Keep an Eye and Get Connected with Your Teen’s Social Media

Keep an Eye and Get Connected with Your Teen’s Social Media

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by Diana Siemer

While we didn’t have social media growing up, it’s a normal part of everyday life for kids today. However, this useful tool can turn dangerous for our teens as they face the potential of being cyberbullied and lured away from their homes by online predators. Parents have to balance allowing their teens to become digitally literate people and protecting them from harm. It’s not easy, but there are tools to help.

App Monitoring 

Recently developed “secret apps,” such as Spy Calc, allow users to hide messages and photos that they don’t want seen. These apps hide on phones and appear as calculators or other normal tools. And social media tools like Yik Yak allow users to post anything they want totally anonymously.

Don Stanko, a police officer in Franklin County and co-author of the book “Digital Dangers,” says online social media tools such as Kik can be on a child’s phone without the parent knowing it and it is not uncommon for complete strangers to reach out to children on Kik and start a conversation.

While it may seem like parents are fighting an uphill battle and the odds are against them, there’s good news on the horizon. There’s software available to help protect children online.

For example, Michele Joel is the founder of My Social Sitter, software that acts like a filter and uses a proactive approach to online activity. It targets more than 300,000 words, phrases and slang and is customizable in six different languages. The software is designed to detect negative messages and to flag suicidal comments and personal information. For instance, if a teen attempts to send a bullying type of message, the software denies the message and gives the user a chance to adjust what they want to say.

Once a message has been denied, the software sends a report to the parent so they can follow up and address the issue with their child.

Joel says it is important for parents to talk to their kids and to teach them the value of the software, along with social responsibility and appropriate behavior.

Parents should connect with their teens about all the apps —whether for online safety or those being used for fun —on their smart devices.

“I don’t think kids realize (their behavior) can cost them a job or access to a college,” she says.

Mary Gavriloff, 17, a student at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Kent, says “I would have more freedom because my mom wouldn’t have to go through my account all the time.”

She adds that students being able to monitor their own behavior also encourages them to look out for each other and to take the initiative to speak up when they see red flags.

Some parents also use software such as Net Nanny to block, alert and report their child’s online activity.

Be Aware

While these apps can be useful, parents’ awareness of their teen’s online activity is still one of the best defenses.

Stanko says parents often rely too heavily on the software and they let down their guard.

“These protective measures will reduce the risk, but not remove it,” he says. “Good management of your child’s online activity takes time and effort.”

However, otherwise limiting access to cell phones, computers and the Internet is not practical in today’s world. One way to guard against these applications is to ensure that you are the only person who can add them to your child’s phone.

Kathleen Stansberry, assistant professor of strategic social media at Cleveland State University, recommends keeping household devices in public and common areas and being transparent about your own online activity as a way to model good behavior.

“People rely too much on technology to fix what is really a social problem,” she says. “The best app in the world can’t protect your kids from everything.”

Stanko says parents also can keep open lines of communication with their child and allow them to be the teacher when it comes to new apps.

“Kids love to talk about technology,” he says. “Another tip is to have conversations about the dangers of social media in front of your children, rather than directing such talk directly at them.

“If your child does have a problem or gets in trouble with social media, do not take their device away because that ‘punishment’ will cause them to be more secretive in the future,” he adds. “Instead, set parameters early on, like curfews, and watch their behavior for red flags.”

It also is important to know when to let your kids handle problems on their own, when to step in and when to ask for help. Discuss ideas and options for solving a problem so they know they have a say in choosing their behavior.

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