Category Archives: Cyber Bullying
What Parents Should Know About Decoy Apps

The app store can be a jungle. Among the most familiar, popular apps lie hundreds upon hundreds of apps that may (or may not) be useful on a smaller scale. Some of these apps aren’t what they appear to be.

Take the Apple app Calculator%. It was a fully functioning calculator! Pretty harmless, right?

It had a secret, though. It contained an album that allowed users to hide photos and videos behind what appeared to be a mere calculator. That proves to be pretty handy for a teenager who’s trying to keep some content secret from a parent who might casually glance through the smartphone.

Apple recently removed the app from its store in the middle of an investigation by police in Great Britain.

But the story of decoy apps doesn’t end there.

The Rise of the Decoy AppsDecoy Apps

Dr. Chris Taylor, an associate professor at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, was quoted in this article:

“So a decoy app is an app that’s designed to look like one thing but serve a different purpose…. They do have a legitimate purpose if you wanted to hide your passwords, and you didn’t want anybody to know that you even had passwords on your phone, so they didn’t try to get at them. If you have a decoy app, that’s a great place to stick it.”

Of course, people have found other uses for decoy apps.

This article says decoy or vault apps have been around since 2012. In 2015, high school students in Colorado were caught trading hundreds of naked photos (featuring at least 100 different students) via vault apps. It made it easy for the kids to conceal the photos, which otherwise might have been noticed by diligent parents.

How to Spot a Decoy App

In the app stores, decoys are not a secret. They explain exactly what they are and what they’re for. Some of them include:

  • Calorie Counter – Hide My Text
  • Hide My Text – Invisible
  • Secret Hidden Calculator Free
  • GalleryVault Pro Key
  • Stashword
  • Private Photo Vault
  • Best Secret Folder

The point is, if you’re looking on the app store, you’ll find the decoy apps right away. However, on your child’s device, you might not notice a seemingly innocent calculator, game, or music app. If you make regular checks of your child’s device, don’t spend all your time in the photos and texts: check for new apps, as well. If you’re not familiar with what you see, look them up to find out if they might be doubling as a hiding place.What Are Decoy Apps

The Problem With These Apps

The big problems are obvious now: the Colorado sexting ring is an example of that. But how else might this become a problem for your child?

They might not just be hiding photos and videos. Some apps allow for secret chats to be exchanged; your child could bully someone or be bullied behind that closed door. It’s also a place for them to hide passwords you are supposed to have access to.

Keep in mind that decoy apps require a password to access the hidden material, but they may also allow for decoy passwords! In that case, you might spot the decoy app and ask your child to open it. He or she enters a password and shows you a lot of innocent content that was placed there as a second decoy. Meanwhile, there’s a real password that accesses different material.

How to Keep Your Child From Using Decoy AppsExamples of Decoy Apps

It’s probably hard to imagine that your children could get involved with something like an illicit sexting ring, but the truth is it’s hard to keep track of every influence your children are under when they’re away at school.

Of course, the presence of a decoy app on your child’s device doesn’t automatically mean they’re involved in something like that, but it does probably mean you need to find out what’s going on.

Common Sense Media offers the following guidelines for dealing with decoy apps:

  • Talk to your kids: The online safety talk should happen at least by the time they get their first mobile device. Allow this to be an ongoing conversation where your child feels free to share anything that concerns him or her online.
  • Talk about photos: Even private photos shared between two people, such as those in an intimate relationship, can easily be made public if one party decides to violate the trust out of jealousy, anger, or any other emotion. Teenagers may have a hard time understanding that when they’re in the middle of a relationship with someone they trust.
  • Keep in mind the reasons for hiding: Your kids might not be trying to deceive you; instead, they might be hiding something from a friend. There’s a reason for concern here, as well, but you don’t have to assume they’re hiding something from you.
  • Take a look: “If you need to do a spot check, on iPhones go to Settings -> Privacy -> Camera to see which apps have used the camera. This will reveal any camera apps disguised as something else.”
  • Don’t assume the worst: Maybe your kids aren’t hiding anything at all. Maybe they’re just curious about new apps and technology and enjoy playing with them. If you see a vault or decoy app on your child’s device, find out more before jumping to conclusions.

Your child may exhibit certain behaviors that could indicate some trouble online. These don’t necessarily point to a decoy app, but they are enough for you to take a closer look at what might be happening with your child on the internet:

  • Regularly hiding the screen from onlookers
  • A sudden change in mood or personality
  • Spending more and more time online
  • Unwillingness to share social media usernames and passwords
  • Unwillingness to talk about what they do online
  • Disinterest in formerly enjoyable activities
  • Disinterest in going to school

With trustworthy parental controls, you can block specific apps and entire categories of apps, so your child can’t download them in the first place or if you just want them to take a break from apps that they tend to overuse. This gives you a powerful tool in managing your child’s online activity—and safety.

Screentime: Children Need Parents to Create Boundaries

Parenthood might seem like a constant struggle of drawing a line and watching your child cross it. Children clearly hate boundaries, right? Giving them too many makes them want to rebel; those lines create two teams in your household, and raising a child becomes “us against them”.

Not always.

The truth is, children not only need but actually want boundaries, though they probably wouldn’t be the first to admit it. This is especially true when it comes to screentime.

Don’t laugh! We know you’re envisioning those moments when you asked a teen to put down the phone and it resulted in a fit that quickly escalated. But take a look at the research.

Young People Want Screentime Boundaries

This article outlines research that shows young people making excuses to get away from their phones:

“There were students who intentionally left their chargers at home so their phones would die on them during the day, a girl who mainly went to church to escape her phone, and students who reported they enlisted friends to literally hide their devices from them.”

They admit to an addiction to their smartphones and other devices (one person named her phone and spoke about it like it was a person) and then admit to intentionally taking time away from the devices—or trying to. Like a jar of cookies, it’s hard to avoid reaching for the phone when you know it’s right there, waiting for you.

The researcher, Donna Freitas, writes that many of the college students she talked to couldn’t imagine life without a smartphone, yet they were happy (or perhaps relieved) about finding areas on campus where the Wi-Fi failed. “Clearly, young adults don’t have a blissfully happy attachment to their smartphones. Even though it frustrates and even embarrasses some of them to admit this, many long for our permission and help to unplug when they can’t do it on their own.”

Setting Screen Time BoundariesControl Screentime With Netsanity

Freitas is quick to note that people aren’t always happy at the moment the phone is taken away. In some cases, students whose parents took their phones away experienced withdrawal and found the separation to be difficult. However, after the initial shock and discomfort passed, they enjoyed the break.

Like so much of what you do as a parent, your kids will thank you later for limiting their screentime.

Here are some guidelines to help you set healthy screen time boundaries for your children:

  • Be compassionate: “Smartphones and social media are designed to make us want to use them more, not less.” The draw to pick up the device is intense, as you have probably experienced yourself. Understand that marketers and designers are intentionally making it that way, and they’re good at it. Your kids are fighting that battle, too.
  • Focus on the benefits: There are many difficult things we do for our children, and this may be one of them. Especially if your kids are young, it’s hard for them to imagine how their social media and internet habits could impact their lives over the long term. Keep your focus on how much the boundaries help them, even if they don’t realize it yet.
  • Consider the AAP recommendations: The American Academy of Pediatrics offers guidelines for media use starting with infants. By the time the child is older than six, they recommend having regular communication about safety and respect online, keeping consistent limits on the type of media your kids use and how much time they spend using it, and offering device-free time periods or zones in your home (like at the dinner table or in the bedrooms).
  • Let them help you set the boundaries: Depending on the age of your child, he or she may be able to work with you to set boundaries you can agree upon. Obviously, you have the final say, but a teen may appreciate the opportunity to offer input. For example, it gives her an opportunity to explain that she needs her device at 5:00 because that’s when her friends meet online to discuss their weekend plans; this helps you understand why she might get upset if you try to turn off her internet connection at that time. With the permission to attend her meeting, she may be willing to concede to other restrictions rather than fighting against them. Coming to these agreements makes the boundaries easier to uphold, and it makes for a happier household overall. Another great option that parents use is to just simply block a few social media apps in the evening hours, giving your child time to focus on homework while still having access to their device for music or to access other information.
  • Talk about why: Discuss the reasons for the boundaries rather than using, “Because I said so.” This is easy to do when you have that conversation where your child helps you set the boundaries. He might argue against one, and you can clearly outline why you feel the way you do, and vice versa. That doesn’t mean he’ll like it or agree, at least at first, but at least he knows your reasoning—and just as importantly, you know his.
  • Allow room for growth: Boundaries can change as your child grows. Keep in mind that you might need to revisit the conversation on a regular basis as your child becomes more mature and responsible for making decisions online.
  • Use parental controls: Rules are difficult to enforce when your child spends so much time alone with her device and away from you. Trustworthy parental controls help fill that gap, and they might be a (secret) relief for your child. By blocking certain sites and apps, or limiting the time your child can spend online, it frees her from the temptation to look at something you’ve told her not to or to pick up the phone when she knows she should be studying.Manage Screentime With Netsanity

Given the well-known dangers and concerns of excessive smartphone use, including technology addiction, cyberbullying, sexting, and exposure to unsavory sites and people, setting screentime boundaries is an essential part of parenting in the digital age.

How to Raise Privacy-Savvy Kids

Safety has always been a parental concern. You probably remember being told not to talk to strangers and to “stop, drop, and roll.” You were taught to wear your seatbelt in the car and a helmet on your bike. You’ve passed those safety guidelines along to your own children.

In our digital world, that’s no longer enough.

As parents today, we have a far bigger list of safety and privacy concerns. Thanks, internet.

As a parent, you must have internet safety talks with your children. It’s not a one-time chat, but an ongoing conversation with guidelines that may change as your children grow and as the internet evolves.

Here are a few items to include in those discussions.

Personal Information

It’s important for children to understand what they should and shouldn’t share about themselves online. On social media sites, teach them to avoid giving their address, phone number, or current location publicly.

