Tonight, I will be at Hillsborough High School on another “World of a Teen” panel representing social media. I have gotten some questions ahead of time and I’m going to answer them here in preparation for tonight.
How can parents limit social media and texting all the time?
We know teens are spending many hours online and that they are always plugged in. They might actually be doing homework, but then see a notification and they check their phones and lose the important concentration they need. When they are doing anything, they are usually multitasking and checking their phones. Good tips from an article from Very Well Family are to let your child know that the phone is a privilege to be earned after homework has been completed; be a good role model for your child; and set boundaries such as no phone in the bedroom at night, no phone at meals/while riding with you in the car, and/or a certain time for phone use to end each night. You can also plan screen-free activities that get the whole family outside doing something active. My advice is to make sure it doesn’t seem like screentime is causing problems with grades, sleep, exercise, involvement with other activities, and engagement with the family. If it is, it’s time to have a talk with your child.
What should a parent do if a child is online gaming all night?
Obsessive gaming may not be an official psychological disorder yet, but it certainly can interfere with other activities. Signs that might indicate problems with gaming include spending long amounts of time playing, thinking about the game while doing other activities, using gaming as an escape from problems, being irritable when not allowed to game, and lying about time spent gaming. If the gaming is impacting sleep and the ability to function the next day, then the parent needs to get involved. You will need to set and enforce rules about gaming. First, the device your child is playing on should be removed from their room at night. If they are sneaking into another room in the house, then you need to consider how to secure that room. If the pull to gaming is too strong, parents might want to consider a visit to a psychologist.
How can I talk to my child about sending inappropriate photos via text?
In Florida, if a minor sends or has a photo of another minor with nudity or sexual conduct, they receive a warning for the first violation. They either have to appear in juvenile court or complete eight hours of community service, pay a $60 fine, or complete a cyber-safety program. For the second offense, the teen will face a more serious penalty that can include fines, probation, or placement in a juvenile detention facility. The penalties are more serious if an adult has or transmits a photo of a minor, which could easily happen with a 18-year-old boy and his 17-year-old girlfriend. Given all that, it’s important to talk to your child about not sending or requesting these photos. This story from Seventeen offers some sexting horror stories, and it might be a good resource to share with your daughter. This article from the New York Times on teen sexting culture is another good resource.
Are there specific sites that my child should avoid?
Some sites I have learned about in my informal research include 4Chan, where users anonymously share a range of content, and Omegle, a chat roulette type of platform where users chat with another random user. Your child might even download apps that hide other content on the phone. This article from Mashable points out how this works on different apps.
Should I be tracking my child’s phone to see where she is going online?
This is a tough question to answer because you want to give your child some freedom to express themselves and build relationships with friends. Would you have wanted your mom to read your diary/notes from friends and listen to your phone calls back in the day? No! Also, kids are really smart and might create a separate account that they log into from their friend’s phone or use many other tactics. This reddit conversation shows some of their creative ideas. They are very savvy and find ways to circumvent your efforts. This article from Digital Trends gives you a starting place. Qustodio is one I saw mentioned in several of these lists and Norton is also an excellent company. These platforms often have limitations so you will need to compare to see if they do what you want them to do. For example, it doesn’t look like Qustodio will show you what your child posts on social media, just how much time they use. You can see their texts, but kids who know texts are being read will use other apps (they probably do anyway). You also might want a monitoring platform that shows you the photos taken on the phone and I’m not sure Qustodio offers that. You might also check your internet service provider to see what controls they offer. For example, Verizon offers a variety of safeguards you might be interested in.