Safer Internet Day: Hold the smartphone, mitigate the danger

Destinations for Teens Admissions Director Brittany Cohen

Since Feb. 13 is Safer Internet Day, it is a good time to think about teenagers and their smartphones and other electronic devices. That smartphone may look innocent enough, but in a young person’s hands, it can become pits of peril, according to Destinations for Teens Admissions Director Brittany Cohen.

Eliminating the phones is infeasible; they’re an important communication line between parents and kids. But apps can be traps—social media-like seeking can lead to reckless photos; Snapchat messaging can attract sexual predators.

Cohen, a licensed clinical social worker, offers six tips for avoiding cybertrouble.

  1. Try electronic curfews: Cutoffs, for phone, tablet and computer use, can give kids mental breaks and create family time.
  1. Assume no safety. 90 percent of kids are unsafe on social media and many of them have multiple social media accounts their parents don’t know about according to Cohen. “Kids are setting up profiles that seem clean and giving parents access to those,” Cohen said. “They post the inappropriate content on the secondary accounts.”
  1. Fight the illusion. Teenagers gain a false sense of security online and behave more daringly than they otherwise might. This lowering of inhibitions may make teens easier targets for sex-seeking adults.
  1. Beware of Snapchat. Users may think messages disappear and become untraceable, but maybe not. Naked selfies that were supposed to vanish into the ether could be preserved as screenshots and used for virtual shaming.
  1. Like it, or not: Teenagers who feel validated by likes may do increasingly risky things to get more like pose nearly naked or with booze or drugs. Parents can help their children by discussing healthier forms of validation, like believing in themselves.

With simple steps, parents can shape their children’s social media use to increase safety. Encouraging teens to keep accounts private and limit followers (or friends in the case of Facebook) to people they see offline, for example, can reduce the chance of unwanted consequences.

Ultimately, parents must help save kids from themselves.

“Kids don’t have the executive functioning skills that adults do to see the consequences of their actions,” she said.

More Helpful Hints for Parents:

According to George Livengood, a licensed marriage and family therapist and Director of Residential Services at Destinations for Teens, depression, anxiety and suicide attempts have skyrocketed since the easy access of smartphones around 2012 and the increase in social media platforms.

Two hours or less of screen time a day helps reduce depression and anxiety,” Livengood said. “Parents should charge phones of kids at a charging station in their room or in a common space and not in the child’s bedroom. Staying up having unmonitored activity impacts hours for sleep. Blue light of phones, ipads, computers and television all close to bedtime inhibits melotonin production resulting in poor sleep. Poor sleep increases depression and anxiety.”

Parents should have access to phones/computers passwords especially at a younger age and that can go away as children develop maturity and trust.

Parents need to model the behavior they want to see in their children. Put the phone down, talk face-to-face and make electronic-free time for yourself and family.

Know what sites and apps your children use and talk to them.

Teach your kids to be nice on cyberspace. Explain that posts on social media can last forever, even Instagram and Snapchat.

Destinations for Teens, with offices in California and Nevada, is a diagnosis and primary mental health treatment center serving teens 13-17 who are affected by substance abuse and mental health disorders. Visit DestinationsforTeens.com for details.

 

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