Explain how companies gather and use their information, as well. Before providing their address, age, or other details with a website, they should think about why they’re providing it and who they’re providing it to. If they’re placing an order with a reputable company, then of course they’ll have to enter their address. However, that should never be a requirement for signing up for an email newsletter, and they might want to think twice before doing certain online quizzes.

Passwords and Privacy

Common Sense Media suggests using the strictest privacy settings on apps and websites. For social media sites, teach your child to make his posts private, so that only his friends can see them.

Create good passwords and change them on a regular basis. Always use a combination of letters (upper and lower case), numbers, and symbols, and don’t use any identifying or easy-to-guess words or numbers, like your own birthday. Online breaches reveal the most common passwords are “123456” and, unbelievably, “password.” Don’t let that be true for you or your kids. You might also insist on knowing your child’s password so you can access her accounts when you need to.

If your child is under the age of 13, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act helps protect your child’s information. “If a site or service is covered by COPPA, it has to get your consent before collecting personal information from your child and it has to honor your choices about how that information is used.”

Online FriendsRaising Privacy-Savvy Children

Your children should avoid “friending” people they don’t know in real life. Some social media sites make this easy; others are based around connecting with strangers.

People aren’t always who they say they are. Your children can connect with and learn from people around the world, but they need to draw the line at sharing revealing information. Ask your child to tell you if anyone they meet online is asking them for personal information or making them feel uncomfortable in any way. This includes bullying, which can often show up in unexpected ways.

Though it may be unlikely that your child would come across an online predator, it’s obviously a serious danger when it does happen. Keep in mind that many predators are patient and crafty: they find creative ways of getting the information they need from your child. There’s no reason to scare your kids, but teach them to be diligent about online users they don’t know in real life.

Long-Lasting, Far-Reaching PostsPrivacy-savvy Rules to Live By

The internet lasts forever. Every post, every photo, can quickly be shared with thousands and even millions of people.

That’s why it’s essential for your children to avoid sharing embarrassing or risque photos of themselves or someone else. What’s meant to be a private exchange with a romantic interest can quickly spread through the school if the recipient is not as honest as your child thinks he or she is.

Teach them to pay attention to what they say, as well. Before they put someone down or get into an argument, they need to think about what they’re typing. People can have access to those words for years.

Your Involvement

Just like you keep track of where your child goes to after school and who his friends are, you have to watch out for where your child goes and who he makes friends with online.

This isn’t always easy to do. The best approach is multi-faceted.

  • First, keep an open dialogue with your child. It’s no surprise that children don’t always share everything with their parents, but the best way to encourage it is with open, honest communication. Let your kids know it’s safe to tell you about what happens online. Make it a habit of asking questions about what your child does online, and be honest about any nosing around you might do. For example, instead of sneaking into her account, let her know from the beginning that if she wants to use a certain site or app, you have to have access to it at all times.
  • Set a great example. Watch your own online behavior, taking care not to share photos that could embarrass your child and avoid nasty arguments that result in name-calling. Ask yourself, “Would I want my child doing this? What would he think if he saw this?”
  • Stay up-to-date with the internet and social media. New apps and sites are popping up every day. When one of them starts to gain traction, you want to know about it as soon as your child does—or before. Visit the site yourself to see what it’s all about before allowing your child to access it.
  • Set guidelines for internet use. Trustworthy parental controls can make it easier for you enforce rules about which sites are off-limits and which hours of the day need to be spent away from a mobile device. You can set stricter guidelines to start, and gradually ease up as your child matures and gets more responsible.

No one said parenting in the digital age was going to be easy, but we’re all doing the best we can in this ever-evolving framework.

Are You Really Paying Attention to What Your Child Is Doing Online?

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

Your Children Don't Tell What They Do Online

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

Children Learn About Sex Online

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

Children Are Exposed To Bullying And Shaming Online

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?

What Can Parents Do To Protect Their Children Online?

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.

7 Apps With Hidden Dangers

While there are plenty of apps out there that you know as a parent you should have your children avoid or you can at least monitor on their behalf, others might be a little murkier. There are phone apps geared towards children and teens that can be dangerous in specific ways that you might not have even thought about. Social media apps that are geared towards children might seem innocent enough but can lead to inappropriate behavior and even bullying. Some games can have internal chat areas or sharing that you might not even be aware of as a parent. Here are seven everyday apps that you might want to keep on your radar and be wary of when your child is online or using on their phone.Hidden Dangers of Apps for Kids

What’s App

What’s App is a great way to text without using too much of your allotted cell usage or traditional texting limits. If you text with your child or family quite a bit, this can be a game changer, and is a great way for seamless communication to occur if your child is somewhere without cell service but with WiFi. What you should be doing is monitoring if their phone number and access to others is marked as private, or if their number is an open invitation for others through Facebook, which is attached to the platform. Checking your child’s contact lists and messaging within this app along with traditional texting is important.

Voxer

Voxer is a fun app for children because it turns your phone into an old-school walkie-talkie, which can be a benefit in the neighborhood, mall, or anywhere where your child will be at close range with others that they want to keep contact with in a fun way that simplifies phone usage. The thing is, Voxer doesn’t just stop with this walkie-talkie function. There are other features that might not be as harmless, such as photo exchange options and ways to share personal information. This can lead to inappropriate behavior, texts, and even bullying among kids using this app. As a parent, you can turn off location services and double-check the privacy settings before your child falls in love with this app.

Words with Friends

Did you know that the game Words with Friends has an in-game messaging component? If you didn’t, you might want to check this feature in your child’s otherwise seemingly innocent online game. Many times the discussion feature in games can be turned off so that games can continue, but discussion cannot. Words with Friends can be a fun game played between friends and family, but there is also a feature to play games with random players, which can open up communication lines with strangers that you might not be aware of or approve of.

SnapchatHidden Dangers of Popular Apps

Snapchat is a fun way for kids to dress up pictures and share with the world for a few seconds, and then these are seemingly deleted from the app for others to view. This is the app that comes up with all of the cool add-ons such as flower crowns, adding puppy faces, and even face swaps. Incredibly popular with kids, this app can also be a bad breeding ground for bullying and gossip. If children or teens don’t fully understand the concept that no picture sent through their phone is private, inappropriate or embarrassing pictures might be sent to friends and others online. Instead of these quickly disappearing, others can use the screen grab function, capture compromising photos, and share these with others without your child’s knowledge or consent.

Kik

While you’ve heard of Facebook and Instagram, there are new social networking apps popping up all of the time, and kids seem to find and adapt to these faster than others. Kik is a texting and photo sharing app, but with features that make it easy to delete or hide conversations. If your child is using Kik, it is a good idea to monitor their usages and get a good handle on how this is used and where messages and sharing occur, especially when it comes to teens seeking more privacy than you are willing to allow.

Musical.ly

Children and especially teens love music, and apps that can foster this love by bringing in the newest, popular content with options to sing and dance along can be a great interactive app for a child. While Musical.ly might sound great, there are some dangers that come with this you should review as a parent. The app itself pulls popular music, with no filter for content or language. Privacy options must be picked ahead of time to avoid your child coming in contact with anonymous uses as well. The search feature isn’t limiting and can suggest songs, some of which might have inappropriate wording your child wasn’t meaning to access.

Whisper

Whisper can be a fun app for teens to express their views, much like Twitter, but with an anonymous twist to this. The thing is, anonymity isn’t always something that protects your children. This can lead to bad behavior and even bullying by users. Anonymous messages are sent with a GPS feature and those nearby are the ones who will access this, making this private, but local at the same time, which can identify users.Boy Using App With Hidden Dangers

From unwanted discussions, bullying, to inappropriate photo sharing, ensuring your child’s safety while on their phone and using everyday apps is a must. While there are plenty of apps that are geared towards children and can be a safe platform, it is a good idea to review these yourself first to make sure there aren’t any loopholes that could put your child in danger or in contact with unsolicited photos or discussions. It is especially important to monitor the app on your child’s physical device because many children and teens may have set up secret accounts or profiles that they haven’t told you about!  Starting with a trustworthy parental control is a great way to protect your family and to make blocking and unblocking apps easy as well as managing screentime to ensure a healthy and balanced relationship with their mobile devices.

Teens, Their Mobile Devices and Why the Combination Concerns Parents

When it comes to teenagers and their devices, they are connecting, communicating and coming together with each other and society in general through their phones more than they do in person:

  • Ninety-two percent of teens are online at least once a day, and 75% have or have access to a smartphone. Ninety-one percent of teens go online from a mobile device.
  • Teens ages 12 to 17 spend an average of nine hours a day using their devices to text, post, listen to music and watch videos.
  • Fifty-three percent of teens report occupying a vehicle with someone who is texting and driving.
  • Fifty percent of teens using mobile devices think they are addicted to them. Fifty-nine percent of their parents asked in the same poll agreed.

The world is mobile in every sense of the world: new inventions move us forward and new technology makes it possible to multitask in motion. Teens are savvy when it comes to new devices and they want the best and latest, when the release date for new phones arrives, expect those devices and their accessories on top their most-wanted gifts list.

How are our kids using their phones?

Apps: Because so many apps are free, many parents have no idea how many their teenagers use. And there are difficult-to-find apps, called “ghost apps;” hidden behind innocuous icons and innocently duplicated real app icons. Teens use these ghost apps to hide sexting and explicit photos.

Games: Think teens are gearing up with expensive gaming consoles for their Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed? Think again. Mobile devices account for 39% of game usage, and 93% of teens play some form of video games. And while parents express concern over game content, more than half enjoy the social element of gaming with their teens.

Dating and hook-ups: Too young for bars and mostly without cars, teens no longer eye each other over the biology lab Bunsen burner or pass notes in calculus class. They use dating and hook-up sites for everything from group conversation and meetups to flirting to casual sex between classes.

Ordinary chitchat: Instead of going to a friend’s house or the mall and meeting up in person, kids text with each other for conversation.

