Parents today likely remember their first computer’s slow, painful dial-up to the World Wide Web. Their children are online in mere fractions of a second on hand-held devices.
Parents, schools and organizations are scrambling to find ways to monitor youngsters’ use.
Mandy Majors, of San Antonio, is the founder of the nonprofit NextTalk, which provides cyberparenting tips.
“Social media has changed the whole landscape of parenting. It has blindsided all of us. Our kids can be more vulnerable to self-esteem issues (which can lead to cutting and self-harming), cyberbullying, suicide, confusion about sex and gender, exposure to pornography, cyberstrangers and sex-trafficking. They have access to every opinion, real and fake news, at the swipe of the screen,” Majors said.
Majors visited Crossroads Church in Belton last week, where she gave advice to parents with children of all ages. Majors said the conversation with children starts early — “years before they actually have social media. For example, when your 2-year-old is walking around with the family iPad and walks in the bathroom while you’re changing, it’s a perfect opportunity to calmly say, ‘You’re not in trouble, but we don’t bring screens in bathrooms because what if you accidentally took a picture of me without clothes on?’ This conversation will get more detailed as they get older, but once they’re being asked to trade nudes within social media apps, you’ll be glad you started this conversation early.”
Extending to school, Majors said the fast-paced world digital world is a huge challenge for all of us, and we need to be on the same team.
“Parents, if pornography pops up on a school computer and you are notified, this is not the school’s fault. They are doing everything they can to keep our kids safe, but restrictions fail (that’s why we say relationship is more important than restrictions). As for teachers, please don’t be afraid to report pornography or anything inappropriate that may accidentally show up on a school computer – we want to be notified of these things (like we are notified about lice, fire drills and the school flu) because we want to be able to talk with our kids about what they were exposed to,” Majors said.
However, Majors cautions parents about relying on products or apps to monitor, handle and control their child’s social media use, because no product is 100 percent secure. For example, most kids communicate within an apps messaging service and many products don’t monitor that.
She said she doesn’t want parents to fall into a false sense of security that kids are protected from content when they’re not. For example, a general phone restricts content when your child is Google searching, but it will not catch pornographic images or anything inappropriate within an app.
In Majors’s book, “TALK: A Practical Approach to Cyberparenting and Open Communication,” she emphasizes the importance of talking with your kids on a deep level.
Majors said one of the biggest dangers in schools is the use of mobile devices in a locker room.
When asked if mobile devices are allowed in locker rooms, Killeen ISD offered this statement, “Students may bring their own technology devices to be used at specified times during the school day to enhance learning opportunities.”
Killeen ISD stated they have “filtered internet” and any devices assigned by the school that students take home also have a filter regardless of what internet service they are on. However, as Majors said, no product or app is 100 percent, and parent communication is important. Killeen ISD does require parents to sign a permission form before a student can take a device home, but they do not offer any classes for parents.
“We post regularly about new apps and online dangers, in addition to important conversations to have with your kids. We also have a weekly radio program, which you can livestream every Saturday morning at 10 a.m. by going to our website and clicking on ‘Radio Show,’” Majors said.