It’s a brave new world for teens today. As the parents of four boys from 25 to 8 years old, and working daily in the technology industry, we see that the way young people communicate is very different than just five years ago.
At the forefront of any summer teen get-together is technology. Cell phones with Internet access, laptops and interactive gaming consoles are how teens spend time with each other or make plans to get together. Teens maintain their lives via a virtual (and often private) world – keeping up with friends through texting, instant messaging, photo or video sharing, and through social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. This is how they “hang out” and it’s sometimes a challenge for parents to monitor.
As kids have more free time to pursue their interests over the summer, it is a great opportunity to engage and talk to your teens about the possible dangers lurking online.
According to a recent survey by Cox Communications and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, we were surprised to learn that:
• One in four teens ages 13 to 18 say they know someone who has had “something bad happen to them” because of information they shared electronically.
• Cyber-bullying is widespread among teens with one-third having experienced it, engaged in it or know of friends who have done either.
• One in five teens have engaged in “sexting” (80 percent of this group is under age 18).
A vast majority of teens whose parents know they go online through their cell phone say they are not given any limits or controls.
As parents, we suggest that you make sure your teens aren’t posting too much personal information about themselves on social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook. Explain to your teens why it’s important to be selective about what they share. Down the road, future colleges or employers checking them out might find off-color information and provocative photos online. Remind your teens that information posted to the Internet is there forever.
Impress upon your kids that cyber-bullying is dangerous. Not only does mean behavior hurt others, but it embarrasses friends and family and could, worse yet, find them in trouble with the law.
The biggest message we hear is that parents have to stay involved. Know who your teens are texting and what sites they are visiting. Establish Internet rules and apply them to cell phones as well.
For more tips and information on how to protect your children on the Internet, visit cox.com/TakeCharge.
Delma & Julio Herrera have collectively been with Cox Arizona for more than 11 years.