Posting photos and videos: Teens share what they wear, eat, buy, drive and earn to elicit responses, provoke shock, gain approval, court disapproval and prove their worth to their peers. Some teens lack of emotional and intellectual maturity also leads them to post images they find funny or intend as a joke but are hurtful to others.

Sexting, cyberbullying and stalking: The anonymity of the Internet allows the schoolyard bully to leave the playground and intimidate anyone, anywhere and anytime. Turning off mobile devices or changing passwords is only a temporary option since many teens need their devices to stay in touch with family, teachers and school administrators.

Body image comparisons: Particularly prevalent among teen girls, they snap selfies and share them to help “improve” their looks by encouraging each other’s drastic weight loss through starvation dieting, questionable plastic surgery procedures and excessively tight fitted corsets and undergarments.

Secret-sharing: Remember the adage, “Don’t tell anyone; it’s a secret?” Teens love these sites, where they read the darkest desires and confessions of total strangers and are encouraged to share their own thoughts anonymously.

What do parents need to know?

It’s a distracted world out there: Nearly 10% of teens age 15 to 19 die in distracted driving crashes, and nearly a half-million people have injured annually in distracted-driving incidents. Teens respect and mimic parental action, and need to see their parents obey the no-texting-while-driving rule, regardless of your state’s laws. Distracted driving is deadly driving, and no text, photo or game download is worth a life.

Phone use decreases face time: The devices also decrease a teen’s social skills development, interferes with good sleep habits and family interaction. With trust-worthy parental controls, Parents monitor teens’ device time with different features, turning their access on and off or blocking and unblocking particular apps to give them more digital downtime so that they can focus on schoolwork, hobbies and to develop personal relationships.

Teens overshare without understanding the consequences: Anonymity works both ways: it protects the stalker, pornographer, bully or thief, and your teens think they’re safe because their name isn’t used on a site. This false feeling of safety leads them to provide too much information, photos, and videos or use sites that capture their location or IP address. Explain to teens that any personal information shared is too much information, and even Snapchat postings are subject to grabbing and reposting.

It’s not always the stranger who’s the danger: Parents worry about the unknown bad guy in the van kidnapping their child, or sitting in the basement texting their teen about her body. But statistics show that over three million teens are bullied each year, one in six parents knows their child is either a victim or a bully and 160,000 skip school each day due to bullying. Parents need to balance the issue of strangers contacting their teens online and luring them with sex, money and jobs and the close-to-home issue of

Parents, remember that your teen is what you teach them to be: they learn kindness, charity, honesty, patience, courage, compassion and the priceless value of protecting their body, emotions, and intellect from anyone’s actions or words, whether spoken in person or sent online. Keeping in tune with what your teen is doing online and keeping the lines of communication open will lead them to a healthier life on and offline.

 

Teen Anxiety: Cyberbullying, Sextortion, and Pornography

There isn’t any question that anxiety is one of the worst mental illnesses out there next to depression, even if they frequently occur together. In teens who depend on mobile technology every day, it’s becoming a major problem. Statistics show 80% of all teens diagnosed with an anxiety disorder aren’t getting the treatment they need.

While this is a medical crisis on its own, knowing 25% of all teens suffer from anxiety is alarming enough. A lot of those causes may come from life events or brain chemistry, though a lot of it comes from what they experience online.

A recent report from CBS News showed teen anxiety rising due to daily cell phone use, giving rise to the correlation between mental health and what teens see online.

What they’re seeing there is certainly daunting if you’re a parent. Let’s examine issues like cyberbullying, sextortion, and online pornography to see how it could affect your child’s mental health. It’s not impossible to find a way to safeguard from these.

Anxiety and Cyberbullying

One of the most serious and ongoing issues in teen anxiety and suicide is cyberbullying. While it seems that social media channels continually try to find ways to combat cyberbullying, it’s something you can’t easily control. Plus, no matter what social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat do to combat abuse, it always seems to continue in one form or another.

When you see the list of social sites experiencing the most cyberbullying, Facebook still comes out on top at over 84%. Instagram is second at 23%, something more concerning considering the personal photos posted there.

In most cyberbullying cases, vicious threats by text or personal message are the most common form of abuse. These are hard to manage, especially since a lot of those messages are between teen friends in private online conversations.

It’s unfortunate this can also happen due to net anonymity. Someone who doesn’t even use a real name can still cyberbully teenagers and perhaps never get caught if they continually change their screen names.

If your own teen receives anonymous threats like this, you should always take immediate action. They may start feeling anxious and suicidal if close friends start bullying them based on their appearance or other lifestyle choices.

Anxiety and Sextortion CasesAnxiety Among Teens Using Smartphones

With cyberbullying still in crisis mode, sextortion cases just add more concern to what teens see online. These cases involve an anonymous sender taking photos of teenagers and Photoshopping them with sexually explicit imagery.

A lot of this occurs due to teens being tricked into clicking a link that downloads malware. This gives the culprit access to personal files like photos. Then they send an email with a subject line typically stating “Who hacked your account?” and asking for sick demands.

The above demands usually involve requesting the teen to make a sexually explicit video of themselves for the hacker. If refused, the sender threatens to publish the other explicit photos on the internet.

With this increasingly disturbing threat, you can see how bad things have become. Imagine your own teenagers getting a threat like this and having no power to stop it from happening. And, it only increases the potential for teen anxiety knowing what the repercussions are.

Anxiety From Accessing PornographyAnxiety From Accessing Pornography

The pornography industry is already so ubiquitous on the net, it’s almost inevitable that some of it is going to end up being seen by someone. No doubt you worry about your teens seeing it while still giving them autonomy on what they do on their smartphones.

What’s worse is teens may end up getting access to porn through their friends. It’s not always from hackers or inadvertent ads that pass on these explicit sexual images to teens. Once they become exposed, they may become addicted and start feeling signs of depression and anxiety.

Addiction Hope states these repercussions bluntly:

“Sadly, depression sets in when teens become beholden to a shameful, secretive and brain chemistry-altering stimulus.”

Since we’re living in such a sexually charged culture, exposure to online porn requires discussion with your teens as early as possible. Otherwise, they may seek it out on their own and end up facing anxiety they can’t control while trying to hide their addiction.

So what can you do to help control all of this for your teens? Ongoing discussions with your children can only go so far, despite always being the first good start. Next,  find an online trustworthy tool to make it easier for you to control some of these online dangers from your as much as possible.

Finding a Resource to Control What Your Kids See OnlineTeens and Anxiety Causes

It is always a good start for parents to start by establishing internet usage guidelines from the time your children are young, you can help them develop healthy habits in regards to their computers and mobile devices.

Enforcing these guidelines is always easier when you use trustworthy parental controls from the start.  However, it is never too late to start! You can work with your teens to establish boundaries as well as an internet schedule making time for homework and chores. You can even block certain apps or pause the entire internet, so that you can be sure your child is sleeping rather than checking to see what her friends are doing.

Even though life and the internet continually become an out of control carousel, it’s easy to bring back sanity when you’re in charge.

Unveiling Sarahah: What Parents Need to Know

You know that your children use Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. You might even be aware that these types of social media apps bring some inherent dangers, often leading to distractions and self-esteem issues.

But beyond the most commonly available social media apps, today lies a layer of platforms that might be even more harmful to your children. Anonymous apps allow tweens and teens to freely share their thoughts and message each other, without ever having to attach their name. The newest example, Sarahah, is now making waves across the United States since making its way to the app store this past summer.

What is Sarahah?Sarahah Parents Info

The set up is simple. Users set up a personal profile page, similar to but simpler than Facebook, that describes them. Once that page exist, anyone can leave comments and feedback to the person who created the profile.

Digitally savvy parents will recognize this format as an early version of Facebook, before the existence of a news feed that collected thoughts and posts from all users. However, there is a significant difference: Sarahah promotes and encourages anonymity.

The origin story of this app is relatively interesting. It was developed by Saudi Arabian developer Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq, who created it as a tool for employees to provide open feedback to their bosses. In Arabic, Sarahah means “frankness” or “honesty.”

Had it stayed with its original use, it might have actually lived a good life as a productivity, workplace culture-enhancing app. But that’s far from the case. Today, its rapid rise has made Sarahah one of the most popular apps in the world. Today, it’s the #1 app in Apple’s app store in most major economies, and #5 in Google’s Play Store. It attracts more than 20 million users each day, many of whom are children and teenagers.

Understanding the Dangers of Anonymous Apps like Sarahah

Sarahah Parents Info

At this point, every parent should be paying attention. An app that allows teenagers to anonymously post feedback about their peers carries inherent dangers that cannot be mentioned enough. The app, as BuzzFeed details, is completely anonymous; in other words, not even the creator could unearth who writes what comments. Of course, that also means no oversight against bullying or other problematic content.

In that way, Sarahah follows directly in the footsteps of other anonymous apps before it, like Ask.fm and Yik Yak. All of them have come under scrutiny for the negative effects they can have on children; in fact, Yik Yak is now shut down for the harm it caused tweens and teenagers. Sarahah takes the concept one step further, by allowing aggregation of comments on individual profile pages.

Don’t take it from us. The app store reviews for Sarahah speak for themselves:

“My son signed up for an account and within 24 hrs someone posted a horrible racist comment on his page including saying that he should be lynched,” read one review re-posted by Business Insider. “The site is a breeding ground for hate.”

“Parents, don’t allow your kids to get this app,” another wrote. “This is an app breeding suicides.” A third suggested: “I don’t recommend going on here unless you wish to be bullied”. 

Parents are not the only ones sounding the alarm. In addition, teenagers themselves are speaking out. In an interview with Pittsburgh-based WPXI, 17-year old Autumn Heim detailed her experience with Sarahah:

I got a lot of inappropriate messages. There’s a couple messages, like bullying. But most of the time it’s kinda sexual. I think that it can be like, kind of dangerous. Because I know other people, they’ve gotten some pretty mean messages and they’re like, that it rolls off their back. But like, most of the time it can be kind of damaging.

