Jan Sterba, a clinician who has worked with teens who have mental health, drug and alcohol use and abuse issues for 20 years, provides parents with valuable information about keeping your children safer. For many of us, the new technology of our children are so adept at using can be quite overwhelming. Our teens are now doing a great deal of their socializing through social networking sites on the Internet or text messaging with their cell phones to individuals they may have never seen. Although teens believe that they are immune to danger and that everyone on their social networks are being absolutely truthful in their posts, there are many individuals out there who want to exploit our children and introduce them to things that are dangerous and unhealthy. Although cell phones are great for staying in contact with friends and family, have you heard about sextexting? This is a practice of sending nude or semi-nude photos or videos using cell phones. The risk is that these photos can easily be sent to others and posted on the Internet where they can be viewed by anyone any time now or in the future. Teens can download videos to their IPods as well, which could contain provocative or pornographic images. Another frightening feature of the technology our teens employ is that it can be used to obtain drugs.
True Teen Stories:
"My cell phone was the most important tool for me to get drugs. I kept all of my drug dealers’ names in my phone book on my cell phone and I would sometimes put them under other names so nobody could find out.
"In the past, the Internet was a valuable resource for me when it came to drugs. I was always searching for new ways to get high."
"At the time, I was visiting a lot of chat rooms, meeting druggie guys, and they would IM me asking if I drank or got high. I didn’t think too much about giving them my cell phone number."
Did you know that one-third (33%) of 13-17 year olds and nearly half (48%) of 16-17 year olds report that their parents or guardians know "very little" or "nothing" about what they do on the Internet? Major media sources have been reporting about teen use of technology to obtain drugs and transmit inappropriate photos or videos, and many celebrities are being embarrassed by photos they sent to "just one person" that wind up on the Internet for all to view.
It is up to parents to monitor their children's Internet use and cell phone texting. Tips on how to keep track of and oversee your child's technology usage include:
• Limit your teen’s time spent online and put computers in a common area of the house where you can monitor what they are viewing or sending.
• Be clear and consistent about what is off limits. Make a list of the sites, games and chat rooms promoting drugs or sex. Inform them before they use the computer what the consequences will be if they violate the expectations of your home.
• Enforce the consequences. If you cannot enforce, then don’t make threats. The more meaningful the consequence to the teen, the more likely he or she will not break the rule. For example, if your teen is sextexting or emailing or texting someone you have deemed inappropriate, take the cell phone, computer or blackberry away for an extended time. You can also restrict use of these devices if they break curfew, smell of alcohol, smell of smoke or present as high on drugs. Remember, it is your home, you are paying for the phone or Internet access and you have the right and responsibility as a parent to establish rules and expectations.
• Learn about the digital devices your teen uses. The cell phone is a diary of what is going on in their life on a day-to-day basis. If you do not know how to explore this equipment, read the instruction manual or call customer service to request help from the service provider. As a parent, it is in your job to know what is going on with your children.
• Visit your teen’s Web site or personal blog. This will allow you to view the information your teen is sharing with others over the Internet. You can review pictures, video and music uploads, who the friends are and your teen's thoughts about drugs, sex and many other topics.
• Monitor your teen’s emails and Instant Messaging. You have a right to know with whom he or she is communicating on line. Ask who is on the phone and to see the Instant Messaging List. Do this on a regular basis as social networks are changing constantly.
• Remind your teen that the Internet is a public space. This means that anyone can review his or her sites, including a prospective employer, colleges and even predators. Take the time to talk to your teen about not posting personally identifiable information that could come back to haunt them later.
• Make sure your teen knows that everything on the “Web” is not necessarily legal. Alcohol, tobacco, illicit and prescription drugs are all marketed on the Internet, along with weapons, pornography and real-world sexual liaisons.
• Use technology to help monitor your teen. Go to MySpace.com or Facebook.com and set up your own account. Use text messaging to check in with your teen. If you teen has a camera phone, check photos he or she has received or sent regularly.
• If you suspect, then go the extra mile. Some of the technologies enable you to track the exact Web pages, blogs and message boards. Many of these same products have filtering devices that prevent teens from viewing inappropriate content.
It is the parent's responsibility to know what his or her child is doing and with whom. Teens need supervision and explicit rules to follow when using their computers and cell phones that will keep them safe now and in the future.