Vigilant Parenting in the Digital Age
By Mae Pulsipher and Trishia Van Orden
Even when done correctly, parenting is still a big challenge. It seems even more difficult once you add the hurdles that technology presents. Simply telling our children how to act on the internet is just not enough. We need to be aware of the dangers around, as well as be vigilant in monitoring technology use in our homes. This means that we need to dive into the digital world, and become mindful of the negative as well as positive things the internet offers. We also must have many discussions with our children about technology use, including dangers, safety, and digital citizenship.
Social Media and Apps
Social media can be a wonderful thing. It connects everyone around the world allowing us to visit with friends and family, as well as helping us get involved in our communities. While social media has many positive aspects, it also has a negative, more dangerous side. Social media creates an opportunity for cyberbullying to occur. Predators also use social media to groom and prey on children. A more subtle form of danger is that of constant comparison. The simple act of browsing threads leads many to compare their lives with the lives of celebrities, bloggers, and friends, which harms one’s self-confidence.
To best help our children make smart social media decisions, we need to be familiar with where they are spending their time. Parents might assume their children use Facebook the most, but according to a report by NBC News, Facebook usage by teens has decreased from 68% in 2012 to 15% in 2018 (Edwards & Fox). If they aren’t using Facebook; what are they using? 41% percent of teens use Snapchat while 22% use Instagram as their main social media platform (Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences, 2018). This report also found that 54% of teens agree that if their parents actually knew what happened on social media, they’d be more concerned.
What do parents need to know in order to be more vigilant in their parenting? One of the biggest issues we face is our kids leading a double life: their “real” self and their “online” self. This can manifest through fake Instagram accounts, “Where [teens] are posting more risque photos or highlighting dangerous behavior” (Smith, 2017).
Before you let your kids download Instagram onto their smartphone, have a talk with them about how to be safe, smart and kind while using social media platforms. Review our Social Media Guide and develop a plan that works best for your family. A good rule of thumb is to ask oneself what your grandma would think if she saw what you posted. Remind them that “everything on the internet stays on the internet forever,” even if it was posted to a private account or deleted. Platforms like Snapchat, where your child might think the photo disappears forever, are also not immune to this (Cagle). It is important that our children understand that once we post we can never take back.
Important Points to Remember:
Social media isn’t the only way kids and teens are using the internet. Because of this, parents must stay involved in their child’s internet activities, such as, knowing how long they spend online, what sites they visit regularly, and who they are connecting with. Having regular conversations about internet safety and digital citizenship can be a huge factor in keeping children safe.
On top of this, parents must be aware of the various signs of child grooming by online predators. These signs include your child spending long hours online, especially at night, calling people you don’t know, instantly closing their computer upon your arrival, becoming reclusive and not wanting to spend time with family or friends as well as unsolicited gifts arriving at your home. (Ben-Joseph, 2018). If you have noticed any of these signs, talk with your child immediately. If a predator is targeting your child, document all related online activities and report it to local law enforcement or contact CyberTipline (part of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children).
One website that seems innocent is YouTube. Many parents allow their children to watch videos on this site unsupervised. However, even YouTube Kids has videos that can range from inappropriate to disturbing. This means a child might be viewing inappropriate messages or even experience grooming without their even being aware. Some great alternatives to YouTube are PBS Kids, National Geographic for Kids, and Highlights Kids. These are trusted websites that have videos, games, and learning experiences that can help your child have a positive online experience.
Important Point to Remember:
With the invention of smartphones, the internet and social media have become even more accessible. This can be great when keeping in contact with friends and family, however, it also can create a bigger risk due to internet usage outside the home. Because of this, many parents question when it is appropriate to give their child a smartphone?
While most experts recommend not giving a child a smartphone until at least the age of 13, we at Educate and Empower Kids believe that it is best to wait as long as possible. Great alternatives to smartphones are simple prepaid flip phones, watch phones or even no phone at all. The key is that your child is able to communicate with home and other important people. They do not need internet capabilities to do this. We shouldn’t let popular trends influence our parenting, especially when it comes to safety.
While going against the normalcy of allowing your child to have a smartphone is difficult, your child will ultimately benefit. There is an online pledge that can help with this dilemma. Parents and children agree that the child will not receive a smartphone until at least 8th grade. If a large number of families in a general area agree to the pledge, it can create a new “norm” therefore lessening the pressure of not having a smartphone by one’s peers. Even if no one in your area agrees with your ideals, it is important that you be brave and hold fast to what you feel is best for your family. Don’t let those around influence how you raise and protect your kids.
Important Points to Remember:
Another thing that parents need to be aware of, but might not know about, is viral challenges.
