Parenting in the New Age of Texting
A lot of stories about parents invading their kids’ “privacy” have been headlining the news lately and fueling the debate over teen privacy and safety. Skyrocketing this issue back into the spotlight recently was a leaked viral video of a 13 year old girl showed her father shaving her hair off as punishment for inappropriate online conduct. In a devastating twist of events, the young girl committed suicide after her shaming.
Unfortunately, this case isn’t unique.
Our teens flock to social media and technology as a primary source of interaction leads to alarming rates of bullying, sexting, online predators, and links to suicide. Many parents are left to question if they should monitor a teen’s online activity and invade a child’s privacy to avoid traumatic outcomes. This dilemma has the potential to place single mothers in a precarious situation when they need to be the sole eyes, ears, enforcer, and caregiver in the family.
Human Development And The Need For Privacy
As a single parent it is important to understand that the longing for personal space is an innate need. It can be easy to see our child’s withdrawal as a personal attack, but this desire for privacy plays a special role in the formation of our self-identity. Normally, this peaks during adolescence when children start realizing their dreams, what they stand for, and their life goals.
The prefrontal cortex in the human brain which controls risk assessment, judgment, and impulse control is still under construction during the time a child craves privacy the most. Recent data and research shows that during adolescence the brain undergoes a final period of growth that results in a mature brain around the age of 25. Yes, you read that correctly. The brain doesn’t reach maturity until the mid 20’s!
A teen’s brain development and need to pull away from us can set youth up for a turbulent teen experience full of bad decisions. Unfortunately, a teen’s tendency to act before thinking, coupled with constant connectivity on social media and cell phones, might expose them to risky choices and secretive behaviors. This can set them up to clash with a parent when it comes to the subject of privacy.
7 Items To Consider When It Comes To Online Privacy
It’s easy to see how this debate over privacy and safety is a real concern, but everyone needs to sit back and contemplate this issue. Our child’s self-expression might seem harmless enough, but they are sharing a lot of personal information that has the possibility of being retrieved or shared with a worldwide audience. This can have many implications for single parent households, because there is no one else to fall back on to keep your child safe.
Here are seven questions to ask and discuss with our children to protect a teen’s online privacy before their next login:
- Am I sharing personal details that can be used to find my location? Take a careful look at the photos you post. Can you see your work’s logo, the gym you frequent, or your favorite restaurant in the background?
- Do the apps I have on my phone track or share my location? Many apps and smart devices automatically track your location. If you are uncomfortable with people knowing your whereabouts 24/7 make sure you logout of your accounts or disable the location tracking on your phone.
- Could this photo or information be used to shame or hurt me? Follow the golden rule of social media and only post what you would feel comfortable with your dear Grammy seeing.
- If I sext, do I trust the person on the other connection with this sensitive material? Once you hit send, the receiver holds all the power in the relationship. If a relationship dissolves, it is common for an ex to share personal photos to cause you pain. If you do decide to sext, keep your face and distinguishing features out of the frame.
- Do my social media profiles share too much personal information that can make stealing my identity easy? Maiden names, pet names, family details, and past school history are often questions used on credit applications. Take a few minutes and double check what is public information on your profiles and limit sharing your profiles for apps or quizzes on social media.
- When I talk about upcoming plans or trips, do I make myself an easy target for thieves or predators? Many thefts and assaults have happened due to social media. If you are planning a trip, keep the details offline. If you are meeting to sell an item, meet in a public place such as a police station parking lot. Stay safe and look at your activity from the viewpoint of a predator.
- Have I checked my privacy settings lately? Look to see what information you are sharing with strangers and the online public. Social media sites are notorious for updating their policies or changing their default settings, so it is always a good idea to double check your settings every now and then to safeguard your personal data.
Privacy Versus Safety
Social media and the Internet are wonderful tools when it comes to authentic communication and connecting families, but it is important to take steps to safeguard our loved ones. Privacy and safety isn’t only an issue facing teenagers- it affects everyone who registers on social media or uses a cell phone.
The U.S. appears to be split between parents who think that monitoring what children do on their phones is spying and parents who think it is for a child’s own good. Often we mean well, in our hearts we believe we are protecting kids from everything coming at them in this digital age. Surprisingly, this dilemma finds us at a crossroads where people are questioning if online privacy or safety is more important.
What are your views about online privacy and safety?
Amy Williams is a free-lance journalist based in Southern California and mother of two. As a parent, she enjoys spreading the word on positive parenting techniques in the digital age and raising awareness on issues like cyberbullying and online safety.