Social media has become a powerful tool that connects, informs, and entertains. Today’s children, teens, and young adults can not recall a time without cell phones and social media. For Generations Z (born 1996-2010) and Alpha (born 2011-2025), technology is ubiquitous. For all the good it can do, social media also has a darker side. With increased use of technology and social media amongst children and teens, parents must arm themselves with information to help children navigate the changing complexities of an online presence.
AN EVER-PRESENT DANGER, RIGHT AT YOUR FINGERTIPS
There are in excess of 300 social media apps, hosting more than 4 billion users. This means our world is constantly shrinking, offering opportunities for connection never before experienced by the whole of humanity. These social media apps help us to connect with long-lost friends or make new ones, searching for people based on similar interests or location proximity.
Because social media operates from behind the shield of a computer or mobile screen, caution must be exercised. Social media profiles can be easily falsified to gain trust and access to a targeted group. This yields a real and present danger for users, especially children and teens whose cognitive development is simply not yet at the stage to recognize the inherent risks. According to Cobb County Special Victims Unit Detective J.R. Arsenault, predators often use social media apps popular with young people, like SnapChat and Instagram, to connect with their victims.
3 SAFETY TIPS FOR USING SOCIAL MEDIA
In a world where we can be easily duped into believing an alternate reality, Det. Arsenault provides three tips to help parents manage access to outside influences.
1. First, it is imperative that parents know exactly what is on their child’s phone. As a rule, parents should have unlimited access to the phone, apps, and messages. This can be challenging, as teens are savvy technology users, sometimes creating accounts under a different user name or adding hidden apps. There are work-arounds to help parents find hidden apps on an Android or an iPhone. After knowing what apps their child is on, parents can use websites, such as commonsensemedia.org, to get more information on the app and its function.
2. Second, a child’s online presence can be permanent. It is always a best practice to set all accounts to private, which will require parents or the child to approve followers. Above all else, parents should monitor what their child is posting, as posts can give clues to predators about the child’s location and interests.
Monitoring posts is not only for a child’s safety, but also for protecting his/her reputation. Posting negative or risqué content can impact a teen’s future opportunities with colleges, jobs, and organizations. Parents are encouraged to have a talk with their children about digital citizenship. A program like Bark helps parents monitor content children are viewing or receiving. Bark also provides additional resources on their blog.
3. Finally, your child should know everyone who follows them. If the user and the requesting follower have not met in person, the child should decline the friend request. Children also should unfollow anyone they do not know. This will help to decrease the risk of negative or predatory behavior being sent to your child.
FREEDOM WITHIN BOUNDARIES
There is a delicate balance between allowing children to use social media and monitoring their safety. It is the parent’s responsibility to set boundaries and teach children how to navigate the digital world within those boundaries. As always, parents can reach out to their child’s school counselor for additional support and resources. For parents whose children who have a device, who have access to a device, or who plan to allow a device in the future, do not delay in having a discussion about safety.
J.R. Arsenault is a detective with the Cobb County Police Department’s Special Victims Unit. He earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Georgia and has been in law enforcement for nearly 15 years, the last 8 of which he has served as a detective. He was honored as the 2020 SVU Detective of the Year and serves on the GBI Task Force for Internet Crimes Against Children. This WingTips post includes insights from his ParentEd. message for the MPCS community.
Viola Lussier serves as a High School Counselor and Director of Counseling Services at Mount Paran Christian School. If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone about issues you are facing, please reach out to one of the MPCS counselors, who can offer support and resources.
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