The complete anonymity provided by the app, in other words, gives children free reign to impose dangerous thoughts about their peers. With no oversight, the results can be uncomfortable at best and harmful at worst, ranging from sexual harassment to cyberbullying. With no way to trace these comments back to their creator, the limits are almost endless.

And it doesn’t end there. The app actually harvests the contact information from all users to make initial connections. In other words, it’s much easier to find people you already know, and focus your comments on them. This practice also invites security concerns, as Sarahah does not disclose what all it does with these contact lists.

How Can I Protect My Children From Dangerous Apps?Block Apps Using Netsanity Parental Controls

Your first step as a parent should be highlighting the dangers that these types of apps can bring. As mentioned above, your children may already be seeing the negative effects of anonymity on their own but might need an adult voice to support them in their decision to not give in to peer pressure.

If your teenager insists on using the app, and you trust them to use it responsibly, make sure they understand the opt-out possibilities. For instance, users are able to prevent their profile from being searchable, which means that they have more control over who writes comments. With this type of control mechanism, the app’s original purpose – to provide positive, open feedback – may be more attainable.

Finally, especially for younger children, the best step may be to simply prevent access to apps like Sarahah. If apps like this become a problem for your children of any age they are easy to block when you use a trustworthy parental control. Netsanity, you can regulate the types of apps your children are able to download, allowing you to act as a gatekeeper and protect your kids from harm.

It’s Up to Parents to Teach Their Children Responsible Smartphone Use

With the wide variety of dangers awaiting kids online, it might seem easier to simply ban smartphones and internet access altogether.

Unfortunately, forbidding your children and teens from using a smartphone isn’t a practical solution. There are so many hours when they’re not under your watchful eye, and they can access the internet at school or at a friend’s house, which they’re likely to do if it’s the only opportunity they have to go online.

Aside from those logistical considerations, remember this: we really wouldn’t want to prevent them from using the internet. Like it or not, the world is online now, and kids need to be online with it. They need to learn how to interact online in a safe and appropriate way because that’s where they’ll find much of their school, work, and social life.

The key, then, is not about preventing internet use. It’s in education and monitoring to ensure your children use their smartphones responsibly. This is where to start to teach responsible smartphone use:

When Is Your Child Ready for a Smartphone?Teach Responsible Smartphone Use

It’s hard to pinpoint a specific age at which it’s appropriate to give a child a smartphone. This depends largely on the individual: some younger children are mature enough for their own mobile device, while some older children are not.

However, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that children younger than 18 months should not be using screens except for occasional video chatting. From 18 to 24 months, parents can introduce children to high-quality programming on a mobile device. As the children grow, screentime should be limited and monitored. The best way to monitor? The good old fashioned way of having smartphone/tablet spot checks because children can easily have secret or multiple accounts that you do not know about.

This National Public Radio article notes that parents have different opinions about when a child should have a smartphone. Some have pledged not to give their children their own phones until eighth grade, while other parents want their kids to have one at a younger age, often for safety reasons. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal points out that kids often start pressuring their parents to give them a smartphone at a young age.

You should ask yourself some of the following questions when deciding whether or not your child is ready for a smartphone:

  • Does he demonstrate responsibility, such as getting ready on time and arriving when he says he will?
  • Does she regularly lose her possessions?
  • Is his ability to get in touch with you a safety concern?
  • Would a smartphone be good for her friendships and social life?
  • Can he understand internet dangers?
  • Can she follow the guidelines you set regarding smartphone use?

Talking About SafetyA Dad Teaching Responsible Smartphone Use

Discuss some of the risks and problems with using the internet in a way your child can understand, which may depend upon his age. For example:

  • Respect: Teach him how to have respectful discussions, avoid name-calling (even if someone else starts it), and to never post anything that would hurt or embarrass someone else.
  • Highlight Reels: Help them to understand that not everything she sees online is true (or completely true). On social media, people often share the best parts of their lives. Make sure she understands that everyone has challenges and sad days–they just rarely talk about them publicly. Discuss the digital altering of photos, as well.
  • Information Sharing: Make it clear that they should never share their personal information online.
  • Predators: Explain that not everyone on the internet is who they say they are. If anyone, including friends from school, sends inappropriate or cruel messages, your child should tell you about it immediately.

This talk should happen before the phone is given to the child, but make it clear that it’s an ongoing conversation. The internet changes every day. New information, new trends, and new social media sites are constantly catching your child’s attention, so it’s important that you both feel you can approach each other with questions and concerns.

Keeping Up-to-DateHow To Teach Responsible Smartphone Use

As if you need another task as a parent: it’s essential to stay up-to-date about the latest internet and social media trends. Certain peer challenges, hashtags, and sites can prove dangerous for children, so it’s important for you to hear about these things as your kids do.

Just like you ask your child how their day was or what they are doing in school, ask about what they’re doing online, too. Watch the news for updates about social media and what’s popular among kids. If you hear a term or a hashtag you don’t understand, look it up. It might seem harmless, but it could indicate a serious behavior you would want to know about. For example, the hashtag #annie refers to anxiety while #cat can refer to cutting (self-mutilation). In this way, seemingly harmless hashtags actually link people who have some serious problems or engage in risky behaviors.

Setting Guidelines for Internet UseSetting Guidelines For Internet Use

In addition to the safety talk, you should also set clear guidelines for smartphone use and discuss that with your child before he gets the device. It’s easier to set rules and give more slack as you go along than it is to bring in new restrictions, so give it plenty of thought. Some considerations:

  • For what is he allowed to use his smartphone? To stay in touch with family? Family and friends? To do schoolwork? To play games? What social media sites are allowed?
  • When can she use the phone? Is it okay to have it during school? At what time does your child need to put it away at night? Can they listen to music in bed?
  • With whom can they use the device? Is it okay to use while other people are trying to talk to them, like at the dinner table?
  • Who sets the passwords? Are you, as the parent, allowed to access her phone? Should you require her to be friends with you on social media?

To some degree, you must trust your child to follow the rules you set regarding internet use. However, the lure of social media and peer pressure can influence your child to break those rules at times, which is why trustworthy mobile parental controls can provide some peace of mind. With parental controls, you can disable internet access to your child’s device at night, during school, and at the dinner table to ensure they stay focused on the real-world tasks at hand: sleeping, studying, and connecting with the family.

You may also want to block certain apps and even categories to eliminate some risk. For example, if you only want your child using Facebook and Instagram, you can block Tinder, Snapchat, Kik, Tumblr, and any other site or app you deem inappropriate for your child.

Today’s kids are smart. If they can learn to use their devices so quickly, they can certainly learn to use them safely and responsibly.

Are Smartphones Damaging This Generation’s Mental Health?

It’s been clear for a while: this generation isn’t like the others. Parents are working to raise their children in an environment quite unlike the one they experienced growing up. However, so much of the conversation about generational differences is still focused on millennials and how they’re disrupting everything from traditional employment to restaurant offerings. Maybe we haven’t been focusing enough on today’s teens and, specifically, their mental health.

In October, Time reported that “Between 2010 and 2016, the number of adolescents who experienced at least one major depressive episode leaped by 60%.” Meanwhile, teen suicide rates have been steadily climbing, with the rate among girls reaching a 40-year high in 2015. What gives? Why is this generation especially prone to mental illness?

According to this new study, the smartphone could be to blame.

Examining the EvidenceDo Smartphones Damage Mental Health?

About 77 percent of Americans have a smartphone, up from 35 percent in 2011. Among teenagers, 73 percent had access to a smartphone as of 2015. In this article, study author Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, wrote:

“… increases in depression, suicide attempts and suicide appeared among teens from every background – more privileged and less privileged, across all races and ethnicities and in every region of the country….smartphone ownership crossed the 50 percent threshold in late 2012 – right when teen depression and suicide began to increase.”

But what about economic issues or academic pressure? Researchers considered those potential causes but ruled them out: 2010 and the following years featured economic growth and low unemployment, and careful study revealed that teens were spending the same amount of time on homework as they had in previous years.

Though excessive internet use has been linked to depression and anxiety for a while, the reverse has also been considered: perhaps people who are depressed spend more time online. Twenge writes,

“The argument…doesn’t also explain why depression increased so suddenly after 2012. Under that scenario, more teens became depressed for an unknown reason and then started buying smartphones, which doesn’t seem too logical.”

Furthermore, this isn’t the only study to point to screen time as the culprit for the increase in teen depression. The article mentions three other studies (you can see them herehere, and here), all of which indicated that social media use has a negative effect on well-being.

Why It’s a Problem (Even If Your Teen Doesn’t Seem Depressed)How Can Smartphones Damage Mental Health?

Depression and suicide are complicated problems that may have complicated causes. Genetics, home environment, past traumas, and bullying can all contribute to anxiety and depression. The smartphone may not be the only contributing factor to a mental health issue, but it could be the one that pushes a teen who is at risk over the edge.

Twenge also points out two concerns regarding excessive smartphone use, both of which could contribute to depression and other issues like poor academic performance, irritability, and poor decision-making skills:

Lack of SleepWhy Smartphones Damage Mental Health

Teens may stay up late or even wake up in the middle of the night to check their phones. Part of this is FOMO (the fear of missing out): they want to make sure they’re in constant contact with their friends and fully aware of whatever is going on. They might also play games, edit photos, chat, or browse social media profiles.

This CBS News article says that late-night smartphone use not only replaces sleep, the content stimulates the child’s brain and the light from the screen suppresses melatonin, making it more likely he or she will have trouble falling asleep even after the phone gets put away for the night.

Not getting enough sleep can lead to forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, lowered alertness, poor reasoning skills and impaired judgment, health problems like diabetes and high blood pressure, weight gain, and, of course, depression.