A viral challenge is a dare that kids/teens can access online. These challenges can range from simple and silly to extremely dangerous and even deadly. An example of a viral challenge is the Bird Box Challenge. This challenge encouraged people to try and do everyday activities such as brushing teeth, eating, and even driving while blind-folded.
While some of these challenges might not be real when they are first talked about, “the attention [they recieve] can actually have the opposite effect of what’s intended: All these warnings can raise the risk that teens and young children would learn about the challenge and take it seriously” (Dreyfus, 2019). This is why parents need to be proactive and be involved in their kids’ online activities. Somethings you can do to help stay informed are:
- Ask your kids if they have heard of viral challenges. If so which ones?
- Discuss why viral challenges are appealing or interesting. Don’t forget to mention peer pressure and Fear of Being Left Out (FOMO).
- Follow up by discussing how these challenges could be unsafe. Ask and discuss questions about the dangers a challenge can pose. Say something like, “I know that others have been driving a car blind-folded, but do you think that it is safe?” Discuss why or why not, and help them understand their misconceptions.
Remember to stay informed as to what challenges are out there. You can find more information about viral challenges on our website or at Common Sense Media.
Important Points to Remember:
- Keep yourself informed by checking multiple sources.
- Discuss with your kids what challenges they have heard of or participated in.
- Model responsible behavior. Sometimes parents are filming while their kids are doing these challenges. Make sure that you, the parent, are not encouraging dangerous activities. Research the risks before attempting a challenge.
Making our way through parenting in the digital age can be hard, but if we stay diligent and alert, we can really help and protect our children. Have frequent, open conversations with your kids about their internet usage and presence on social media. The more time you spend discussing these things, the more likely you are to discover any potential dangers. Build a relationship full of trust and love with your child so they will be willing to come to you if any problems do arise.
Some “teens even feel relieved when their parents tell them it is ok to not be on Facebook or talk with them openly about the risks and benefits of these sites” (Edwards & Fox, 2018). While they may never say thank you, being open and honest with your teens does help remove the peer-pressure felt by having a constant social media presence.
Even though parenting is hard, staying vigilant in all aspects of parenting can help keep your child be smart and safe. Check out our guide to Online Safety and Digital Citizenship for more ideas and discussion points. Our book Conversations with My Kids: 30 Essential Family Discussions for the Digital Age offers parents more details about online trends as well as other topics pertinent in today’s digital world.
Mae Pulsipher is a graduate of Brigham Young University – Idaho with a degree in Marriage and Family Studies. She has been married for almost four years and has a sweet two-year-old son. She aspires to be a counselor for children and adolescents so she can help children and teens work through these difficult concepts.
Trishia Van Orden has a Bachelor’s Degree in Marriage and Family Studies from Brigham Young University-Idaho. She has a love for psychology and hopes to one day open a Family Life Education Center where she lives. She is currently writing for Educate Empower Kids and working as a volunteer in a girl’s youth group program. She is a wife and a mother of three beautiful girls.
Alexander, D. (2019, January 08). Parenting in the Digital Age: It’s Time to go on the Offensive. Retrieved from https://educateempowerkids.org/4630-2/
Ben-Joseph, E. P. (2018, April). Teaching kids to be smart about social media. Retrieved from https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/social-media-smarts.html
Cagle, C. (2019). Snapchat and Teens: What You Need to Know – Educate Empower Kids. Retrieved 12 September 2019, from http://bit.ly/eeksnapchat
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Common Sense Media – https://www.commonsensemedia.org/social-media-social-life-infographic
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Parents’ Ultimate Guide to Snapchat – https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/parents-ultimate-guide-to-snapchat
Parents, Here’s How to Make Youtube Kids Safer – https://www.wired.com/story/youtube-kids-parental-settings-safer/
A Parents’ Guide to Snapchat – http://www.connectsafely.org/wp-content/uploads/snapchat_guide.pdf
How to Not Fall for Viral Scares https://www.wired.com/story/momo-hoax-viral-scares-advice/?fbclid=IwAR2rUeBI29MQO5yM1amvI40n91G0FoX9ZojRt2MC61KIqS8AJVu1znoFzyM
Internet Safety https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/net-safety.html
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At What Age Should I Get My Child a Smartphone? – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/tech-happy-life/201810/what-age-should-i-get-my-child-smartphone
When to Give Your Child a Smartphone – https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/18/02/when-give-your-child-smartphone
An Age-by-Age Guide to Kids and Smartphones – https://www.todaysparent.com/family/parenting/an-age-by-age-guide-to-kids-and-smartphones/