GREENCASTLE, Pennsylvania: Teens age 13 to 19 spend upwards of nine hours per day connected to a smartphone, tablet or computer, according to Digital Day research.
Children eight to 12 average six hours a day, while kids age five to seven are spending roughly 4.5 hours in front of a screen.
All that screen time sets up potential problems for our children.
“It's a habit,” admitted Hannah Kimmel, a 16-year-old from Fort Loudon. “As soon as I wake up, I look at my messages. Everyone else does it. I want to, too.”
“The nature of things have changed since today's parents were kids. We aren't going outside and playing. We're spending a lot of time on our phones,” said Nathan Neil, owner of Launch UX, a Chambersburg-based social media and web marketing firm.
“Everything is posted in a public forum and it's more challenging,” Neil said. “Half the demographic of children under age 15 have access to some type of device, so you have children that can access any social media site – and anyone can access them.”
Neil and his panel of experts shared information with parents, grandparents and others during Parent Power, in Greencastle.
The hour-long program provided an introduction to the various forms of social media children and teenagers are using and called out things parents should be aware of, but many are not.
What you don't know ...
Janelle DelSignore, a marketing director and social media expert at Launch UX said parents may want to be plugged in to what their children are doing online.
“Educate yourself. Get a Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat account,” she said.
But simply connecting with your child on social media may not be enough, DelSignore said.
“A lot of children will have two Facebook or Instagram accounts,” she said. Or they may be on platforms parents aren't familiar with, such as VSCO.
“It's pretty popular," Kimmel said. “It's more things people wouldn't post on Facebook or Instagram. It's kinda more on the [down-low]."
Even when a social media account is limited to a “private” audience, if a child allows access to a friend or follower into her social network, they become vulnerable.
“Even if it's private, I'd look at who's following them,” DelSignore said. “If it's an old man from a different state, what business does he have following?”
Neil agreed. “Teenagers get wrapped up in the number of followers they have. They don't necessarily pay attention to who is following.”
Kimmel said it's also important to know who is private/direct messaging your child. “It's a place most parents wouldn't think to look,” she said. Private messages, Kimmel said, are often where bullying issues crop up. “It'd be a good idea to look at that,” she suggested.
And what goes on the Internet stays on the Internet.
“My mom has warned me not to post anything stupid because employers look,” said Jakob Piper, a 16-year-old from Mercersburg.
Even Snapchat, where pictures and conversations “disappear” instantly, comes with dangers. “The other person can screenshot it and if they do, they have it forever,” DelSignore said.
The social media apps aren't just attracting children's attention, they also play on their emotions and mental health.
“I have friends that really take this seriously,” Kimmel said. “They keep track and get upset if they don't get a certain number of 'likes' on their posts. They'll take them down.”
Kimmel said it can be difficult to maintain relationships with friends who constantly are on their phones checking social media and the peer pressure to join them is significant.
“These are the stresses your children are going through,” DelSignore said.
Things to do
So what's a parent to do?
Neil, who has a two-year-old at home, said he doesn't advocate taking electronics away from children. “I want to encourage an open dialogue between parents and their children,” he said.
That means monitoring their accounts and exploring their phones or tablets from time to time.
“You can't go around and monitor everything they say, but you should monitor what they are putting out there on the Internet that could potentially destroy a career opportunity in the future,” DelSignore said.
Parents shouldn't be afraid from asking – or demanding – to look at their child's devices, either.
“Talk with your children. Let them know what you are doing and why you are doing it,” DelSignore said.
Piper said he wouldn't hesitate to turn his device over to his parents. “You shouldn't have anything to hide,” he said.
Parents who want help monitoring their child's activities online have options.
“There are some good tools out there to help monitor and block certain things,” Neil said.
He said in addition to plans offered by the various cell phone companies, there are apps that can be purchased to help monitor or control screen use.
“Qustodio and Kaspersky Safe Kids are rated No. 1 and 2 by PC World. I was blown away by what they are able to do, and they have free and paid versions,” Neil said. "These are the two programs I would highly recommend looking at to be able to get that control back.”
“I don't encourage you to go home and delete all their social media accounts,” DelSignore said. “Just be sure they are using them appropriately.” — The Record Herald, Waynesboro/Tribune News Service
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