Growing up today bears little resemblance to childhood in the 70’s and 80’s. The main reason? The internet. This report shows that 16 percent of eight-year-olds have their own smartphone, while 22 percent get their devices at age 10. Of course, even toddlers play with tablets and smartphones when given the opportunity, and they often learn to use them as well as their parents.
This trend isn’t a fad: it’s a new way of life. We can’t stop the internet, nor can we shield our children from it. The best we can do is teach our kids about the risks and help them navigate the online world we find ourselves living in today.
These are some of the risks parents need to be aware of when setting guidelines for their children’s internet usage:
Considering the friending and unfriending, liking and unliking that occur on social media, every notification can set your heart racing. For some kids and teens, those unexpected mean comments and random alienation can cause anxiety. Take a look at this story of a fourth-grader who does well in school:
“But lurking beneath the surface for Melanie is anxiety, which has been made worse by her experience with social media….girls will unfollow each other if they have an argument at school, list and delete their ‘best’ friends in their profile daily, and leave unkind comments when they’re upset….the friendship troubles cause her to lose sleep at night. She doesn’t dare tell her parents, because she doesn’t want to lose her phone.”
How to Help: Set guidelines on your child’s internet usage, and use trustworthy parental controls to enforce those guidelines. When you use software such as Netsanity you can also block certain sites and apps that might encourage superficial behavior or age-inappropriate apps like dating apps.
Research from 2010 suggested that teens who spend too much time online are at a greater risk of depression than teens who use the internet more moderately–2.5 times greater. Like gambling, internet use can become a compulsive behavior.
How to Help: With parental control software you can easily limit your child’s internet use to help them avoid reaching that point of internet addiction. Sit down together and discuss the times of day that work best for the entire family to be online and when you all need to be off and focused on other activities such as homework or the family dinner. Be alert to changes in mood and behavior that may indicate depression.
The more time your child spends online, the more opportunities he has to be exposed to photos of other people’s lives–photos that may or may not be an accurate representation of those lives. An Instagram or Facebook account is basically a highlight reel, but if a child doesn’t understand that, it’s easy for her to think she’s less talented, less fashionable, or less intelligent. This can quickly spiral into low self-esteem that carries into real life.
How to Help: Discuss with your family how some people use photo editing to improve their appearance, and how most of them only share photos that show them at their best. Remind your kids that most of the day is not Instagram-worthy for anyone. Keep your children involved in real-world activities that build their confidence and self-esteem. If you find that your child is spending too much time on these apps you can always encourage a break and block them for a specific period of time so that they can enjoy other activities.
FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)
This acronym is relatively new on the scene, and it describes the feeling you get when you suspect you’re not included in some incredible event. FOMO is what drives people to check their phones frequently to make sure they’re not missing any updates or invitations. It’s related to internet-induced anxiety, depression, and regret when your child feels like he’s missing out.
How to Help Encourage Good Internet Usage: Encourage your kids to trust their decision-making skills and to enjoy being present. Point out that we can never be everywhere: no matter what choice we make, we’ll miss something–but we’ll gain something, too. Set guidelines about phone use to prevent them from getting in the habit of checking notifications at every turn.
Gone are the days when bullying ended when a child was safe at home. Now, a bully can reach your child through email, social media, and texts. Stop Bullying points out that cyberbullying is especially damaging because it is persistent (24-hour access), permanent (once something is on the internet, it stays there), and hard to notice (it could be happening right in front of you and you wouldn’t know if your child doesn’t mention it).
According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, 34 percent of students have been cyberbullied, and 64 percent of them said it distracted them from school and made them feel unsafe there.
How to Help: Keep an open line of communication with your child, and encourage her to tell you about anything that makes her feel sad or uncomfortable. Watch for warning signs, like increased or decreased use of the mobile device, visible emotional reactions to what’s on the screen, loss of interest in activities, or avoidance of social situations, even school.
Using trustworthy parental controls to disable internet access during certain hours or to block specific sites and apps can decrease all of these risks. It’s a simple tool to help your kids navigate this strange new world until they’re old enough to understand the power of the internet.