In reviewing the daily news stream it is impossible to miss the escalating frequency of incidents coming out of schools all across the country which relate directly to social media, texting, or apps used by kids.
Sexting, cyber-bullying, sextortion, and intimidation seem to be on the rise. Sexting, in particular, seems to be proliferating and is now surpassing cyber-bulling in frequency and intensity.
Consequences for online misbehavior of children can range from embarrassment or shame up to criminal prosecution. Depending on which state you live in, consequences can vary widely. It seems schools and parents struggle to grapple with the realities of a general lack of effective policies, rules, or legislation to address these problems head on.
Children now start using cell phones as young as six or seven with few restrictions or parental filters in place. The power of modern technology creates opportunities for misuse and inappropriate behavior. Left unchecked, kids can easily be lured into trouble. Children don’t fully understand the consequences or permanency of poor judgment. Sexting in particular, has far reaching consequences that can last a lifetime; pictures, once posted to the internet, may remain there forever.
In putting this very overwhelming problem into perspective, we must delve into our own past and look at the evolution of computers, cell phones, and the internet.
The internet itself started to come on line in the early 1990s, less than 25 years ago. Since then, the rapid pace of technological development in the digital world has been consistent with “Moore’s law” by doubling its capabilities roughly every 18 months.
Today’s modern smart phone is an incredibly powerful device, capable of processing more data than a room full of computers processed 20 years ago. It is widely believed that technology is now outpacing the person using it. In short, our portable devices have more features than we know how to use.
The knowledge gap between children and adults is also widening. This due to many factors, but mostly because kids simply absorb more data quicker than adults do.
This fact is scientifically proven and tested. Parents average several years behind their children in terms of technological skill and knowledge. It is not uncommon, for example, to see a three or four year old child pick up a tablet and begin swiping at the screen. Teenagers flip through apps and process thousands of text messages at a torrid, almost unfathomable rate. The mobile devices of today have become a critical and vital component of every teenager’s life.
We have also learned that simply trusting our children to know and use proper cyber-etiquette is no longer sufficient, the consequences are too great.
Due to immature impulsivity, cyber scandals can spread rapidly, making containment by officials extremely challenging. Recent incidents and research has also shown us that prevention is the key to managing these problems before they even begin.
Prevention requires a three pronged approach: education, monitoring, and confrontation. Parents need to speak openly and clearly to their children about the risks posed in the digital community. They also need to utilise modern tools to monitor their kid’s cyber-presence, and inappropriate behavior needs to be confronted swiftly and firmly by parents and other officials alike.
The good news is that modern technology is also providing new tools for parents to be able to monitor their kid’s cyber-behavior and to make more effective parenting decisions. Parents really need to take an active role in monitoring, and restricting when appropriate, their child’s digital activity. They need to then follow up with conversation about what they discover about their children and their use of technology. Software such as My Mobile Watchdog now makes this easy.
Parents should follow several steps to ensure their kids are protected:
Digital parenting is challenging and difficult at first, but if these techniques lead to conversations with your children then we are heading in the right direction.
An unfortunate side effect of more technology is more isolation and less family time. Just like any other parenting situation, digital parenting requires patience and understanding.
By being proactive and using prevention, we’ll have fewer serious incidents to react to, happier kids, and much safer communities.
Bob Lotter is the CEO and Founder of My Mobile Watchdog Inc, which educates parents and teachers on the realities of the modern, digital world and helps parents make informed decisions to keep kids safe online.