td411: created by CCADV

td411: created by CCADV

I am at a disadvantage when it comes to keeping up with my kids and their use of technology.  Just to remind you, they are 6 and 5, so this is not good news.  While I can be found on Facebook, have an almost dormant account on Twitter, remember to reboot the computer as the 1st line of defense when something goes wrong and recently upgraded to both a smartphone and a Kindle HD; my kids are using Wikispaces (Wiki-what?  I thought Wiki was only followed by “pedia.”)  My son’s classroom (1st grade) has a blog, and they are instituting a district-wide “Bring your Own Device to School” program.

This is when I comfort myself by saying that we had children a tad later in life (mid-30’s) and folks at the grocery store do ask if I’m Grandma.  I’m excused from keeping up, right?

Well, except…

Social media offers opportunities for connection, but also more chances to be mean-spirited and hurtful. Children and youth who have reported bullying mentioned social media sites as where they were bullied at alarming rates. 92.6% reported Facebook, while 4.5% of those bullied reported a physical altercation with their bully (TRU Insights and McAfee). Somehow, the perceived anonymity of the internet allows youth a freedom to engage in bullying behavior without fear of consequences. While in “real life” 85% those who are bullied or victimized know their attacker/offender, over the internet that is only true 50% of the time.  The veiled anonymity seems to bring out less than our most stellar selves.

While many schools have policies prohibiting cyber-bullying, and both Connecticut and the Federal Government consider cyber-stalking to be a crime, enforcement is tough. Our society often places the burden on victims, asking them to please show the texts, posts, and tweets that are mean-spirited, hurtful and/or threatening. Yet to truly prevent cyber-bullying, we need to prevent kids and youth from using social media to cause harm. According to TRU Insight, parents are left in the dark. Only 10% of parents are aware of cyber-bullying in their child’s life. Yet, adults are in the best positions to set boundaries for appropriate use.

You can help. Decide at what age your kids are responsible enough to have accounts by the level of responsibility they otherwise show. Try to keep up with your kids’ digital savvy. This is tough, but it’s what it takes to watch your kids’ social activity, and that’s key. As a general rule, “if you’ll hide the post from me, don’t post it, period.” One step is to friend your kid to see their daily posts, but do more. Weekly, log in as them so you can see everything they’ve posted, even “custom” messages. Keep the lines of communication open, promote kindness and “standing up.” Bystander intervention is key: kids are most likely listen to other kids saying “don’t post that, it’s cruel,” or “that was harsh and not true, let’s go together to report them.”  Remember, monitoring social media is not the same as reading a diary.  Social Media engages more people than simply your child.  Privacy is not guaranteed by the sites, and need not be guaranteed by you.

If your teen is about enter the dating world, download this app, an ally in their cyber-corner: td411.

Like other advances, technology and social media are here to stay. While it can be another method towards cruelty, the opposite is also true. We can help our community of children to learn from an early age how to use technology responsibly, with kindness, and with a world of information at their fingertips. You can join your child as they travel down this risky road of opportunity by being their informed ally and monitoring the cyber-waves. Good luck!

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