limit the amount of time your child can access the internet. Together with your child, set guidelines about passwords, friending and following each other, and not allowing the Internet to interfere with family time or homework. Make sure that you are checking your child’s device on a regular basis because many kids will give their parents kids the login and password for their social media accounts and turn around and make a secret account that Mom and Dad do not know about making software that “monitors” worthless. Yes, even young children do this these days!
The article that discussed Musical.ly mentions that it’s much easier to start by saying no to a site than it is to allow a social site, and then take it away from your child when you discover it’s not suitable for him or her. Start with more restrictions, and lighten up as your child grows and demonstrates maturity and responsibility.
In the end, your child makes his or her own choices, but we can still set them up for success by setting loving restrictions with trustworthy parental controls, developing their self-confidence, and guiding them toward safe and respectful choices regarding social media and the internet.