One thing is for certain about growing up and parenting in a cyber-powered world: change is the constant. Never before have parents been so ignorant of what is happening in their children’s lives. And by the same token, never before has transparency been more possible.
Indeed, it is easy for kids to keep secret the connections to people, images and ideas in their cyber-social realms that harbor great risks with thoughts, actions and experiences that are well beneath the dignity of their humanity. One eerie example that comes to mind is the SlenderMan meme (i.e., a character or concept that goes viral on the web). The SlenderMan meme is a creepy, tall and slim figure who leads children into darkness. This meme was blamed by two Wisconsin girls for inspiring them to attempt to murder a classmate by luring her into the woods and stabbing her over 19 times. Recent headlines indicate that these girls, who are 15 years old today, are being tried as adults even though they committed the crime when they were 12 years old.
In other news, youth are filming themselves committing acts violence to their own peers.Below is a news report last October of an altercation between a teenage boy and girl in Vallejo that escalates to physical violence.
And in my view, the most violent and damaging exposure youth experience in their cyber-social realms are assaults on their sexuality. Unchecked, sexting and internet porn have completely skew a child’s perception of their identity from creative, caring human beings to sex objects and users or abusers of people for their sexuality. One of the most common things you will find on a young person’s phone are sexually explicit photos. Boys and girls are under tremendous pressure to be sexually aggressive – which in turn breeds hostility.
The hostility that is allowed to breed in our children’s cyber-powered peer communities is creating a bully climate that inspires depression and self-harm. (See Other Cyber Safety News below)
So what is a parent to do?
Shed fear, get educated and get interested in who your child is and what interests him or her.
Shed fear. Let go of a desire to be in control of your child’s on-line experience. Put on your coach or teacher hat. Your role as the parent is to help your child learn how to establish limits for him or herself that will keep out bullies and sexual exploitation, and encourage nurturing relationships that are mutually beneficial.
Get educated about the social apps that are out there. The social media and apps landscape is dynamic. In the listings below, you will find the most popular social media apps in 2015 according to Time Magazine, and a more recent SurveyMonkey of most downloaded apps in 2016 from January to June. As you can see, it is a very dynamic phenomenon – popularity can be very fickle and inconsistent. At this point, Facebook appears to be the one social media app that is “E” for everyone, and Youtube and the Google apps have served similarly as highly functional for education and communication. After these general apps, the youth will flock to the micro-blogs and texting apps like Kik and SnapChat (which is gaining in popularity by more generations – as there is an IPO on the horizon that promises to be the biggest in technology ever). Other apps where children may migrate are definitely risky, such as Tinder which is a place where people go to find sex partners. And from a parent’s perspective it is important to keep in mind that you don’t care what is popular. No. What you care about is what interests your own child and why.
2015 Most popular apps (Time Magazine)
- Facebook Messenger
- Google Search
- Google Play
- Google Maps
- Apple Music
- Maps (Apple)
Where kids go after Facebook (Time Magazine)
- What’s app
2016 Most Downloaded Apps by SurveyMonkey (January –June)
- Messenger * Candy Crush Jelly Saga * Twitter
- SnapChat * Musical.ly * Subway Surfers
- Facebook * Pinterest * Skype
- Instagram * Uber * Super Bright LED
- ColorSwitch * iTunes U
- Pandora * YouTube Music
- YouTube * Clash of Clans
- Netflix * Amazon
- Spotify * Kik
- io * Google photos
- Piano Tiles 2 * Sound Cloud
- Whatsapp * Google Maps
- Stack * Wish
Get interested in what interests your child. There will always be a new digital hangout popping up and capturing the hearts and minds of youth. When you are clear that your interest is not to be in control of your child, and that you want to understand how you child’s childhood is informing him or her, then your child will be more open to sharing what has surfaced in their peer communities. The key to maintaining open communication is to check your opinion, and offer wisdom. Get your child thinking critically about what is happening in their world and how they can respond to make it a better place. Appeal to the innate desire in your child to make a peaceful community. Help him or her redirect inappropriate comments, gossip into positive conversations. And discourage the sharing of sexually explicit images that can only be used to humiliate and bully – not to love and nurture another person.
Establish house rules that feature transparency and open communication
For a 10-minute lesson about establishing house rules as empowerment with devices and apps, check out Quick Start to a Fresh Start.
And other cyber safety news:
- Police Chief in Gulfport, MS tells parents of tech-savvy youth “we cannot raise your children for you”. In response to teens filming a fight after school hours and then being rewarded with over 100,000 views and hundreds of likes. The title of the article asks “what if ‘likes’ and drugs affect teen brains the same way?”
- Google Chrome hacking vulnerability discovered in 2014 has surfaced again. Cyber security experts are advising that if your chrome browser freezes and displays a fake Microsoft notice that you have been infected with a trojan and to call a phone number (which belongs to the scammer), close it using the “task manager” or reboot.
- Change your Netflix password? A little news feature to remind folks not to repeat passwords for different accounts as a breach in one company, like Yahoo or Gmail, can lead to compromise your other accounts.
- Teen depression is on the rise.
- Teen self-harm as a way to cope with chronic stress and trauma in their world.
About: We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device. To that end, ten percent of all proceeds are donated to prison ministries. Your donations are greatly appreciated. (Donations are payable to Banana Moments Foundation).
Joanna Jullien is an educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. Trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, she is a mother of two grown sons, an author of books on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.