Digital Safety for the 21st Century Parent

Parenting in the twenty-first century comes with a good deal of unique challenges that no previous generation has ever had to deal with. Congratulations! You get to pave the way into the future by parenting your kids’ technology use. The benefits of the various technologies that are available to your children are undeniable. Children that grow up with access to computers and the internet are going to be much better prepared for life in the world after school. Establishing a social media presence is considered almost essential for finding a job or getting into a good school these days. Social platforms are ways for a child or teen to stay informed and expand their circle of influence. This is not new information. Technology is practically critical for survival in this age. However, when unmonitored and used irresponsibly, that same technology can become one of the biggest dangers facing your child or teen. The following gives you some ideas how technology can become dangerous and what you can do to prevent that from happening.

1. Cyberbullying
Bullying has been a commonplace issue practically since before the beginning of time. We are all familiar with the images of boys wrestling with each other on the school playground and girls spreading rumors while whispering in the halls. Today’s bullying often takes the form of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is simply bullying that takes place online, often over various social media platforms. Cyberbullying is considered an extreme form of “traditional” forms of bullying because of its wide reaching audience and its unique ability to follow a person everywhere. With the use of social media, bullies can now lash out and reach their target at school, at home, at extracurricular activities, etc. The victim never gets a break from the constant torment. Additionally, a bully’s words will be made available for the entire school to see and comment on. Other students are encouraged by the bully’s hateful words to leave their two cense in the comments or else take up the attack themselves. Bullying no longer between the bully, the victim, and a few of the bully’s supporters. Cyberbullying attacks like a wildfire and the devastation can often leave permanent scars.

Your child or teen may not tell you if they are being cyberbullied so it is your responsibility to know and be able to recognize some of the signs and approach the topic accordingly. Monitor your child’s activities while online. Ask them who they are talking to and what they are doing. Check their devices yourself. Don’t be afraid of overstepping boundaries or invading privacy. Monitoring your child’s activities could potentially be the best thing you can do for them. Another important defense is for you to take notice of your child’s mood or attitudes while or after they have been online. This can often be a good indicator that something may be wrong.

Approach the topic of bullying with your child at a time when they have your full attention and you have theirs. This way your child knows that they are safe to open up to you and that you will listen to what they have to say. Listening to your child is extremely important. Try to empathize with what your child may be going through and offer solutions that won’t seem like a punishment for your child. Help them to block the people who are hurting them or deactivate their accounts temporarily. This will help to give you time as you work on dealing with the bullying in a more permanent fashion.

2. Pornography
Pornography has a long history of being a polarizing issue. Whether pornography romanticizes abuse or not, whether or not the actors have the right to consent to perform, or any other argument pertaining to adult use of the adult entertainment industry doesn’t affect the fact that pornography is not appropriate for child or teenage consumption. Pornography is proven to have a damaging effect on a developing brain. The stress hormones caused by the sight of overtly sexualized images can alter a developing brain if experienced too frequently. Sexually explicit images decrease a teenager’s already limited function of the prefrontal cortex (rational brain) and instead overstimulates the Basal Ganglia, the brain’s center for habit learning, cognition, and emotion among other things. The teen or child then becomes less capable of making rational decisions when it comes to sex and sexual images and habits or addictions are more easily formed. In addition, young people are less likely to be able to connect consequences with the risky behavior they engage in.

Children and teenagers are naturally curious about sex. Make sure your children know that they can come to you with any questions that they might have and that you would be willing to discuss issues of sexuality with them in a way that will make them feel validated and respected. Make your position on pornography clear with your child. He, she, or they should know how you would feel if you knew that they were watching pornography and why you would feel that way. Children are more likely to respect your wishes if they feel respected in return. Additionally, it is advisable to monitor your child’s internet usage.

If your teen is facing a pornography addiction they will often try to cover up or hide their porn consumption out of shame and stigma. It will take a great deal of courage for your child to open up to you so it would do to treat the matter with that in mind. Thank your child for coming to you and assure them that you intend to help them to break their habit/addiction. For a good resource to help your teen overcome their pornography addiction click here.

3. Sexual Solicitation
Minors with unmonitored or under monitored social media access are particularly susceptible to criminal sexual solicitation. Predators are professionals at their craft. They know where to place themselves online to have access to children and what to look for in easy prey. Sexual predators follow what is coequally referred to as “grooming.” Grooming refers to the process in which a sexual predator gains a child’s trust, breaks down their barriers, and manipulates them into accepting or performing sexual activity.

As before, children and teens are not always likely to talk to you about their online activities. This is especially true if they have been told by the predator, whom they will very likely consider a friend and confidant, not to tell. Parents need to be aware of the tactics online predators use to entrap minors and prepare their children with ground rules to keep them safe. Some of these ground rules might include but are certainly not limited to:

  • Only speak with people that you know personally while online.
  • Never give out personal information over the internet.
  • Don’t take or share private pictures. Pictures never truly go away and you can never be fully sure who is viewing them on the other side.
  • Pay attention to your reputation. Only post things that you’d be comfortable with potential college admissions or employers seeing.
  • Never meet someone you met online in person without first clearing it with your parents.

Maintain open dialogue with your children about these and other online safety rules that you expect them to abide by and make sure they know that they can and should talk to you with any concerns they may have about online communication.

With the world dependent on new technologies, teaching and maintaining internet safety is a crucial component of today’s parenting. Children are often unaware of the true nature of the dangers that potentially await them on the other side of their screens. As parents it’s our job to be aware of these dangers, educate our children about the dangers, and create the best possible environments for our children to learn, communicate, and discover themselves in while online.