Less Real-World InteractionWays Smartphones Damage Mental Health

As kids and teens spend more time online, they spend less time with their friends and in nature. Unfortunately, “Feeling socially isolated is also one of the major risk factors for suicide.” A strong real-life social network boosts immunity and helps you sleep well.

Meanwhile, spending time outdoors can relieve stress, improve your ability to concentrate, increase your energy levels, boost your immune system, and improve your mood. Involvement in music, sports, martial arts, dance, and other activities get teens away from the smartphones for a while and give them an opportunity to develop a skill they might use for the rest of their lives.

Even if your teen’s depression doesn’t lead to something as tragic as suicide, it doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll “grow out of it” or manage to heal herself. Depression isn’t imaginary and it’s not merely teenage drama. Mental health is as important as physical health; depression is something that can impact your child’s self-esteem, social life, and decision-making, and it could follow him into adulthood.

Signs of DepressionInformation On How Smartphones Might Damage Mental Health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises watching your child for these signs of depression:

  • Disinterest in enjoyable activities.
  • Lack of motivation.
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits.
  • Changes in energy level.
  • Ongoing irritability or feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
  • Difficulty focusing and paying attention.
  • Feeling useless.
  • Self-harm and other self-destructive behavior.

Protecting Your Teen’s Mental Health

First, do what you can to encourage a healthy lifestyle for your child, both physically and mentally. Of course, given the many factors that may contribute to depression, you may not be able to prevent depression. However, there are a few things you can do:

  • Boost His Self-Esteem: Help him get involved in activities that interest him, and celebrate his improvements and successes.
  • Manage Stress: Acknowledge the pressures of school and social life, and help her explore ways to manage that stress: yoga, exercise, time in nature, time with pets, or anything else she finds relaxing.
  • Promote a Healthy Lifestyle: Proper nutrition, sleep, and exercise can help prevent a wide variety of health issues, including depression.
  • Limit Screen Time: As the evidence piles up, we can’t ignore the connection between screen time and depression. As Twenge writes, “…the downside to limiting screen time…is minimal. In contrast, the downside to doing nothing – given the possible consequences of depression and suicide – seems, to me, quite high.” With that in mind, use trustworthy parental controls to disable the internet when you don’t want your teen to be online. Limit their use to just a couple of hours per day if you wanted, or simply block their social apps at night to help ensure a good night’s sleep while still allowing to listen to music. As an added bonus, you can block sites that are especially damaging to self-esteem (like those that allow users to determine how pretty or ugly someone is) or that you deem inappropriate.

If your child does exhibit signs of depression, it’s important to seek professional help.

 

 

Teens and the”Constant Pressure” of Social Media

Growing up has always been a little stressful. Between household rules, peer pressure, and the new world of dating, the life of a teenager is stereotypically dramatic for a reason.

However, teens today are faced with a constant pressure their parents never knew as children: the pressure of social media. Social networking sites have become a force of their own, driving teens to stay online and attempt to keep up with how they perceive others to be living their lives. For teens, social media is a different world than it is for many adults.

The Pressure to Be Available All the TimeTeens and Social Media

The first type of pressure teenagers feel with social media was addressed by this article in 2015:

“Teenagers spoke about the pressure they felt to make themselves available 24/7, and the resulting anxiety if they did not respond immediately to texts or posts. Teens are so emotionally invested in social media that a fifth of secondary school pupils will wake up at night and log on, just to make sure they don’t miss out.”

That fear of missing out, popularly referred to as FOMO, drives teenagers to obsessively check their devices to keep up with what their friends are doing. Not only does that increase anxiety, it gets in the way of healthy sleep as the teens stay up late, or even intentionally wake up in the night, in an effort to stay online. Not getting enough sleep can affect your teen’s ability to learn, leading to a decline in academic performance. Poor sleep can also lead to mood swings, poor judgment, and health issues like obesity and diabetes.

The Pressure to Live the Best LifePressures for teens on social media

An Instagram feed is a highlight reel: it’s the best of the best in the profile owner’s life. Sometimes, those “bests” hide what’s really going on, as in the case of Madison Holleran, a college student who committed suicide. Her Instagram profile showed no signs of the severe depression she was suffering.

Children and teens don’t always realize that what they’re seeing on a social media profile isn’t an accurate representation of someone’s life. They feel pressure to live up to that image of a “perfect life”; when they fall short, they suffer from anxiety and depression. This isn’t the first time social media use has been linked to depression.

The Pressure to Engage in Certain BehaviorsTeens Behavior On Social Media

This can start innocently enough, with a desire to show your own best life by taking and sharing a flattering selfie. Positive feedback might lead to more sexualized images, which can attract even more attention. A girl (or a boy) in a typical teenage romantic relationship might be encouraged or pressured to share nude or otherwise sexual images with her partner, which of course can easily be used against her as blackmail or public humiliation if the relationship turns sour.

Sometimes, certain social media “games” or trends invite participation. Dangerous behavior, like cutting or extreme dieting, can be glorified, and teens who engage in those behaviors find a community that supports them and even encourages them. Hashtags like #selfharmmm and #SecretSociety123 link teens who are interested in self-destructive behavior.

(An interesting note: if you search for the hashtag “selfharmmm” on Instagram, for example, it comes with a warning and an offer to help: “If you’re going through something difficult, we’d like to help.” You have the option to click “Get Support,” “See Posts Anyway,” or to “Cancel.”)

The Pressure of CyberbullyingCyberbullying through social media

As defined by the Cyberbullying Research Center, cyberbullying is “…willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.” This type of pressure can leave your teen anxious, depressed, or disinterested in social events or school, and the effects of bullying don’t stop there. A bullied teen might also experience:

  • Loneliness
  • Sadness
  • Changes in Sleep Patterns
  • Changes in Eating Patterns
  • Health Issues
  • Loss of Interest in Previously Enjoyable Activities
  • Decreased Academic Performance

The effects of bullying can last into adulthood, and there is a link between bullying and teen suicide. In addition to forcing the bullied teen into isolation, a cyberbully could also force your teen to do things he or she wouldn’t otherwise do, out of fear of rejection, violence, or humiliation.

Relieving the Pressure of Social MediaRelieving the pressure of social media

The first step is for your children and teens to spend less time online. By establishing internet usage guidelines from the time your children are young, you can help them develop healthy habits in regards to their computers and mobile devices.

It is always easier to set boundaries if you put guidelines into place from the start by using trustworthy parental controls. However, it is never too late to start! You can block certain apps in the evening or pause the entire internet, so you can be sure your child is sleeping rather than checking to see what her friends are doing. By blocking certain sites, like adult dating apps and pornography, you can help your child stay away from some of the internet’s unsavory material.

Another important step is communication with your teen. Like setting internet guidelines, this is more easily established when children are young, but it’s important enough to work through no matter how uncomfortable it might seem at first. Here are a few talking point to help you relieve the pressure of social media on your children:

  • Does this seem real? Point out images that are likely (or obviously) edited. Talk about what non-Instagrammable moments happen in your child’s life, and ask if it seems likely that other people are also leaving those awkward or sad moments out of their Instagram feeds, as well.
  • Who needs to know? Talk about maintaining a measure of privacy by not sharing certain information.
  • Do you feel safe? Discuss the tricks a stranger might use to solicit information or photos. Ask your children and teens to tell you if they ever feel bullied or threatened, and explain that you won’t jump into action about it without discussing it with them. Many children don’t report bullying because they’re embarrassed, they’re afraid of being a tattle-tale, or they’re afraid their parents can’t do anything to help or even worse that their parents may take away their phone.
  • What do you want to do today? By keeping your children involved in real-life interests and activities, you give them something positive to post about, and you help them enjoy life away from their screens.
Teens and Sexting

Teenagers spend a lot of time on their mobile devices watching videos, posting on social media, and talking to each other via text and instant messaging. As a parent, you might not think much of it; after all, they’re probably making plans, gossiping, or flirting.

Unfortunately, that flirting might not be as innocent as you think.

The Prevalence of SextingTeens And Sexting

In 2014, Time reported on research that found 54 percent of college students had “sent or received ‘sexually explicit text messages or images’ when they were under age 18,” most of it flirtatious or within their romantic relationships. A study published in the medical journal Pediatrics indicated that 20 percent of middle school students with text-capable phones had received a sext, while five percent admitted to sending one.

David DeMatteo, of the Drexel University research mentioned in Time, was quoted in the article:

“We were shocked by the prevalence and the frequency of sexting among minors…We were struck by how many of those surveyed seem to think of sexting as a normal, standard way of interacting with their peers.”

Sex texting (sexting) can include a variety of messages and images, including nude selfies, videos depicting sex acts, and messages proposing or referring to sex. According to Psychology Today, teens may sext because they believe it will help their relationship or help them get a boyfriend or girlfriend in the first place. Some of them are pressured to send naked images of themselves.

The Dangers of SextingTeen Hurt By Other Kids Finding Out About Sexting

For teenagers, sexting may seem a bit racy and exciting, but most of them don’t realize the dangers associated with the behavior.

  • Blackmail and Humiliation: A teenager may put more trust in the recipient of a naked selfie than is deserved. It’s easy for the recipient to share that photo with other friends or even post it online. In some cases, the recipient may use the photo to blackmail the sender: for example, he/she may threaten to post the photo online if he/she does not continue to send new ones or if they put a stop to their real-life romantic or sexual relationship. This can lead to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem for the person who originally sent the photo.
  • Permanence: Once a photo or video is out there, it never really goes away. Not only could that cause ongoing hurt and humiliation, it could cause problems or bring up questions when the subject of the photo applies for college or a job. Not only that, those images could be hijacked and used on unsavory websites.
  • Unsafe Sexual Activity: The Pediatrics study also showed a correlation between sexting and real-life sexual activity: those who sext are more likely to report having sex, too. As the article says, “…early sexual debut is correlated with higher rates of sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancies…”, making it essential for a sex talk to include a talk about sexting.
  • Legal Issues: From a USA Today article: “…a teen who takes a photo of himself or another minor has unwittingly become a creator of child pornography. If the photo is texted or emailed, that teen has just distributed child pornography. Even more unsettling, the individual who downloads the photo is now in possession of child porn.” This can–and has–resulted in felony charges. (Take a look at this story from Massachusetts a couple of years ago, and this one from New Mexico in October 2017.) Some states have made laws specifically regarding sexting that serve to differentiate it from child pornography, while others have not.

