Many of us are really looking forward to the holidays. They mean presents, good food, festive gatherings, and fun times with family and friends. Kids are especially excited since it means a break from the school schedule. For adults, however, the holidays are a mixed blessing. They can mean extra stress, travel, food preparation, and financial strain. Here’s one more thing for adults to consider: Kids on computers during their holiday break.
Technology provides many positive opportunities, and it also carries some hazards if you aren’t prepared. When kids are home more, they have more time to get bored and turn to their smartphones, computer gaming, and social media chat apps. Since 95% of kids have internet access and 87% have a smartphone, it makes it easy to believe that young people spend an average of 11 hours using media. That makes media the “super-peer” socializer, a powerful influencer about norms and behaviors.
Let’s talk about three important topics related to kids on computers:
Most parents do not believe their children view porn. However, kids on computers can easily stumble into sexually explicit images. In fact, 1 in 4 youth has seen porn by age 12. In 2010, 30% of 10-to-13-year-olds had seen porn. We must talk about it with our kids before we think they need to hear it.
In 1985, the average person only viewed sexually explicit images 5 times a year. In 2005, that increased to 5 times a week. The advent of the internet in 2002 changed porn forever: It became Available, Affordable, and Anonymous. Now, anyone can find free porn online. It is available 24/7 in the privacy of homes. Porn use is anonymous if a person either uses an incognito browser or erases their history after viewing. Many adults don’t know these tech tricks, but you can bet kids do.
Learn more about the use of porn by teens at Dr. Emily Rothman’s TED talk. For tools to help teach kids about porn, look at these talking points and watch this educational video with your kids. We will talk more about kids viewing sexually explicit images in future blog posts. For now, just remember that it is important to tell young people:
- Avoid sites that are for adults and show naked or partially clothed people.
- If an adult site pops up, let a parent or other trusted adult know so they can help.
- If they view sites that show sexually explicit images, they can always talk to a parent or other trusted adult about any images that are confusing or frightening.
You are probably familiar with the term “sexting”, but perhaps you have never heard of sextortion. It is a combination of “sex” and “extortion,” and it refers to extorting sexual behavior and images from kids through online video games and social media chat sites. Young people can easily get caught up in this exploitive form of online child sexual abuse if they aren’t taught how to avoid it.
Learn more about sextortion and the places that can expose your young person to this crime. Next, review Savvy Cyber Kids for families or for educators and select the tools to use with your young people. Use these FBI tools as appropriate with your child.
Important messages to discuss with your young person include:
- Never provide photos to anyone using your computer, gaming, or smartphone without asking a parent or other trusted adult first.
- When someone asks you for a photo in a chat or text, always let a parent or other trusted adult know.
It might be tempting to forbid all use of the internet, gaming, and chat rooms, but this would prevent young people from learning all the valuable uses of technology. So, what can a caring adult do to protect young people while encouraging their use of technology? Here are a few places to start:
- Parental Monitoring: Watchful parents are more likely to know if kids on computers are wandering into danger. Keep computers and smartphones out of bedrooms; instead, keep their use limited to public spaces and prescribed times. Be nearby when young people use the internet, play video games, or use a smartphone so they can request your help as needed. Play video games with them so you can understand how to use and monitor them. Review their internet browser history to look for visits to sites that could be dangerous. Know their phone password and go through the phone together from time to time to make sure they aren’t being asked for or shown nude photos. Careful though! It is a fine line between monitoring and invading privacy. This line depends on the young person’s age and level of responsibility, your relationship to the young person, and your technology use agreement.
- Technology Use Agreement: With your child or student, draw up an agreement that outlines how each form of technology will be used. Specify the locations, times, and conditions of use. Record the warning signs that indicate a need for adult help. Sign the agreement and keep it handy so you can review it together every month. Many examples of technology use agreements are available for you to personalize.
- Parental Controls: Many forms of technology allow parents to set controls that impose limits on use by children and teens. Use them. However, be aware that young people will usually be savvier about technology use than their parents, teachers, and other adults. Read how teens get around parental controls and prepare to use additional strategies for safeguarding your kids. Read and use these eight strategies for protecting kids from online predators.
- Teach Media Literacy: Media literacy can provide students with the skills needed to understand and respond to the onslaught of media messages that bombard them. Learn more about media literacy. Then, find out if your school teaches media literacy. Puberty: The Wonder Years can help; it includes a lesson on media literacy in grade 5.
- Teach Internet Safety: Children ages 9-11 are becoming more independent, and that includes their use of the Internet. Become familiar with Internet safety for pre-teens and teach your child how to use the Internet safely.