By Jamie Mesar, Manager, Child Advocacy Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC
When viewing these letters in the title of this post, several of us see nothing more than a jumbled mess, but to many teenagers and children, it is a full sentence and source of communication that can lead them down a very dangerous path: a path of digital abuse. This form of abuse is rapidly increasing. In fact, a 2009 study by the Associated Press reported that 50 percent of children and young adults between the ages of 14 and 24 have experienced some form of digital abuse. As we mark Child Abuse Prevention Month, we hope to give you some tips to keep your children safe and free of this form of abuse.
Tips for Parents to Prevent Digital Abuse:
1. Know your child’s usernames and passwords. Many parents can rattle off their children’s email addresses, account names, and may even be friends with them on Facebook. Children have told us time and time again: My mom is my Facebook friend and monitors my account. That is great if they haven’t set their settings so you, as the parent, have limited access to what they are posting. We also know that 16 percent of children admit to having an alternate account or social networking profile to hide what they are doing from their parents. The best way to ensure you know exactly what is going on with your children is to know their account information and passwords and to log on regularly and monitor the accounts.
2. Try to understand what they are saying. These days, children have a cryptic Internet language they use to communicate with friends. There are some great websites to guide parents in understanding this language. Two websites that are helpful are www.netlingo.com or www.noslang.com.
3. Control their usage. There are many ways to control the amount of time your child spends on his or her electronic devices. One option is simply taking away your child’s unlimited texting and making him or her use a pay-per-text plan. You may want to warn your children of these changes before you get a shock from your first phone bill. Just remember, by taking away a phone, children still have access to text through other devices (such as iPods, iPads, etc.) that offer free applications for text messaging. Children may also use chat components in online video games. There are other great programs on the market that allow you, as the parent, to control the content your child has access to via the Internet as well as the amount of time he or she is permitted to be on the internet. You can search for the option that best meets your needs by typing “child Internet safety applications” into your search engine.
4. Beware of the information you are sharing about your family. Social media is a great way to stay connected to friends, families, and coworkers, but it also poses a risk to you and your family. Think about your everyday email address and what it may say about you. If you saw the account firstname.lastname@example.org, you would automatically think the person you are emailing is a mom and has a child who plays soccer. Or how about your Facebook post that states you are leaving in three days for the beach. As a person on the Internet looking for vulnerable families, I have just been given two great opportunities to explore. So be mindful and be safe!
5. EDUCATE and communicate! Talk to your children about the risks of being on the internet and using digital media. Remind them that they can tell you anything they have encountered via media that makes them uncomfortable or unsafe. In order to do this, you may have to educate yourself. If you are interested in learning more about internet safety, attend the last Tech Smart 4 Kids: Internet Safety class on April 23 at UPMC East in Monroeville.
And in case you are still stuck at the first sentence here it what it means:
Hi there. How are you doing? Parents Behind Back. OK! Email me later. Have a nice day.
Magid, Larry. (December 3, 2009). Study: ‘Digital abuse’ hits half of youth. In https.//news.cnet.com/. Retrieved April 15, 2013, from http://news.cnet.com/8301-19518_3-10408453-238.html
(2008). McAfee, Inc. Research Reveals Mothers Rate Cyber Dangers as High as Drunk Driving or Experimenting With Drugs. In http://www.mcafee.com. Retrieved April 15, 2013, from http://www.mcafee.com/us/about/news/2008/20081022_095000_x.aspx.