By Dana Barrett You can’t win. The holidays are upon us, and in addition to our children clamoring for the latest video game or gadget – many of them (especially the Tween set) are hoping for their first cell phone. As we all know – owning a cell phone has very little to do with making calls, and everything to do with the freedom to connect - mostly via social media.
So, what’s a parent to do when their 10-year-old pleads that, “Everyone else in the class has one and I’m the only one being left out!”?
I don’t know about you, but I watched the Facebook whistleblower hearings with great concern. It’s frustrating (but not entirely surprising) to hear that the social media giants are well-aware of the deleterious effects of their prize product (Instagram) on your child’s psyche. As we all know, social media companies greed doesn’t seem to have an age limit. And now they’re mining ever younger user data so they can turn it into big bucks. Unfortunately, the memos that surfaced as part of the Facebook hearings actually discuss tapping into children’s play date time to try and get them on screens!
An enlightening New York Times video entitled, “What’s One of the Most Dangerous Toys for Kids? The Internet” is filled with adorable children sharing their ideas about going online. The video also discusses user statistics, shedding light on some of the safety issues with Instagram and YouTube:
• One study had adult researchers create new Instagram accounts posing as 13 to 15 year-olds. Within the first 24 hours of use, every account the researchers created received private messages (DM’s) from adult strangers. Just as disturbing, the more posts that a teen liked – the more extreme the content that the Instagram algorithm exposed them to - including sexual content, violence, and extreme dieting sites.
• Even though social media platforms have a disclaimer that says, “You must be 13 to use this site”, one study from the last year indicates that 40% of 9- to 12- year-olds reported that they visit Instagram every day, and 78% of that same group reported watching videos across all of YouTube and not on YouTube Kids, a site designed specifically for children’s video content back in 2015.
The regular version of YouTube still has a wealth of content designed for young children since most of the channels were established prior to the creation of YouTube Kids.
According to research in the New York Times video, a large majority of the ads that run during children’s animated programming on YouTube are for things like dating sites, alcohol, and even political opinions – does that make any sense to you?
Google has worked harder to safeguard the content on their YouTube Kids video platform, however, in March of this year Commonsense Media reported: “YouTube Kids is mostly safe, but there's a small chance that kids could see • Nudity • Violence • or just weird stuff, as well as ads for stuff like junk food.”
A small chance that your kids could see nudity? Does that make any sense to you?
Our children are a gift – the most precious thing in our lives. We, as parents, have to develop strategies to protect our kids online and especially on their phones. Until big social media companies agree to dedicate resources to creating solutions designed specifically to produce positive engagement and protect their adolescent audience, we need to be just as vigilant online, as when we are protecting them in the real world.
But just like in the real world, we can’t always be with them when they’re on the internet during classes, searching the web for homework, taking mini-breaks, or having downtime in solitude.
So, how do you win? At holiday time do you purchase that phone your Tween’s pleading for? Every parent has their own version of what ‘feels correct’ and has to stay true to that. For me I think the answer is always found on the middle path, where you establish a clear set of boundaries. If you decide to get them a phone, explain to them your feelings and what level of use you’re comfortable with. If they agree, you have a deal. If not, they don’t get a phone. I’ve also found that establishing respect for your child and demanding the same respect in return is the foundation of any healthy agreement around social media. If your agreement is respected, they have their freedom. If they break those boundaries, then they’ve broken the agreement and you get to re-establish stricter rules. That has always worked for me.
Finding a path forward for your family involves a delicate balancing act that can only succeed with a real-time, ongoing dialogue with your child. Being present and interested in what they are experiencing on social media and the internet will be meaningful to them. Your connection to them trumps everything else. It’s the only thing that matters.
At Elevated Life Solutions, we feel very strongly about connecting, providing and protecting for those who don’t even have technology, so that they can join the rapidly advancing world and not be left behind. It’s why we have also partnered with Cybersmarties, which is the only secure, fully monitored social network that is for school children only, and has ended cyberbullying and ended predatory behavior completely on their platform since 2017.
They are also a member of the UNICEF/ Global Partnership to End Violence against Children, and currently protect over 300,000 children in 3 different countries.
You can donate once and help twice. Help put technology in the hands of those without, so that families and children don’t fall behind in our rapidly advancing world, and know that you’re supporting children going onto a protected locked down social network designed for children only, to play in safely and securely.
Our fundraising efforts support both goals. Please help today! Donate once, to help twice.