We live in a culture where most are constantly plugged into digital devices. There are few, if any, individuals that are not connected to social media in some manner or another. What first appeared to be the cutting edge of technology has grown into a massive monster that now monopolizes our thoughts, time and energy.
No longer can parents, teachers, coaches, counselors and others that are influential with children stick their heads in the sand and ignore the growing problems involved with social media. Even those that were in on the ground floor of creating this new technology at its onset have recognized the eventual pitfalls and have started to rally cry the dangers that exist*. Open and honest discussions about the dangers of social media must take place to safe guard the hearts and minds of the youngest consumers of this ever-growing product. Here are just a few topics you can discuss with children to help aid online safety in the enormous world of online media:
- Stanger Danger-Communicate with kids that many people that they interact with online may not be who they say they are. Predators are out there looking for victims, and children are highly susceptible to falling for their tricks. Be wise and monitor your child’s Internet usage!
- Cyberbullying-Talk to kids about the act of cyberbullying and how it can be harmful to others. Some kids may not even realize that they are participating in this activity. Cyberbullying is defined as, “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices”. This includes sharing private and/or personal information about someone that causes shame or embarrassment for someone else and commonly occurs via social media sites such as Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. It can also occur via SMS (short message service) text messaging, email and instant messaging via apps. Repeated acts of cyberbullying can have lasting and irreversible effects on the self-confidence of a child’s heart. Make sure your child understands what cyberbullying is and encourage them to refrain from participating in this activity.
- Electronic Footprint- Remind kids that everything that they post online can be viewed by friends and foes. An online presence creates a public record (also known as an electronic footprint) which is accessible by schools, employers, colleges and anyone else that is actively researching a person. Whatever is posted online is permanent and can be retrieved from the cyberworld if it is ever needed. Children need to understand that an inappropriate picture snapped today can have lasting consequences down the road.
So, what’s the solution to living in this new age of technology? Is merely talking to kids about the dangers enough? How does one use technology, but not become obsessed and addicted? How does one prevent their kids from becoming isolated in a world of apps? The start of the solution is to simply unplug. Taking a break from digital consumption can open up a world of possibilities for rest, rejuvenation and exploration not only to kids, but also to adults.
While unplugging long term may be an unrealistic goal in this modern day, intentionally unplugging for a span of time can serve to help the physical, mental and social health of individuals. A good way to start this process is to participate in the National Day of Unplugging. In 2018, over 60,000 people from across the globe intentionally unplugged from their devices for a 24-hour period from sundown to sundown. As a result of unplugging for just 24 hours, many reported positive responses. According to the National Day of Unplugging website, “over 90% reported that their participation increased their awareness about their personal digital consumption and that the NDU raised their awareness about the importance of reclaiming time to connect with loved ones.” While unplugging for 24 hours may not solve all the problems associated with the dangers of social media, it is a good way to start to learn the practice of self-discipline. It also allows people time to spend time with other people face to face and focus on things that really matter. How about giving it a try before the next official day and see what unplugging can do for you and those that you love?
*Common Sense Media is a not-for-profit organization that promotes safe technology and media for children. Check out their website to learn more about how this organization is attempting to reform the tech industry to help improve the digital lives of children.