Expert urges parents to stay educated with teens online

By: 
Kate Wehlann, Staff Writer
It’s one of the new rights of passage for older children and teens — their first cell phone. Digital devices like tablets, phones and laptops usually offer a high satisfaction rating among kids at Christmas, but with personal devices like cell phones, there’s a monumental responsibility that comes with staying safe in the vast and relatively untethered world of the internet.
“Parents and today’s teens grew up in very different generations,” said Nick Chernoff, with Safer Schools Together, an organization determined to help parents and other adults in children’s lives, like teachers, help students keep themselves safe online. “Jobs, colleges and universities will be looking at their social media profiles and what they put out there.”
Continuously connected
Chernoff was at East Washington Schools on Tuesday, Dec. 5, to hold presentations with students throughout the day and a parent meeting that evening. He said he was able to access a significant percentage of students’ Facebook pages with just a few names of students who did not have privacy settings on their profiles.
“They were all connected and open accounts,” he said. “We’re constantly connected with the internet. We’re lucky, but unlucky in that way … Nothing is private anymore. The minute it’s out there, it’s public and that can be used positively or negatively, and it stays out there, even if it’s getting deleted.”
Along with safety matters, he discussed ways to help teens learn when to take a step back and put down their phones in order to maintain face-to-face social skills.
He suggested a sit-down, family meeting to talk about digital use and set some ground rules for the way kids will use technology in the home. He mentioned setting technology limits, perhaps prohibiting kids from having their phone or laptop in their bedrooms.
“The most prevalent sexting is done between 1 and 3 a.m.,” he said. “Kids are more likely to engage in risky behavior after Mom or Dad have gone to bed.”
He suggesting putting the wifi modem in a parent’s bedroom and turning it off when they go to bed, along with instituting parental controls on all kids’ devices.
“Make technology a privilege, not a right,” said Chernoff.
That said, Chernoff cautioned against taking devices away after every single poor choice made online.
“If we get mad and take the device after every single thing they do, they won’t come to you when they should, when they’re in trouble and need help,” he said. “Set ground rules from day one. ‘This is for you, but we’ll learn it together.’ You wouldn’t give a kid keys to a car and send them on their way. It’s the same with digital devices.”
He encouraged parents to educate themselves on social media and not to just consider the age limits imposed by the media outlets to determine when a young person should get an account.
“Technology is here and it’s not going away,” he said. “Saying, ‘technology isn’t my thing and it’s not going to be my thing,’ is the wrong attitude to take.”
This story is the first of a four-part serires on the digital world.
Part 2 will deal with media addiction and just how long digital information lasts (hint: it’s usually forever).
 

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