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“Everything has a time and place.” This familiar saying is a popular motto for juggling life’s demands and pleasures. We can also apply this mantra to managing the abundance of today’s technology with our children. Somewhere among the love and hate relationship with social media and homework searches, we must find a healthy balance in regards to our children’s technology use. To help us on this journey, we need to consider what teens are doing online, if we should be monitoring our children’s Internet activity, and ways we can curb overuse.

What Are Teens Doing Online?

It’s no secret that our kids rely heavily on their devices, but as parents, we often find ourselves wondering what is so compelling to keep their attention fixated on glowing screens for hours and hours on end. We know they enjoy scrolling through social media, taking selfies, posting funny DubSmash videos, or streaming videos. Afterall, these features have made digital devices an indispensable luxury for our kids.

However, lurking behind all of the merriment is a dark side to our daughters’ and sons’ digital activity. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to recognize all the scary situations awaiting our children just by glancing at their screens. No, these scenarios can range anywhere from oversharing personal information to cyberbullying to interacting with online predators. Up until a few years ago, these topics were foreign and completely left out of parenting guidebooks.

Consider how a recent study found that 87 percent of our kids have encountered cyberbullying as witnesses or victims. These numbers are up from around 28 percent just a little over a year ago, which means rates of cyberbullying have basically tripled. This is disheartening on many levels, because cyberbullying has been linked to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts in our children.

In addition to cyberbullying, sexting is so commonplace that experts see these behaviors as normal and many teens view sexting as a safe alternative to sex. This might be true when it comes to pregnancy and disease, but if kids are underage, the simple act of snapping a provocative selfie is considered child pornography. Sexting, even if it is consensual, will be prosecuted as distributing or possessing child pornography. In addition to legal battles, this can open kids up to digital exploitation, bullying, and harassment.

Should You Monitor Or Not?

Realizing our children might be participating in risky online behaviors is frightening, but we need to realize that 70 percent of our kids actively seek ways to hide their online activities from us. This is only compounded when our sons and daughters are plugged in an average of six or more hours every day. Which can lead many of us to contemplate spying or using monitoring to stay on top of our children’s digital presence. Afterall, anything posted online has the potential to be made public.

Typically, experts warn spying should be avoided, because these behaviors have the potential to ruin parent and child relationships. Monitoring, however, doesn’t rely on sneaking around or hacking devices. This technique can range from simply following a teen’s social media accounts or openly installing software to compile a complete picture of a child’s texts, social media apps, contacts, and locations. If done correctly, this method offers opportunities for open dialogue while protecting a teen’s privacy.

How Should We Handle Constant Device Use?

To help parents overcome modern digital parenting challenges, please check out the following seven tips:

Begin an ongoing conversation about developing a healthy balance of technology in our lives. 

Teach social media etiquette early and build on topics as a child ages. 

Institute a “blackout policy”. An example of this could be powering down all devices from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m. to allow a break from technology.

Limit the amount of data a child has access to on their Smartphones or tablets. 

Provide opportunities for children to log off for a few minutes daily. Reclaim family meals, sign up for extracurricular activities, or dust off the old board games for an alternative to pixels and selfies.

Reinforce a child’s good choices. Give them feedback to show that you notice their good choices.

Create a technology contract for the family that clearly lays out all expectations and consequences.

How does your family manage digital parenting challenges?

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P.U.R.E. does not provide legal advice and does not have an attorney on staff.
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