The biggest obstacle parents face raising kids in this generation is the lack of knowledge around their “social culture.” The whole “been there, done that” attitude parents have when raising their kids does not necessarily apply today. We are living in warp speed when it comes to innovation and there is no way possible parents of teens have experienced the same situations as our youth are currently experiencing. Just think of the multi-volume encyclopedias that were worth gold or the first word processing program that was groundbreaking to anyone who worked on a typewriter. Now think about the pace in which new advancements were introduced to the world compared to the pace we are moving at now. The rabbit and the bionic hare! A brand new iphone is released but the prototype for the next one is ready, just waiting until the first reaches record sales before the next is released. Remember a time when you did not know where your friends were and when trying to call, the line rang busy, As fast as I am writing this list of common dangers to our kids, new dangers are proving these outdated.
- Fake Social Media Accounts- Our kids are pretty savvy when it comes to their social lives and that includes going to all the hard work of managing fake social media accounts along with their pristine main accounts. It is not uncommon for a child to have two Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook, and TikTok accounts. Ask any parent about their child’s social media accounts and they will automatically say, “I monitor my child’s social media accounts daily” and then stand proud as a peacock when they tell you their child’s instagram handle is “mommys_little_princess!” So when I tell them to make sure they check their child’s other account that is called something like “hide_from_mom,” they doubt my intelligence.
- Chat Rooms- Recently a student reported being on an inappropriate chat room called, Omegle. Omegle has been around for a long time, but despite all the warnings, kids are still accessing this site. In this chat room you literally talk to a stranger. Seriously, the name pops up as “stranger.” What happened to stranger danger? While investigating, I typed this website into my phone and within seconds was asked my age, sex, and some very exciplit other questions. Never do you know who the stranger is or where they are located, but you converse and at any time, you or the “stranger” can “stop” the conversation. My brief conversation with the stranger led to him (he told me he was a male) asking me to log into Snapchat so we could exchange pictures. He ended the conversation quickly when I asked him to video conference. He caught on that I was not in it to converse. As soon as he stopped the conversation, it was erased with no way to find that “stranger” again. The report initially was because a student allowed the “stranger” into his Snap and through video access the student was shown live footage inappropriate for anyone. Kids who have a Smartphone have access to all of this. How many other chat rooms are out there?
- Location Settings- After reading about chat rooms, consider how many kids out of curiosity volunteer their Snapchat name to these strangers. So now this “stranger” has access to your child. What is really scary is that we live in a generation of kids who want to know where their friends are at all times, so of course they have their location setting on and anyone that is their Snap friend can access the “Snap Map” to pinpoint where they are at any time. This is great for parents monitoring where their child is at all times, but this information can also lead a pedophile right to your child. Turn location settings off for all apps that are public to anyone.
- Account Privacy – I am always a little leary about privacy settings. “Do we really know if our electronic devices have privacy?” To be safe, make sure your children/teens have their settings on private and check them often. Kids are obsessed with “followers” and “likes” so it is very appealing to be “public” and have a large audience.
- Anonymous Sites – Do you believe that kids would actually log on to a site to bash one of their peers just to be mean? These sites are out there and easily accessible to anyone with a smart device. One of the original apps called “After School” was creating havoc amongst teenagers everywhere. More commonly used today is Yolo and Whisper. These particular app allowed you to anonymously compliment or bash your classmates in a TBH (to be honest) fashion. We can only relate by our vivid memory of the writing on the bathroom walls.
- Keyboard Courage – All of us know that when we are face to face with a person, it is a lot harder to say nasty things or to make threatening statements, but it is so easy to type a nasty message to a classmate when you do not have to look them in the eyes. Technology can be amazing, but it is also a tool that can do harm. As adults, we would not waste our time hurting others or we can handle “words” from people who do not mean much to us, but add the insecurities of tweens and teens and you will see drastic changes in a child’s affect. Most kids internalize the words of a bully, so as parents, we have to be on our toes to identify changes in a child’s behavior, personality, and attitude. This behavior is causing more and more kids to have anxiety issues, social awkwardness, emotional issues and can ultimately lead a child to make unsafe decisions. It is no wonder we are seeing a rise is substance abuse, mental health issues and violence. At one time or another, all kids are witness to, participate in or are the target of someone demonstrating keyboard courage.
- Call of Duty, Fort Nite, Grand Theft Auto – All of these games are created for mature adults but are marketed towards our teenagers. The awesome graphics puts you right in the action of stealing cars, shooting people, stabbing people, etc. but guess what, there are no consequences. Really? We are exposing our children to violence that is based on real life and in real life would land them behind bars. Not in these games; the kids want the kill, they want the “W” and they are “live” trash talking with their friends and again complete strangers. Am I the only one who finds issues with this? You can not tell me that these games do not desensitize our kids to violence. We can place some blame on the manufacturers of these games, but we, as parents, buy these violent games.
- Communication- This is where educators are seeing the most decline in our students’ academic ability. They can not communicate without a device. Students are not making eye-contact, not greeting each other in the halls, lack communication skills with adults, have anxiety over presenting in front of their peers, and they get the shakes if their electronic devices are taken away. Technology has reprogrammed our kids. Have your kids disconnect to reconnect with you, their siblings, friends, etc.
- Posture and Vision – Not only are students being exposed to too much information, but we are seeing how looking down at a phone, tablet etc. is creating a generation of slouching youth. Just like the elongation of a giraffe’s neck to reach vegetation on tree tops, our physical qualities as humans are adapting to technology. I can even imagine that the long term effects of staring at a device will change our sight.
I will admit, my life revolves around technology, but I also know what it is like to not have the world at my fingertips. My parents had the ability to censor what I was exposed to. I only knew information that was passed on to me out of an adult’s mouth. Our kids now know everything! They can pull up anything on an Internet search. They believe everything they read on the Internet as gospel. They are desensitized to violence and pornography. They are lacking communication skills and are becoming couch potatoes. They think shooting animated characters on video games is fun. It all makes me question if technology is really moving us forward. As a middle school principal, I witness technology, 75% of the time, creating problems, drama, and removing a kid’s ability to play, create, and just have fun. Be proactive, not reactive! Create household Internet rules, limit screen time, have discussions about dangerous online predators, check social media sites and “for my eyes only” apps, and monitor the behaviors of your children.