Friend Me!- The Dangers of Teens and Digital Media

For personal reasons, the author today would like to remain unknown, but we both felt that this message needs to be out there. I am thankful to have a forum for this parent to share their travails with kids and digital media. Should parents 'spy' on their childs' pages? This parent has witnessed cyber-bullying and amazingly saved a child's life via digital media because of the open communication established in the home.

Email, Text, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Formspring—there are so many forms of communications out there for our youth to hide behind, that it seems the art of conversation is being lost. And then there's cyberbullying—which is another whole topic!

There is a lot of pressure for teens to be up and on the latest social media.  And when parents won’t let their kids have it, the kids can feel left out. 

A recent poll by Common Sense Media stated that 51% of American teens log on to a social network site more that once a day, and 22% log on more than ten times a day.   

Then comes the pressure: if you don’t write the perfect comment on facebook—are you bummed nobody replied? Do you have to like everyone’s statements?  The need to friend any and everyone who friends you to not be hurtful. Do you have the perfect profile pic?  Does it look like you are always having fun and have the most friends?  Look at who I was with—check out my pics (and parents, you should see some of the pics the kids are posting—they can be very inappropriate).  And how about all the inappropriate comments floating out in cyberworld—goodness!! 

I have quickly learned that children, and let’s face it, teens still are children, can hide behind texts and say and do things via technology that they would never do face to face.  Formspring allows you to ask anonymous and very personal questions.  I have witnessed kids hiding behind texts and saying things I can assure you could not be said in person.

Fights are taking place via text, when kids were together moments earlier and could have easily talked.  I've seen teens distraught with worry when their texts aren’t responded to quickly enough: Are they mad at me?  Why aren’t they responding?

Kids even break up via text, not showing enough respect for a phone call.  Come to think of it, I don’t even know if kids know how to have a phone conversation anymore.  Do they even know if "you" is spelled “you” and not” u”.  Think about the last time your teen picked up the phone first to make a phone call. 

I continue to stress to any kid who will hear me, "Don’t put anything in writing you don’t want to come back and haunt you."  If you are talking about someone, assume they are over the shoulder of the recipient reading it.  It is scary.  And just because you hit delete and think you removed it, it is still out there in cyber world and can be found. 

Recently we learned a sad and scary lesson when my child received a message from a friend threatening to take their own life and saying goodbye forever.  Praise God my child had the courage to share this with me.  I had to tell my child that if was a joke, the friend needed help, and if it wasn’t, then help was really needed.  We tried reaching the parent with no luck, so we went to the police.  We learned that they have the technology to track down the exact whereabouts of the phone and can obtain all texts.  Thank goodness actions were taken quickly to reach this child and get them the help they were literally crying out for.  I am beyond proud of my child for having the maturity to share this with us and react appropriately.  I don’t know that I would have had that much strength at that age. 

Parents, take this as a warning. In this day and age, we need to be as involved in our children’s digital life as we are their academic and sports life.  If your kid has facebook, be sure you have passwords and you are their friend.  Read, read, read and read between the lines. 

Looking back at that  kid’s comments now, I see the warnings where they were looking for help.  Read your kids texts if you need to—privacy patoohy! Safety first.  And most importantly, talk to your kids and be there for their friends.  Believe it or not, these teens are hungry for an adult to talk to and offer advice- just maybe not always their parents. I truly believe we saved a life that day because of our open relationship.  Be there, and let’s team together to keep our children safe.

Comments

Leave a comment
  • I have told my kids that if they are going to have email, facebook or whatever kind of new fangled account is available by the time they're old enough, I will know the password. And if the password ever fails to work, woe to them. Sorry, but I'm not even above searching their rooms if I think anythings up.

  • Unfortunately, the best defense against the predators, the cranks and the ugly out there is to teach your kids to be paranoid and assume any strangers you meet online mean you harm. I don't know if we will know for decades how communicating in these new ways will affect us as a society. I don't know if making your kids give them your passwords will always work but one rule I think all parents put in place is NEVER meet or share personal details with anyone online you don't know in person.

Leave a comment