Does this scene sound familiar? You’re at the dinner table and your grandkids are fiddling on whatever latest technology gadget they have. Most likely they are on a social media site chatting with their friends, or giving an update on their every move.
Currently there are more than 900 million people on Facebook, and while children under the age of 13 aren’t supposed to use the mega-popular social networking site, it’s still far too easy for them to skirt that rule. According to Consumer Reports, about 5.6 million underage kids have accounts. Plus, they say 800,000 minors have reported that they were harassed or subjected to other forms of cyberbullying on Facebook. Is your grandchild included in this statistic?
The fact is that we live in a technologically driven world and the youngest generation is the fastest adapter. Children 8-18 years old are spending 53 hours a week online or in front of a tv screen, accroding to a recent study from The Henry J. Kasier Family Foundation. Unfortunately with the increase of time spent online we are also seeing an increase with the disconnect between children’s emotions and their online comments. Kids are growing up in a world where they put their every move and emotion, as mundane as it may be, either on social media sites, in emails, or in text message to be broadcast to millions of people – many being strangers. The major issue is that when these updates or messages are being sent kids are not seeing the emotional reaction tied to those reading them. The combination of strangers seeing messages mixed with the lack of emotional responsibility has lead to issues like cyberbullying, sexting, and online predators.
A staggering 43 percent of kids have admitted to being cyberbullied and this number is increasing at a rapid rate. In too many cases cyberbullying has resulted in a child taking their own life. Those cyberbullying do not realize that their words can be extremely hurtful to another since they are not watching the reaction of the bully victim after they read their message. It is important to teach kids how to use online tools responsibly and encourage the emotional connect to those they interact with online. Be sure that privacy settings on all of their accounts are set appropriately and passively monitor when applicable. It is important to allow kids to keep their freedom, but it is also important for family members to still remember it is their job to parent.
Of 4 -12 year olds 50 percent own a cell phone with texting capabilities. It is a family’s decision if they think that their child is responsible enough to have a cell phone, let alone a cell phone with texting abilities, but it is also a family’s responsibility to teach them how to use it appropriately. In a poll, 52 percent of young girls said that pressure from a guy were the reasons for sending a suggestive message or image. Not only has sexting increased in the last years, but so has the punishment tied to it. Many states now consider sexting, where a minor is involved, an offense that can result in having to register as a sex offender.A good texting start for your grandkids would be to use WebTexting. They can be setup on a filtering system that allows text messages to be sent from an online account to any phone. The back and forth conversation does not appear any different on a cell phone then a traditional text-to-text conversation. It will be passively monitored and once they prove they can send messages appropriately upgrade them to that cell phone with the texting capabilities they’ve been asking for.
We’ve all watched to Catch a Predator and been in shock about what’s going on, but always saying in the back of our head “my kid would never do that”. Every parent’s motto is better safe than sorry and that same motto should be carried through to the online world. Make sure your grandkids are only talking to contacts that are known to the family. There are so many ways for fake profiles to be-friend your grandkids and start chatting with them through instant messenger or even worse video chat applications. It is frightening to think a stranger across the world could be having a face to face conversation with your grandkid via video camera on their computer. In a poll done by the Girl Scouts 30 percent of young girls said they had been sexually harassed in a chat room. It is vital to keep this type of contact non-existent so that your grandchild can have an age appropriate interaction while online. It is important for kids to be able to marvel in the wonders that the Internet provides, but always remember once something has been seen or read it can never be undone.
Of the kids who have been cyberbullied, seen inappropriate content in an online message, or have been approached by online predators 58 percent did not tell their parents about the incident out of fear of having their access to technology taken away. Your grandkids should be brought into the online world in a safe environment and be constantly re-assured that the lines of communication are open between them and their parents, or grandparents. Look for the product that has filtering tools, approved contact lists, age appropriate games, and etc for their first online experience. When kids are taught to ride a bike you simply don’t throw them on and tell them to peddle; you supply them with helmets, elbow pads, and training wheels. The online world can be just as dangerous, if not more, as a fall on a bike. As a grandparent make sure that they are well protected and put the online wheels on your grandkid today.