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Special to The Gazette

The school year is over, and summer is officially here. During this time, many kids will be spending more time unsupervised. Evolving technologies present new challenges for parents with children of different ages; however, all families face a similar dilemma when dealing with young adolescents on digital devices. The internet and online gaming platforms are now so accessible that many parents are struggling to shield their kids from inappropriate content.

Therefore, developing and maintaining clear boundaries becomes paramount to your child’s safety. Having constructive conversations about the negative impact of social media and sexting are crucial in a digital world where our youth are virtually surrounded by dangerous influences and perverse behaviors. When adults are not fully aware of their daily activities, kids will often follow their peers or even seek attention from complete strangers to better “fit in” by using popular forms of modern entertainment.

Smart phones, tablets and laptops offer unfiltered opportunities for kids to make choices that may cause irreparable damage. There are numerous harmful behaviors that are associated with using the internet, such as sexting, sending pornographic images or cyberbullying. Sexting occurs when multiple individuals are sharing suggestive images or messages that may seem innocent but can result in long-term dysfunction or legal consequences.

Furthermore, private pictures or messages meant for a single person can quickly become widely dispersed among thousands, creating embarrassment and emotional trauma for years to come. Discussing these risks will teach your children how to better handle peer pressure and avoid those social groups attempting to normalize such inappropriate behavior. If you discover your son or daughter is engaging in these actions, or a victim of online harassment, there are trained professionals who can help you successfully navigate these complex, uncomfortable situations.

Social media is only a problem when children lack distinct boundaries and are left unsupervised for long periods of time. So, as summer kicks off and your kids have more free time, please consider these simple online rules for digital devices:

Use parental controls whenever possible and block apps that you don’t want your child using.

Talk to your kids about the consequences of inappropriate online behaviors, whether it is cyberbullying or sexting, and what they should do if they become a victim to any of these behaviors.

Let your children know you will conduct random checks on their phone, which also means you need to understand the apps/games they are playing or using.

Don’t be afraid to act. If a rule is broken, make it clear you will immediately take away their device and suspend their online privileges.

By setting reasonable boundaries and enforcing expectations, you will be able to both educate and protect your kids from avoidable harm. Adolescents need to be reminded that once they post or send anything inappropriate on social media, whether on a website, a popular app or through text messaging, it cannot be retrieved. They should always consider how their choices will affect their future, innocent bystanders, and their family before sharing anything questionable. Most importantly, don’t wait until something regrettable happens to have these heartfelt discussions. Start talking to your kids now so they know exactly what to do when facing these everyday dangers.

After having families create their own digital footprints, SOS cataloged the most popular destinations during 2019:

  • 53 percent — Snapchat
  • 74 percent — Google Chrome
  • 34 percent — Minecraft
  • 39 percent — Instagram
  • 35 percent — Roblox
  • 76 percent — Youtube Kids
  • 30 percent — TikTok

To learn more about some popular apps and the potential dangers associated with them, visit: issuu.com/soskansas/docs/app_awareness_poster_20x30

If you have questions or would like more information you can contact SOS or go to Common Sense Media to stay up to date on current apps or parental control options. The SOS Helpline number is 800-825-1295 or visit www.commonsensemedia.org.

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