Protecting Your TeenagersHow To Protect Your Teen | Netsanity

Psychology Today and the American Academy of Pediatrics offer advice about sexting and how to protect your kids:

  • Communication: It’s challenging but essential for a variety of issues when it comes to raising children. Make sure your kids know they can and should talk to you if someone is sending or pressuring them to send explicit photos or messages.
  • Understand the Sexting Laws: These laws still vary by state, so make sure you know your state’s stance on sexting and teenagers.
  • Stay Up-to-Date on Technology and Apps: You might be friends with your child on Facebook, but totally unaware of a new site or app that is getting your teen’s attention. Do your research on popular social media sites and trends, and talk to other parents about what they notice about their own children’s behavior.
  • Talk About Sex–and Sexting: The sexting talk is becoming as important as the sex talk. Make sure your kids understand the risks of sending explicit messages and especially nude photos. Again, reiterate that if they find themselves the victim of blackmail or revenge porn or nonconsensual porn, they should come to you immediately.
  • Check Up on Their Online Behavior: You don’t have to be secretive about this, which would only serve to build distrust and alienation between you and your teen. Instead, tell your kids that you need access to their passwords and profiles as part of them being allowed to use the internet or own a mobile device.
  • Use Parental Controls: Set guidelines about internet use and make sure your child sticks to them by using trustworthy parental controls on their mobile devices. You can block certain sites and apps (or even entire categories of unsavory sites), and limit the amount of time they spend online. Additionally, if sexting does become a problem parental controls like Netsanity let you disable the camera. Additionally, blocking the internet or distracting apps at night, for example, you can help your kids do homework and get a good night’s sleep rather than be tempted to communicate with their friends and romantic interests.

Sexting is common among teenagers, and in most cases, it doesn’t result in blackmail or felony charges. However, it is up to all of us to teach our children and teens that the risk is not worth it!

Keeping Up With “Generation App”

Digital trends are constantly changing. Teens move seamlessly from one app to another while parents are left wondering whatever happened to MySpace. From Snapchat to FOMO to Finstas, it’s hard to keep track of what kids are doing and saying online.

Luckily, the 2017 NCSA Parent/Teen Online Safety Survey by the National Cyber Security Alliance is helping us keep up with “Generation App” by offering some insight on how kids communicate online, what their concerns are, and how parents can help.

Teens Spend a Lot of Time OnlineGeneration App

That’s no surprise to parents, right? Even the teens themselves admit it: 28 percent say they spend “too much” time online; 46 percent say they’re on their devices a little more often than they’d really like. As of 2015, teens were spending about nine hours per day with online entertainment like music, videos, and social media. Of course, accessing the internet is easier than ever, considering that 82 percent of teens who go online have their own smartphones.

What Teens Do OnlineKeeping Up With Generation App - What Teens Do Online

Instagram and Snapchat surpassed Facebook as the most popular social media sites, and 59 percent of teens use social media on a frequent basis. When you look at boys and girls separately, you’ll see that girls use social media more than boys do: 70 percent compared to 49 percent.

In fact, there are a lot of differences when it comes to how boys and girls use and experience the internet. For example:

  • 70 percent of girls and 51 percent of boys listen to music.
  • 35 percent of girls and 51 percent of boys play games.
  • 41 percent of girls and 29 percent of boys are bullied because of their appearance.
  • 15 percent of girls and 24 percent of boys are bullied because of their political beliefs.

Here’s some good news: 52 percent of teens actually use their devices for homework and studying.

Family Rules…and Arguments

While today’s parents might have grown up arguing with their own parents about clothes, curfews, or the company they kept, today’s teens and parents argue about screen time. Disagreements about when to put the smartphone down are reported by 22 percent of teens and 26 percent of parents.

If you’ve set down some guidelines about your child’s internet use, you’re not alone: most teens have some rules, which may include some of these popular ones:

Still, 28 percent of teens say they have no rules about how or when they use their devices (though only eight percent of parents say there are no rules). Even those who do have rules still admit to some online activity that they keep secret from their parents, like a secret social media account.

Online Safety

Interestingly, many members of “generation app” believe it’s their own responsibility to stay safe online, while many parents think it’s their job to keep their kids safe. The majority of parents and teens believe that internet usage guidelines help to keep them safe, and “In terms of enforcement, both teens and parents agree that taking a device away remains the most effective measure.”

Though sometimes it seems as though teens act without any regard for consequences, which can be a serious issue when it comes to online safety, the survey shows that many teens are “very concerned” about certain safety issues online. These are their top eight concerns:

  • Someone accessing their accounts without permission.
  • Someone sharing personal information about them.
  • Someone posting a private photo or video of them.
  • Someone posting lies about them.
  • Someone sending unwanted messages that make them uncomfortable.
  • Accidentally sharing Fake News.
  • Being pressured to bully someone.
  • Being bullied themselves.

Teenagers, as well as their parents, also indicated a desire to keep learning about certain safety issues. For the teens, these are their top five areas of interest:

  • Preventing identity theft
  • How to identify fake emails and posts
  • Keeping their devices secure
  • How to stay safe on free Wifi networks
  • Ransomware/malware and phishing scams

How to Use This Information

As a parent, this survey provides a starting point in considering how your own child uses the internet and provides a place from which to start a conversation with your teen.

Learn Together: As the survey indicates, most likely your teens are not oblivious when it comes to online dangers. Ask them what their biggest concerns are–chances are, some of them match yours, as was the case with teens and parents in the survey. Together, take the opportunity to learn more about preventing identity theft (the topic survey parents are also most interested in learning about) or identifying fake news.

Ask About Their Safety Measures: Considering that many teens consider it their own responsibility to stay safe online, ask them what precautions they’re taking. Empower them to make safe choices.

Offer Your Support: More than one-third of teens in the survey said that someone has been mean to them online. Cyberbullying is especially damaging because it’s hard for kids to get away from it. Though many teens in the survey report seeking help from their friends when they have a negative experience on the internet, they need to know you’re there and will help them in a serious situation, like extreme bullying or blackmail.

Know How Your Teen Spends Time Online: Keep up with the social media sites your teens like to use and be aware of (and when) the trends change by reading technology news and talking with other parents.

It’s Not Just You: If your kids are saying their friends don’t have internet rules or that their friends don’t have to fight with their parents about their mobile devices, you know that’s probably not true. These disagreements are part of modern child-rearing, though by using trustworthy parental controls and setting the guidelines early in your children’s lives and sticking to them, you may be able to help prevent some of those arguments.

Set Guidelines: Again, you’re not alone. The survey shows that many households have rules about the internet, and many of the teens believe them to be helpful. Parental controls can be helpful in limiting your teen’s internet usage, both in the time spent and the sites or apps visited.

In the end, staying safe online requires teamwork: parents and teens can work together to ensure an enjoyable online experience despite the risks of modern technology.

Like…Flirt…Roast…Ghost: How Teens Use Social Media

Teens are constantly finding new ways to use social media–including methods that you might not understand. Social media has its own set of rules and standards, many of which are completely different from the types of rules that govern normal conversation. In order to understand the impact this has on many teenagers, it’s necessary for parents to be familiar with the rules–and how their teens will react to what others post according to those rules.

LikesLike - Facebook like button: How Teens Use Social Media

There’s a certain thrill of excitement when many of your followers like a post that you’ve put up–but for teens, it’s more than that. When a friend posts something on social media, especially on a platform like Facebook or Instagram, likes are expected. For close friends, comments are equally important. Many teens note, however, that those comments need not be extensive. Rather, they’re a simple reaction and acknowledgment that the content has been seen. Failure to like or comment on a friend’s post can mean more than just a busy schedule or random scrolling that wasn’t accompanied by a need to comment; rather, many teens will view it as a slight.

FlirtingEmojis - How Teens Use Social Media

It’s probably no surprise that flirting also takes place on social media. It’s a safe platform to find out whether or not someone of the opposite gender is interested–and as a parent, you may not even recognize the signs of flirting. If you’ve noticed that your teen is starting to pay serious attention to posts by someone of the opposite sex or that their posts are receiving a lot of attention, you might want to look for these signs of flirting.

  • They’ve gone through and liked several posts or photos in a row.
  • They’re regularly commenting back and forth on each other’s posts–including lighthearted comments that don’t seem to have any greater meaning.
  • They’re sending the heart-eyes emoji to one another on a regular basis.

GhostingGhosting - Teens Use Social Media Different

Ghosting someone online, or simply disappearing from conversation or no longer commenting on their content, it isn’t as uncommon as many adults may think. In fact, for teens, ghosting is a normal part of social media interaction. When the conversation gets uninteresting or stale, it’s normal to simply stop the discussion without sending anything else–and it’s often not meant as an offensive statement of disinterest. As a parent,  the only time you need to worry about ghosting is when your teen seems to be negatively impacted–that is, when they were very interested in talking with someone who has gone silent on them, or when they seem to have been ghosted by most of their friends at once. Otherwise, most teens believe that ghosting decisions are typically mutual.

Roasting  Teens May Use Social Media to Bully - Roasting

Roasting is one of the most dangerous online behaviors of many teens. In what they claim to be a lighthearted gathering, they get together online and hurl supposedly joking insults at a specific individual. While many teens will claim that this is “in good fun,” the truth is, these behaviors are very hurtful–and they can lead to self-esteem issues, depression, and more in the target of their insults. Insulting others, especially as a group, is always considered bullying behavior and should be stopped as soon as possible.

