Editor’s note: This is Part II of helping kids manage digital risks this new school year. Read Part I.
The first few weeks back to school can be some of the most exciting yet turbulent times of the year for middle and high schoolers. So as brains and smartphones shift into overdrive, a parent’s ability to coach kids through digital drama is more critical than ever.
Paying attention to these risks is the first step in equipping your kids to respond well to any challenges ahead. Kids face a troubling list of social realities their parents never had to deal with such as cyberbullying, sexting scandals, shaming, ghosting, reputation harm, social anxiety, digital addiction, and online conflict.
As reported by internet safety expert and author Sue Scheff in Psychology Today, recent studies also reveal that young people are posting under the influence and increasingly sharing risky photos. Another study cites that 20 percent of teens and 33 percent of young adults have posted risky photos and about 8 percent had their private content forwarded without their consent.
No doubt, the seriousness of these digital issues is tough to read about but imagine living with the potential of a digital misstep each day? Consider:
- How would you respond to a hateful or embarrassing comment on one of your social posts?
- What would you do if your friends misconstrued a comment you shared in a group text and collectively started shunning you?
- What would you do if you discovered a terrible rumor circulating about you online?
- Where would you turn? Where would you support and guidance?
If any of these questions made you anxious, you understand why parental attention and intention today is more important than ever. Here are just a few of the more serious sit-downs to have with your kids as the new school year gets underway.
Let’s Talk About It
Define digital abuse. For kids, the digital conversation never ends, which makes it easier for unacceptable behaviors to become acceptable over time. Daily stepping into a cultural melting pot of values and behaviors can blur the lines for a teenage brain that is still developing. For this reason, it’s critical to define inappropriate behavior such as cyberbullying, hate speech, shaming, crude jokes, sharing racy photos, and posting anything intended to cause hurt to another person.
If it’s public, it’s permanent. Countless reputations, academic pursuits, and careers have been shattered because someone posted reckless digital content. Everything — even pictures shared between best friends in a “private” chat or text — is considered public. Absolutely nothing is private or retractable. That includes impulsive tweets or contributing to an argument online.
Steer clear of drama magnets. If you’ve ever witnessed your child weather an online conflict, you know how brutal kids can be. While conflict is part of life, digital conflict is a new level of destruction that should be avoided whenever possible. Innocent comments can quickly escalate out of control. Texting compromises intent and distorts understanding. Immaturity can magnify miscommunication. Encourage your child to steer clear of group texts, gossip-prone people, and topics that can lead to conflict.
Mix monitoring and mentoring. Kids inevitably will overshare personal details, say foolish things, and make mistakes online. Expect a few messes. To guide them forward, develop your own balance of monitoring and mentoring. To monitor, know what apps your kids use and routinely review their social conversations (without commenting on their feeds). Also, consider a security solution to help track online activity. As a mentor, listening is your superpower. Keep the dialogue open, honest, and non-judgmental and let your child know that you are there to help no matter what.
Middle and high school years can be some of the most friendship-rich and perspective-shaping times in a person’s life. While drama will always be part of the teenage equation, digital drama and it’s sometimes harsh fallout doesn’t have to be. So take the time to coach your kids through the rough patches of online life so that, together, you can protect and enjoy these precious years.