Raising children in the digital age can be difficult. Technology has the potential to be either a friend or a foe, depending on how a child uses their devices. Thankfully, we are at the beginning of a new year with a clean start. Digital threats lurking online are very real, but we can make a resolution to be involved and aware of potential potholes our children may encounter in 2016.
Raising Digital Natives

We knew that raising kids wasn’t going to be a walk in the park, but many of us are lost when it comes to parenting digital natives. Nightly, we are greeted with devastating headlines regarding the mountains of negativity lurking behind our devices, which are derailing our children’s emotional well-being. Thankfully, if technology is used correctly, we can harness authentic communication and a world of unlimited information for years to come.

It is estimated that 78 percent of teens own a cell phone and 95 percent of our sons and daughters have access to the Internet. With all this connectivity, researchers are discovering some surprising statistics:

Looking Ahead To 2016

  • Cyberbullying rates have tripled within the last few years. Once believed to only affect 27 percent of youth, today cyberbullying impacts close to 87 percent of our kids!
  • One study found 70 percent of kids try to covertly hide their digital tracks. 
  • 81 percent of teens use social media.
  • A study discovered that users check their cell phones about 150 times a day.
  • 4 out of 5 teens admit to sleeping beside their phones.
  • 1 in 7 children has received unwanted sexual solicitation online.
  • Today’s teens spend an average of 7½ hours a day consuming media.

The evolving digital world makes it difficult for parents to stay up to date on current trends and apps that our children are utilizing. Technology doesn’t have to be bad. It can be a great tool in our family life. By staying informed we can empower our families to keep safely sharing online.

Listed below are seven items to be on the lookout for in the coming year:

The face of social media is changing. Facebook was once king of all social media. However, now parents, aunts, uncles, and even grandparents have established profiles, and our teens are looking for new apps away from prying eyes of grown-ups. While teens still use Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram are two of the most popular alternative apps today.

Anonymous apps are growing in popularity. This form of social media offers complete anonymity to users, but it also opens the floodgates for cyberbullying and digital aggression. Yik Yak, Ask.fm, and Whisper are just a few apps to be watching. As you monitor their interactions, be sure to stress social media etiquette with your children.

GPS isn’t just for the car. Many social media apps and devices track your physical location, complete with addresses! Make sure your child knows how to hide their location when using wireless technology or social media.

Teen dating has gone digital. Our highly connected teens have taken their budding relationships online. Many no longer view meeting others online with a negative stigma. Many dating sites, like Tinder, Blendr, Skout, and Down, are attracting our children. In fact, Tinder admits that 7 percent of their registered users are teens.

Online challenges are real and our teens are embracing this phenomena. The Internet exposes our kids to educational information and cultures, but it can also introduce negative behaviors. Recently, children have been attempting dangerous stunts and challenges they have seen on YouTube, with some even trying to straighten their teeth with rubber bands!

Consider using parental control software to protect your child from cyberbullies, predators, and oversharing. Be honest, but let your children know that you will be checking in on their digital activity. There are a few great products that allow parents access to a child’s social media accounts, text messages, browser histories, and deleted messages.

Sexting is considered “normal” for today’s teens. Yes, you read that correctly. Today’s experts feel that sexting is a digital expression of “I’ll show you mine…” and research shows that 54 percent of teens have sent or received sexually explicit messages. Whether it is the convenience or the reduced risks of STDs, teens need to have a conversation about sexting and know that it is alright to “say no.”

What is one thing you will do to keep your child safely using technology in 2016?

Article by Amy Kristine Williams – mother of two, social worker, and positive parenting advocate.