Social media has opened a whole new world. It has opened a window for us to connect with people we never would have interacted with before. Add in mobile technology such as smart phones, the window has opened wider. We are no longer tethered to our desktops. From 2014 numbers from Pew Research Internet Project, 58% percent of US adults have smart phones. And according to a recent survey by Nielsen, 70 percent of teens (aged 13-17) have smart phones.
While social media has opened up a window into a new world, it has also opened up the window to allow new dangers to slip into our lives. It is easy for adults to get entangled with dicey situations on social media so imagine how difficult it can be for teens to navigate it. Before adults could monitor what kids were doing online by having the family computer in the living room. Today with smart phones, tablets, and laptops, it has made it more difficult to keep an eye out on teen’s online activities. Smart phones can be slipped in jean pockets and go anywhere away from the watchful eye of adults.
What are these dangers to teens?
The window has been opened up to high-tech bullying, risky behaviors, and unseen predators.
Online or Cyber Bullying. Cyber bullying is sending mean or threatening emails, instant messages, posts, or text messages. Cyberbullies can be classmates, online acquaintances, and even anonymous users.
Risky Behaviors. Engaging in sexually explicate conversations or sending nude selfies. A selfie made when 16 years old can come back to haunt when 25 years old. And it maybe illegal, too. Remember nothing is truly private on the Internet.
Online Predators. Many are trolling social media sites looking for victims. Most scouting and recruitment of victims by human traffickers, or social media pimps, is now done online.
Do you know what apps your teen has on their smart phone or who they are interacting with online?
The apps on their smart phone, which are allowing them to connect with friends, can be opening them up to the above. You need to be aware of the following, which are currently very popular with teens and could pose a danger to them.
Snapchat, Wickr, WhatsApp, and Frankly are messaging services. These aren’t mainstream yet making them a favorite with teens. Snapchat and Frankly claim that messages, photos, and videos are permanently deleted after 10 seconds and after that, there’s supposedly no record.
Ask.Fm is a platform encouraging users, with the option of anonymity, can ask each other questions where it can quickly move from innocent questions to sexually or aggressive ones. In Europe, the platform has been linked to teen suicide from cyber bullying.
Whisper allows users to post messages anonymously, which are displayed as text superimposed over an image and receive replies. The platform is popular in Kentucky, Ohio, Texas, and Kansas. Then there is Secret where co-workers, friends, and friends of friends can share their deepest thoughts, along with criticism and gossip in near-anonymity.
Mainstream platforms are still a concern such as Instragram, the photo sharing network, and Facebook. According to Allan W. Silberberg, privacy expert and founder of digijacks, many of these platforms such as Instagram and Ask.FM don’t verify the identity of users making it hard to trace people if bullying is occurring.
So how do we protect teens online?
Silberberg says we do a great job teaching our kids from a very young age about stranger danger and how to be safe in the real world. He goes on to share that when we are having the drug or sex talks with our kids when need to have the online safety talk as well. And it needs to start young.
Here are some tips for adults in helping a teen navigate social media:
• Talk to them about safety rules for using social media. Remember their common sense is probably very different from yours.
• Prepare them for the kinds of uncomfortable experiences they might have online, without making them feel that social media is a totally frightening place.
• Know what they are doing online such as what social media platforms they visiting and have accounts on? Familiarize yourself with the social platforms.
• Maintain an open dialogue with them about their social use. Be willing to compromise, but make sure they understand your concerns are for their safety.
• Encourage them to teach you how to use some of the social sites. It opens a door to communication.
• Without becoming overly judgmental, help them solve problems they encounter online. Make sure they know they can come to you with those problems.
• Find out what their friends are doing online so you know what their online social reality is all about.
There are some apps, which can help you as a parent such as Zabra. But what it comes down to is opening and keep those lines of communicate open and building that trust and understanding with teens around their social media usage.
Keeping kids safe online is something adults need to be aware of. It isn’t just a responsibility of parents. It really does take a village to protect a child online.
This column was originally published in the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday, March 31, 2014 and nationally distributed to over 300 media outlets through the Tribune Content Agency.
Ann Marie is available to speak to organizations on keeping kids cyber safety. Contact her now to book.
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