How Parents Can Mitigate the Risk of their Child Becoming Involved in Sexually Inappropriate Online
Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Pintrest, Skype, Vine, Omegle, Chatroulette , NBHNC, Skout, Blendr, Grindr, Kik, Keek, Snapchat, Text+. So what do all these things have in common? The answer may surprise you; they are all digital places, or apps, that some (and I emphasize some) youth will utilize for online sexually inappropriate behaviour. This online sexually inappropriate behavior has many names, depending upon the Social Network or App, which include; sexting, sextcasting, instasex, wheeling, Kiking plus many many more.
Given how quickly social networks and communication apps are created and sent to market, it is no wonder that parents, and even social media safety advocates such as myself, can not keep up with the newest trends in how these digital media tools are being utilized for sexually inappropriate or even criminal behavior. The other reality, what is digitally popular with our youth today, may not necessarily be digitally popular tomorrow.
When you combine a youth’s natural sexual curiosity with the pornification of our youth in today’s pop culture, and then mix in the psychological disinhibition effect that the internet possesses with the current research on teenage brain development and function, it shouldn’t surprise us that some youth will sexually do things online that they really shouldn’t be doing.
So what can we as parents do to help minimize such behaviour?
1) Stop chasing the app/social network wolf:
Some parents, once they know of a problematic social network (SN) or app, will then block it or remove it from their child’s computer or mobile device. The problem with this tactic; as quick as you can identify one of these sites or Apps and take it down, another new one will pop up that you are unaware of. This results in the parent constantly chasing what I like to call the “App/SN Wolf,” which usually leads to some youth being two steps ahead of the parent. Should parents block or delete inappropriate sites and apps as they become known? Yes, they should. Understand, however, that like a hydra, once you cut off or delete one problematic app, two more will appear. Today’s digital youth are very good at online adaptation, as are the creators of problematic social networks and apps.
Remember: although some parents and caregivers would rather stick their heads in the sand and prohibit their child from having any access to the internet as their way to prevent their child from getting involved in less than desirable behaviour, this tactic could in fact be the greatest risk of all; given that the lack of access to technology in today’s real world, correlates with the lack of access to educational and job opportunities, important health care information and societal participation in the 21st century.
2) It’s about communication:
Have a healthy discussion with your kids about sexuality and the dangers of sharing sexually inappropriate pictures and messages on-line. Nothing is private in the digital world, and youth should know and understand that anything they post, no matter their privacy settings, should be considered public, permanent, searchable and extremely exploitable. There are now apps that will allow the user to send a picture or message that once opened, will automatically delete the same picture or message after 5, 10, 15, 20, or even 30 seconds. This leads some youth to believe that if a “questionable” picture is automatically deleted, then there is no danger in it being shared with others. What these same youth forget; anything posted online via computer, cell phone or other digital device can still be screen captured within seconds and shared publicly with others, both online and offline, which can now lead to real world public embarrassment or even criminal consequences such as extortion or what is called “sextortion” in the digital world.
Ask your child about the social networks that they participate in and the apps that they have and use, especially those on their mobile devices. If you are unsure about a social network or app, then Google it and read the reviews which leads to point #3.
3) It’s about knowledge:
Knowledge and the understanding and application of that knowledge is power. Parents need to start educating themselves about what their kids are doing online because without “real” online knowledge, how can a parent have open and honest communication about online desirable and less-than-desirable behavior. There are several ways to do this, the most important of which, have you kids teach you about the internet, social networking and the apps that they are using. There is also a ton of information on-line that can assist the parent with the quest for digital knowledge, much of which can be found on my blog located at:
or, on my “Internet Safety Resource Page” for parents and educators located at:
4) It’s about digital parental overwatch:
When it comes to parental overwatch, many youth will immediately go on the attack and say, “what you don’t trust me.” My answer to this challenge, “ First and foremost, I love you, and as a parent it’s my role and duty to ensure that you are safe and secure until such time as you are emotionally, psychologically, and physically old enough to no longer need my direct supervision.” To me, parental overwatch is not about trust; it’s about love and our parental responsibility when it comes to the supervision, verification, safety, and security specific to both the online and offline activities of our kids. Welcome to parenting in a digital age.
Parental overwatch should not be covert but rather overt (combined with communication) in nature. Exception to this rule, if overt parental overwatch is not working and there is a safety risk to your child, covert parental overwatch may be reasonable. I believe as parents, we have to model desirable on-line behavior for our kids. If we want our kids to be open, honest and transparent with us about their internet activities, then we need to be such with them as well. Using covert “spyware” would not accomplish this goal, and thus why I say that it should only be considered in those extreme situations where there are no other options to keeping your child safe. When it comes to overt monitoring software (meaning that your child knows it is there and why), I am very supportive of such technology being installed on all computers and mobile devices until such time as you as the parent believe that your child is a good “digital citizen,” then such technology would not be warranted. Obviously this will be different from child to child.
The information that I shared in this blog posting was designed to be both protective and enabling for parents and youth. From the moment that our kids begin to surf via a computer, cell phone or other digital device, we want them to be mindful, safe, and effective as good productive digital citizens as they become consumers, producers, communicators and stakeholders in this live digital echo system that we call the internet.
Remember, rather than just chasing the App/SN Wolf, lets start teaching our kids about good digital citizenship and the difference between desirable and less than desirable online behaviour and its consequences. In doing so, we will have created a strong moral and ethical digital foundation in our kids, thus teaching them how to become their own digital sheepdog, which will then likely help them to make the right online decision(s) no matter the App/SN Wolf that may be enticing them in, especially those dressed in sheep’s clothing.
Digital Food For Thought