Louisville, Kentucky (January 12, 2023) – At 19 years old, I grew up in the age of technology. In fact, I can’t ever think of a time when I truly was without it. As a kid, I played cops and robbers outside with the rest of the kids in the neighborhood like previous generations, but unlike them, I had computer class once a week all through middle school. I had a flip phone from fifth to sixth grade, and from there I had an iPhone that got upgraded every couple of years.
With this constant stream of technological advancements, my own parents faced the same fear that plagues every parent’s mind: how can I keep my kid safe in a world that just got a lot bigger?
As a teenager who grew up with school assemblies warning us about the dangers of being online, I know it can be hard for people my parents’ age to accept that your child may be exposed to things that they aren’t ready for. This is one of the dangers that comes with having the world in your pocket.
Just remember that every parent has the same fears — you are not alone in your struggles.
The good news is, there are many ways to protect your child from the dangers of the internet, so here’s my advice to you.
Get acquainted with tech
This means understanding both the technology like smartphones or tablets, as well as the apps. If you don’t understand how to use your phone yourself, it’ll be hard to help your child stay safe on theirs. Understanding texting, calling, and Facetiming is good, but make sure you review your settings to see what else you need to be aware of.
As for apps, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and now BeReal are some of the most popular forms of social media. But just being aware of them isn’t enough. You need to understand the nuances of these apps, and how to work them. While this may seem like overkill, this way you’ll know what safety features an app has in place. For example, on Instagram you can unadd a follower, hide someone’s post (without unfollowing them — unfollowing can be messy), you can have a “friends-only” story, and on almost every app you can block someone. For teens like me, having these options is a way to be “publicly private.”
My mom has all of these media apps, and she follows me and my siblings on all of them. Do we like it? No. But, at least she has some clue as to what we are posting and who we are friends with.
Protect, don’t restrict
You know when someone says not to do something, and it only makes you want to do it more? That’s kids in a nutshell. When a parent says we can’t have social media, it only makes us want to do it more, especially if our friends are all talking about it. A lot of kids may get on social media without telling their parents, and now there are apps to hide said social media from our home screen while still having it downloaded.
In my opinion, rather than completely banning something and then having your kid do it anyway, it is better to let them know you disapprove but have them be safe on the app, and maybe set up some guidelines. Reiterate that it is for safety reasons, and you aren’t trying to being overbearing. I have all of my social media set to private, and my mom can see what I post on my pages. My dad’s advice to me is, “Have the time of your life without changing the course of your life.”
Talk to other parents
Other parents can be a great resource for understanding what’s happening online, what you can do, and what can help. My mom found out about Life360 from other parents, and now all of my siblings have it. It’s a subscription-based platform that provides digital safety features and location sharing for the whole family.
Talk with your child
Kids like me have a lot we are dealing with, even if you don’t see it — and even when you do. Our problems often feel like the end of the world, even when in reality they aren’t.
Understanding your kid is so important to keeping them safe on the internet. Knowing if your child is having school drama or friend drama or sports drama can help you to understand why they posted or deleted something. It can also help you help them from making rash decisions, and this can be a great way to connect.
We are both dumber and smarter than you think
We are listening when you think we aren’t, and we don’t listen when you want us to. We know we can be dumb sometimes. We may post something that we shouldn’t, and we may not delete something else that we should.
Our media is curated so that even when we do make mistakes, you might not see it. And eventually, there will be consequences to our actions whether they happen now or later.
We are also smart. We are self-aware about the fact that everyone is addicted to social media. We grew up learning about the dangers and we know, to an extent, the scams that are happening now.
For example, on Instagram, some people’s pictures from their personal account are being stolen and used on new, fake accounts. These fake accounts will then DM (direct message) kids connected to the real person’s profile to try to scam them. I always check tagged photos to see if these accounts know anyone I know, or if anyone I know follows them.
Fake Snapchats are also being created to contact people. (To find out if an account is fake, check the “Snap Score,” the little number on their profile. If it’s extremely low or if they added you by Quickadd, avoid it!)
We also are smart enough to not accept people if we don’t know them, or if an account is clearly fake. We call out our friends if they post something we don’t think they meant to post, and we care about each other’s safety. My friends have a group Life360 to make sure we are all safe when we go out.
Parents, please understand that we will make mistakes. Also understand that we grew up with this stuff, so we would appreciate it if you could cut us some slack. You can’t stop everything bad from happening online, but continuing to try to connect with us is half the battle.
About the Author: Nyla Nawab provided support to the Communications division of Connected Nation. Nyla also assists with writing, company blogs, and social media posting, website editing, and bringing creativity to new and existing communications materials.
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