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Keeping Teens Safe in a Virtual World

August 26th, 2013

By: Mary Jo Rapini

Recently, I received a note of concern about the new Samsung Galaxy commercials. The commercial portrays a husband leaving for a business trip. His wife says to him, "Now here is a video especially for you, but you better not watch it on the plane," and she winks at him as they clink their phones together, which passes along the video (a new feature of the phone). Their two daughters stand behind her seeing this event but not saying anything. The person who mentioned this was concerned that this commercial was actually promoting sexy video sharing. To help calm the situation, I did mention that the couple in the commercial were married, and this was adult communication. But her concern is real. Are we prepared as parents for what this technology will be able to access for teens or younger children? Thinking we can keep this sort of technology out of their hands--or not buy this type of phone--is like burying our head in the sand. Our child may not have it (yet), but some will, and if it's extremely popular, every teen will have access.

Fast forward. A new app called "Snapchat" was launched on iTunes. This app allows you to take a picture, hit send, and control how long friends can view your message by setting the timer to up to ten seconds. Recipients have that long to view the message and then it disappears forever. The app says it will let you know if the recipient takes a screenshot. What, what and WHAT?! Why are we promoting the sharing and sending of inappropriate photos and videos?

Have we forgotten the many lessons we have learned in this area? We know that many of these sites aren't as secure as claimed, that settings sometimes don't work as we think they will, or that we lose our technology and those photos and videos are found by someone else! As adults, I am sure we haven't forgotten, but my concern is that kids have no idea what forever means, and they are way too trusting of advertisers making false claims to sell their product. Keeping sexy and/or naked photos or videos on your phone, tablet, or computer is not a good idea ever. It doesn't matter if you are an adult or a child; it is never in your best interest. I have seen negative effects of people sharing and sending private videos and photos. It can ruin job security, career opportunities and the ability to attend the college of your child's choice. Kids are bullied due to inappropriate sharing of information, and perhaps the worst situation is when something inappropriately shared leads to destroyed reputations and the suicide of the child victimized by classmates who didn't understand the destruction of their sharing.

It has never been easy being a parent, but technology, along with the benefits, presents challenges that make parenting more challenging than ever. If you have a child with a cell phone, your child is at risk because of what advertisers think will sell. There is an app for everything, and since teens are technologically gifted, they probably know more of them than you do. My concern is enhanced with teens' stage of development. They don't have full development of their frontal cortex until they are twenty-two, which means they don't have a full grasp on consequences, future concepts or an understanding of forever. Parents must step in and go over and over rules of the phone, and have a check in process with their child. The more engaged the parent, the better the child is with being responsible and having a vision for their future that they will protect.

Here are a few suggestions that can help you keep your child somewhat protected with their phone use. These tips are provided by  This company, along with, helps parents protect their children.

Mobile safety in general. Just as in chat rooms and social sites, kids need to think about who they text and talk with. They should never text/talk about sex with strangers. Phones should only be used to communicate with people they know in the real world.

Bullying by phone. Since young people's social lives increasingly include cell phones as well as the Web, cyber-bullying and harassment have gone mobile too. Talk with your kids about how the same manners and ethics you've always taught them apply on phones and the Web the same as in "real life."

Mobile social networking. Many social sites have a feature that allows users to check their profiles and post comments from their phones. That means some teens can do social networking literally anywhere, in which case any filter you may have installed on a home computer does nothing to block social networking. Talk with your teens about where they're accessing their profiles or blogs from and whether they're using the same good sense about how they're social networking on their phones.

Social mapping. More and more cell phones have GPS technology installed, which means teens who have these phones can pinpoint their friends' physical location--or be pinpointed by their friends. Talk with your kids about using such technology and advise them to use it only with friends they know in person.

Media-sharing by phone. Most mobile phones we use today have cameras, and some have video cams. Teens love to share media with friends on all types of mobile devices. There is both a personal-reputation and safety aspect to this. Talk with your teens about never letting other people photograph or film them in embarrassing or inappropriate situations (and vice versa). They need to understand their own and others' privacy rights in sharing photos and videos via cell phones.

'Smart phones.' We've already been over many smart- or 3G-phone features, but remember they usually include the Web. That means more and more people can access all that the Web offers, appropriate or not, on their phones as well as computers. Mobile carriers are beginning to offer filtering for the content available on their services, but they have no control over what's on the Web. Parents of younger kids might want to consider turning off Web access and turning on filtering if they're concerned about access to adult content.

With parenting none of us gets a second chance. We do the best we can with what we have. If you are a parent with tweens and teens, you need to understand technology and what your child is exposed to via the Internet, social networks, texting, and commercials. We all grew up wanting to be an adult. This feeling of wanting to be older is a common theme, but teens today achieve this acting older much differently than they may have when you were their age. Society is sexualizing our children more, which is demonstrated not only with clothing but with texting, sexting, and social networks. It all begins at home with discussions between parents and their children. The greatest gift we give our children is our time, and getting to know their world (that includes their virtual world as well).

Mary Jo  Rapini is an expert for which helps parents begin the dialogue with their kids about safety with Internet, phone, and social media use.

Tags: Safety, Teens, Tweens

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