A fundamental question that parents must confront repeatedly throughout parenthood, “How do I balance protecting them from the world around them vs. prepare them for the world they will launch into?” When it comes to technology parents often don’t know what dangers their kids face.
Do you remember the sixteen-year-old Michigan girl who made headlines about ten years ago when she ran away, got on a plane and flew to the Middle East to meet a young man she ‘met’ on MySpace.com in 2005? Her family was able to get her home with the help of the FBI because she was a minor. The young man she was corresponding with online, texting and speaking to on the phone was able to convince her to come up with an elaborate scheme to deceive her family, leave her friends and go to a foreign county all without ever having met face-to-face.
Her mother told the media she was taken completely by surprise, that she had not monitored whom her daughter was speaking to on the phone because her daughter had never gone over on her minutes. I regularly hear parents remark that they do not monitor their kid’s phones or social media accounts and it always scares me.
A recent article by Michelle Drouin, PhD at Indiana University about a fifth of the collage age students surveyed had been pressured or coerced into sending “sexts.” This phenomenon is not unique to college kids as this is on the rise with middle and high school age kids. Dr. Drouin reports that her findings suggest that being coerced into “sexting” is frequently more traumatic for adolescents and teens than being coerced into physical sex acts. She has also suggested that her data is pointing to the possibility of a new form of relational abuse.
The solution is not to remove your children from all social media and to set their phone on fire, but rather to have a balance between speaking, listening and monitoring. Books like “iRules: What Every Tech-Healthy Family Needs to Know about Selfies, Sexting, Gaming and Growing up” by Janell Hofmann help to provide a framework and a language for parents who may feel overwhelmed by the task of preparing their kids for the a connected world.