Monitor How Teens Use Social Media Using Parental Controls

As an adult, you may not even be aware of all of the things that can take place online. While you can’t protect your child from everything, you can remain aware of the behaviors that are most common among teens and tweens and monitor your child’s social media interactions in order to ensure that they will continue to behave appropriately online. To make it easier from the start use a trust-worthy parental control software that gives you the ability to schedule time off-line as well as block dangerous content and inappropriate apps.

Online Shaming: What Can Parents Do?

There’s something about the anonymity of sitting behind a computer screen that makes many people especially teenagers, tweens and even adults feel as though their words are free of consequences.  After all, they aren’t attacking real people, just little avatars on the screen. Unfortunately, online shaming can have severe real-world consequences. All of us, but especially those that suffer from low self-esteem, struggle with removing those negative comments from their minds, and sometimes online shaming can lead to serious depression.

Document Shaming or BullyingDocument Online Shaming | Netsanity

Online bullying is just as vicious as bullying in the real world, and in some cases, like sharing nude images of minors, it’s illegal! No matter what your child has experienced, make sure that you document the abuse appropriately. Make sure that your child knows that they need to come to you immediately when bullying occurs online or off and each time document what you can of the instance, no matter how small it may seem at the time. This will help you build a case again their bully if ever needed.

Communicate With Your KidsCommunicate With Your Kids About Online Bullying

Keep the lines of communication open with your child. Once bullying has begun, there’s no use in berating your child for keeping inappropriate company, sharing images that they shouldn’t have shared, or other behaviors that may have possibly led up to the online shaming. As their parent, you need to be solidly on their side, not excusing their mistakes. However, it is an opportunity to guide them to make better choices in the future without increasing their sense of shame in the present. Make sure your teen or tween knows that you’re available to talk to them.

Get Help When You Need ItHelp With Online Shaming Issues

If your teen or tween is starting to show signs of depression as a result of the online shaming or bullying incident, we encourage you to make sure that they receive the professional help that they need. Work with a reputable, trusted counselor or physician to rebuild their self-esteem and to help provide them with the internal tools to overcome any emotional issues or destructive behavior.

Remove Platforms Used for Bullying

Blocking Apps on Mobile Devices | Netsanity
Blocking Apps on Mobile Devices | Netsanity

Where possible, you and your child should make a point to block the bully from all of their social media accounts. Unfortunately, this alone isn’t always enough to keep your child safe. It’s okay to remove specific social media platforms or apps temporarily, especially if they’re causing more distress than good at this stage of their life.

Implement Online Behavior RulesSocial Media Shaming Tips for Parents and Families | Netsanity

As a parent, you need to have rules that govern your children’s online behavior. This includes using trustworthy mobile parental control software on their devices, as well as monitoring their accounts regularly so that you’ll know if problems are starting to occur.  We always encourage doing this the old fashioned way by spot checking devices directly since teens can have several different accounts set up on each social media network. Even some that they may have “forgotten” to discuss to you. Make sure that you regularly discuss your “family rules” for social media, when they need to come to you or even to a  trusted school counselor if they feel that they are being shamed online or on social media, or bullied instead of retaliating against the bully.

Final Thoughts

In some cases, it might not be that your child is the victim of internet shaming or bullying.  You may find out that your child is the instigator. That is why it is always important that you talk regularly in your family about online shaming, including roasting, bullying, and other online behaviors. Our children today are growing up as digital citizens. They need to be aware of the impact that their online behaviors can have, not only on their peers but even on their own futures.

To give your family a better understanding and to learn more about what online shaming looks like check out this excellent book by Sue Scheff.

Shame Nation is the first book to both study the fascinating phenomenon of online shaming, and offer practical guidance including professional advice on how to prevent and protect against online blunders and bullies.  Let us know what you think!

The Dangers for Children on Social Media

According to eMarketer.com, 5.7 million children under the age of 11 have accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat–all of which have age restrictions that are intended to keep children from using them. In order to have these accounts, children are lying about their age–and in many cases, it’s permitted by their parents. Do your children have accounts on these common sites? If so, they’re more at risk than you may realize if you are not using parental controls.

Pornography

While Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat might not seem to be breeding grounds for pornography, unfortunately, it’s all too common. Even Facebook’s seemingly innocent ads may lead to a child being exposed to material that they’re not ready for–and Snapchat is a perfect source for pornographic material, particularly since that material isn’t saved long-term on any device. Instagram, too, has its dark side: in many cases, children are exposed to pictures of a pornographic nature while performing routine searches or simply browsing.

Predators

You think your child’s account is locked up tight. You control their friends list or the list of people who are allowed to follow them, and you’re careful to check it on a regular basis. Unfortunately, this isn’t enough to protect them completely. Predators may masquerade as seemingly innocent contacts and followers. What starts as an innocent conversation in a group or on a thread your child is following will rapidly become a closer relationship that devolves into a request for pictures or even plans for an in-person meetup. In other cases, your child’s followers may be using their seemingly innocent pictures for less-innocent purposes.

Cyberbullying

The days when bullies were restricted to the halls of school or the playground are long gone. Today’s bullies have a whole new world open in front of them. Through Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, bullies can torment their victims in new ways. Not only that, if you aren’t monitoring your child’s account carefully, you might not notice signs of bullying–from roasting or posting inappropriate comments to excluding your child online–until it’s too late.

Low Self-Esteem

On most popular social media sites, people post the best of their lives: perfect selfies, great pictures of their favorite activities, and information about their awards and honors. Unfortunately, many children end up comparing their everyday lives–or even the worst of their lives–to the best of their friends’ lives. This can lead to significant self-esteem issues, especially when children are confronted with unrealistic photos that have been photo-shopped or had filters applied.

Protecting Your Child

Almost half of today’s kids (around 45%) were, according to Nielsen, between the ages of 10 and 12 when they received their first smart phone. 90% of parents provided this level of connectivity in order to get in touch with their children easier. Unfortunately, it also offers your children the ability to access material that could be dangerous. If you want to keep your children safe, the only way to do so is by always using  trust-worthy parental controls. Parental controls block dangerous content, social apps that they are not ready to use and to keep your child from accessing materials that they aren’t mature enough to stumble upon.

Additionally, make sure that you’re regularly reviewing any social media sites that your child is allowed to have–and carefully consider whether or not you want to allow your children to have social media sites before they meet the minimum age requirements. While the “everyone else has one” argument is compelling for many parents who don’t want to feel as though they’re preventing their child from fitting in, it’s also a slippery slope that can lead your child astray.

Middle School Suicide: A Growing Problem

In recent years there has been an increase in youth suicides, especially children of middle school age. While suicide is a complicated issue with a variety of causes, there have been a disturbing number of cases connected to bullying, especially online and social media bullying.

Let’s look at how parents and other adults can help to prevent middle school suicide.
Youth Suicide - A Growing Problem | Netsanity

Suicide is always a tragedy but even more so when young people take their own lives. Between 2007 and 2014, the suicide rate doubled for children between 10 and 14, which is the age when kids are in middle school or junior high school. There are no simple explanations for why anyone, including youths, decides to take their own lives. Contributing factors may include clinical depression, academic pressure, and family problems. There have also been many well-publicized cases of kids committing suicide as a result of bullying. While bullying is hardly new, one thing that’s different for this generation of middle-schoolers is the prevalence of smart phones and social media, which play a central role in the social lives of young people. While there are undeniable benefits to the internet, social media, and digital devices, these can also be used as an instrument of bullying and abuse.Preventing Youth Suicide During Middle School Years | Netsanity

On the surface, it might seem that online or social media bullying is a less serious issue than old-fashioned offline bullying. After all, you can’t physically assault someone online. The psychological effects of online bullying, however, can be at least as devastating as anything that’s inflicted on children in person. For one thing, there’s no escape from it. At least with traditional bullying, kids are safe at home. When their tormentors are online, however, there are no more safe places. People today, including children, are active on multiple channels and platforms. Thus, it’s now possible to bully someone on many fronts, such as via text, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc.Youth Suicide Statistics

Another factor is that the internet makes some bullies braver. Just as some adults become more abusive and brazen online, the same is true for children and teens. The internet also makes it possible to attack others anonymously, under aliases. Another unfortunate reality is that online and traditional bullying aren’t mutually exclusive. In many cases, victims of cyberbullying are also targeted offline. Thus, the internet is yet another way for bullies to pursue their victims.

How to Protect Children: Suicide Prevention

Fortunately, most middle schoolers, even ones who have problems with bullying, aren’t at risk for suicide. However, it’s important for parents to watch for warning signs and to do everything they can to protect their kids. Here are some ways you can do this.

  • Sudden changes in behavior such as anger or social withdrawal, lower grades, or a lack of interest in activities they previously enjoyed are some common symptoms of bullying or mental health issues. Never ignore such warning signs. Make sure your children know they can talk to you. If there’s a serious problem, it’s also helpful to have him or her talk to a counselor or child psychologist.
  • If you know that your child is a victim of bullying, talk to a teacher or the principal. Make sure that the school takes the issue seriously, even if you have to contact them several times. In some cases, parents take legal action against schools that don’t prevent bullying. This is the last resort, but it’s worth considering if the school isn’t doing enough to remedy the situation.
  • Monitor your child’s online behavior. Set privacy settings on social media sites to prevent strangers (or people using aliases)  from posting on your child’s pages and timelines. If there’s an issue with cyberbullying, it’s often best to limit online and social media activity for a while. Trustworthy parental controls can also help make it easier to keep your family safer online.

Youth Suicide Statistics

  • Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for ages 10-24. (2015 CDC WISQARS)
  • More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.
  • Each day in our nation, there are an average of over 3,470 ATTEMPTS by young people grades 9-12.  If these percentages are additionally applied to grades 7 & 8, the numbers would be higher.
  • FOUR out of FIVE teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs
  • The Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance System (YRBS) is a survey, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that includes national, state, and local school-based representative samples of 9th through 12th grade students. The purpose is to monitor priority health risk behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death, disability, and social problems among youth in the United States.

*© 2017 Jason Foundation Inc.

 

Are Parents Feeling Pressured to Provide an “Instagrammable” Lifestyle?

“instagrammable”
– A Photo or a Picture that is worth posting on Instagram.

(Urban Dictionary)

Raising children in a digital world is not for the faint of heart. It’s an unprecedented parenting challenge; your own parents had no such experience when they were raising you. Parents today are figuring it out as they go along.

However, no parent is a stranger to the idea of “keeping up with the Joneses” when it comes to their children. Kids have always been hyper-aware of what the other kids have, be it designer jeans or the latest smartphone.

Way back in 2007, Time posted this article about extravagant children’s birthday parties, quoting a mother who said, “You have to perform to a certain level…It’s no longer a family thing — it’s an event.”Your Child's Life on Instagram - Being Insta-Famous

Social science professor William Doherty is also quoted in the article:

“A lot of parents feel they’re on a birthday-party treadmill that gets faster every year. They’re afraid their birthday party won’t measure up and their child will be disappointed.”

No End in Sight

In 2015, a Slate article pointed out that this birthday extravagance has continued to grow.

With social media, it seems to be getting worse and extending beyond birthdays into other areas of your child’s life. Hashtags like #RichKidsofSnapchat highlight social media posts featuring helicopters, parties, mansions, expensive jewelry, and stacks of money. Parents help show off that wealth by taking their children on designer shopping sprees. The Rich Kids of Instagram are cruising around in private jets, yachts, and Ferraris.

The Pressure to Provide an “Instagrammable” LifestyleInstagrammable Lifestyle - Are Parents Pressured Into It?

Are parents feeling pressured to provide their children with the newest and the best, to offer a lifestyle worthy of its own Instagram hashtag?

Maybe you’re not feeling that Ferrari-level pressure, but chances are, you’re feeling something.

In 2016, almost half of surveyed parents in the United Kingdom (and 70 percent of parents in London) indicated yes, they do feel that pressure, and they spend more money every year when they succumb to it. The items they feel most pressured to provide are the latest smartphones and tablets, clothes, and trips. Kids and teens proudly snap pictures of their new acquisitions and experiences and post them to Snapchat and Instagram.

What Can You Do Now?

U.S. News & World Report reminds us that many Americans have to live beyond their means in order for their kids to have lavish parties and the latest technology (not to mention their own cars and houses), noting a 2015 study that showed 37 percent of Americans had more (or equal) credit card debt than emergency savings.

Teenagers are spending an average of nine hours a day using media. Of course, they’re going to see photos of other teens who have (or make themselves appear to have) a luxury lifestyle; your teens might then turn to you, expecting the same.

The U.S. News article offers a simple tip for keeping things in perspective:

“Next time you’re about to make a big purchase…examine your motives. Are you purchasing this item or service because you really need it? Or because you’re worried about what the neighbors (or your kids or in-laws or best friends or whoever) think of you? If the answer is that you just want to look more successful, walk away.”

Keep in mind that experiences, like a day at the park with your family, have been shown to bring more happiness than mere possessions. Your child’s new smartphone might make him or her feel good momentarily, but it is unlikely to provide any lasting happiness and will probably be followed by a desire for the next model.

Investing in experiences serves a couple of purposes: it gives you an opportunity to spend quality time with your family, and it encourages your children to take time away from their mobile devices. At Netsanity, we offer trustworthy parental controls that allow you to restrict internet usage during certain times of the day, so you can be sure your teens aren’t sneaking a look at Instagram while you’re all enjoying dinner. The less time they spend online, the fewer envy-inducing photos they’ll see, and the more enjoyment they’ll get from “real life” with their friends and family.

Safer Homeschooling: Don’t Forget the Parental Controls

Homeschooling our children is an optimal way to keep the safe and sheltered from negative influences and peer pressures.  Statistics from the National Household Education Survey (NHES) reveal that upwards of 90% of parents choose homeschooling out of concern for safety of their child’s environment.  However, while we may go the extra mile to guard against outside dangers and negative influences, an even greater danger may lurk within our own home.  This threat sits innocently on the desk as the family computer or even in the hands of our children in the form of a smartphone.  Internet is a must when it comes to education, but without suitable parental controls, this useful tool may become your family’s biggest threat. This school year don’t forget the parental controls when it comes to your homeschooler’s safety.  What makes parental controls so important, though?  What should I be protecting my child from?

Excessive screen timeSafe Homeschooling

Although homework may require lengthy internet hours for research and planning, spending too long in front of the computer results is serious issues.  A branch of eye-related disorders known as “Computer Vision Syndrome” develop from eye strain associated with too much screen time. These vision difficulties may become even more pronounced if your child already experiences some eye issues or wears glasses already. Excessive screen time affects the eye’s ability to focus and produces eye pain, headaches, and blurry or deficient vision. These effects tend to worsen over time if not caught. Kids and teens are not always aware of just how long they’ve sat in front of the computer.  Help them by reminding them to take frequent breaks or switch activities.

Inappropriate and Graphic MaterialSafer Homeschooling

While not always intentional, kids have the tendency to search out things they are curious about.  They may have heard a friend or stranger use a word or phrase they don’t understand; naturally, the internet seems like a good place for answers.  This type of accidental searching can lead to graphic exposure to inappropriate and dangerous websites. Porn, sketchy chat rooms, and risque videos are among the many potential threats kids may accidentally find.  Parental controls that filter out these websites and search options not only protect your child, but also your own internet security.

Social Media OverloadSocial Media & Homeschooling

We live in an extremely connected and social world.  It’s not unusual for everyone to want to known everything about everyone.  While a little social media is fun and safe for children, too much has negative emotional and psychological effects.  Jealously, cyberbullying, and damaged self-esteem are just a few issues that can result.  Always balance your child’s social media time with careful talks and discussions about what they see and experience.  Trustworthy parental controls can limit screen time and access to inappropriate websites and chat rooms.

Other Options to Consider

What about their smartphones?

Even these days with so much information available parents often remember to protect the family computer but forget to protect the mobile  devices that children use most and typically carry around with them all day.

What if I’m being too restrictive?

Pressure from other parents or even our own children can tend to make us feel like the bad guy when it comes to implementing parental controls.  We can’t completely shelter our children from every negative influence.  There does come a point when we must let our teenagers learn to have some freedom. However, it’s always better to error on the side of caution when it comes to protecting our children and teens whether it be physically, psychologically, or emotionally. Invest in trustworthy parental controls today and put up the necessary walls of protection to keep your family safe!

Today’s Teens Seek Approval Online

Deep down, we all want approval. We want to know we’re worthy and that our work matters in the world. As children, we might have done that with good behavior, good grades, or athletic or musical achievements, hoping our parents, teachers, and coaches would tell us we were on the right track. Today’s teens are doing those things, too, but many are also looking to the internet for validation.

Teens and Online ApprovalTeenagers and Online Approval | Netsanity

How Girls are Seeking (and Subverting) Approval Online, an article by Caroline Knorr, points out that documenting daily life activities on social media is “pretty much mandatory” for kids these days. It would be one thing if they used it merely as a visual diary of sorts and a means of jump-starting conversation, but those selfies turn into popularity contests and self-esteem boosters–or destroyers. For kids who already deal with negative body image and low self-esteem, this can be especially detrimental; considering that more than 50 percent of girls between the ages of six and eight already “feel their ideal body is thinner than their current body size,” having an anonymous peer comment negatively on their appearance can be devastating.

A teen might post a selfie and see who responds to it with likes and comments. In other cases, the teen asks for specific feedback, perhaps requesting a like on a Facebook post or asking, “Am I pretty?” in a YouTube video. As shown in this Yahoo News article from 2012, the comments someone can receive after posting something like that range from supportive to absolutely cruel.

The Role of Social MediaRole of Social Media in Online Approval and Teen Interactions | Netsanity

Knorr highlights Instagram, Snapchat, Hot or Not, YouTube, and #tbh as some of the tools teens use for sending and receiving feedback from peers. The hashtag means “to be honest” and it might accompany a request for judgment on a photo or a personal opinion of someone else’s photo. Instagram and Snapchat have recently become the most popular social media sites among teenagers.

Aside from the negativity that can stem from attention- and approval-seeking posts, there’s another issue: this type of approval focuses heavily on appearance. Teens aren’t generally asking for a thumbs up about their hobbies and activities and the associated skills. They’re asking about how they look.

The Focus on AppearanceA Focus on Appearances in Seeking Online Approval - Teens | Netsanity

Knorr mentions that girls are more affected by this than boys are, but boys, too, can succumb to pressures to look “cool” or achieve a muscular physique. Not only can the feedback lead to low self-esteem and poor body image, it could contribute to bigger problems like body dysmorphic disorder or eating disorders.

Empowering Your KidsEmpowering Your Kids | Netsanity

As a parent, what can you do to empower your children? How can you help them look inward for their own validation, rather than to social media?

Knorr suggests talking to your kids about why they post what they post, and asking them how the feedback they receive makes them feel. You can encourage positive body image by modeling it in your own life and identifying unrealistic photos and ideals in the media. You can also encourage your teens to post positive comments on their friends’ photos that have more to do with character and actions rather than appearances.

Cleveland Clinic also suggests several steps for enhancing body image, one of which is to “have positive experiences with your body.” This might include a sport or another physical activity like hiking or dancing. Encouraging your teens to get involved with these types of activities not only teaches them to develop skills and appreciate what their bodies can do (rather than only what they look like), it gives them the opportunity to spend some time away from their mobile devices.

Apps and sites like Instagram and YouTube provide a lot of positive opportunities to be creative and learn, while others, like Hot or Not and Rate My Body, are more focused on appearances and judgment. You should always use trustworthy parental controls on your teen’s mobile device to block apps like Hot or Not and any others you deem inappropriate, and to disable the internet entirely during the times you want your child to be engaging in a real-world physical activity.