Your Teen & Today’s Technology

November 17, 2011  |  
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As much as the recent Amber Cole controversy broke my heart, I can honestly say I wasn’t too shocked at the idea of teenagers being involved in sexual activity at young ages at of all places school, a place where most parents think their children will be supervised and occupied with gaining an education and not sexual experience.  The truth is, I was in high school only 10 short years ago and students even then were engaging in sexual activity at school.  The only difference is back then the only way you could prove it was through someone’s second-hand gossip about what was witnessed.  No one was around to play back footage of the actual incident.

Social media plays a more of an important role in the lives of today’s teens than it did even a decade ago.  Through personal profiles, uploaded videos and shared images, teens are not only communicating their thoughts but defining their identities.  In a recent interview with The Source’s Kim Osorio, rapper Drake shared some interesting concerns he had about social media.  The artist who just released his sophomore effort, Take Care, currently has almost four million Twitter followers, but only tweets an average of once per day.  He had this to say about how he “hates social media”:

“I’m really scared for my generation, you know. The thing that scares me the most is Tumblr. I hate what Tumblr has become. Because it like, it reminds me of those cliquey girls in high school that used to make fun of everyone else and define what was cool, but in five years, when you all graduate, that Shyte doesn’t matter. No one gives a f**k about that Shyte. Instead of kids going out and making their own moments, they’re just taking these images and living vicariously through other people’s moments. It just kills me. Then you’ll meet them and they’re just the biggest turkey in the world. They don’t actually embody any of those things. They just emulate. It’s scary man, simulation life that we’re living. It scares me.”

So what’s a parent to do when a click of a button allows your child to share some of their most private moments and innermost thoughts with the world?  All the parental controls in the world can’t replace good parenting that will prepare your teen with the values and skills necessary to navigate through the land of social media while still keeping their dignity intact.

1.  Build healthy self-esteem and a sense of self-worth.

I don’t think all teenage girls who “sext” or post photos of their scantily clad bodies in provocative positions are in need of some serious self-love, but I do think there are many girls who feel that any attention is good attention and base how much they like themselves on how many “likes” they receive on a Facebook photo.  Building self-esteem is something that should be done from a very young age.  It’s important for young women to know their worth and to love themselves so they don’t feel a need to be validated by anonymous names and faces online.

2.  Monitor their technology usage.

The other day I tuned into an episode of MTV’s True Life, “I’m a Textaholic” in which a teenage girl confessed to sending over 1400 texts a month, yet her mother still allowed her to have a cell phone for which I’m sure the daughter wasn’t footing the bill.  All I could think was, “Why does this child still have access to a cell phone?”  The teenage girl showed signs that the severe texting was taking a physical toll on her wrists as she exhibited symptoms of a pinched nerve and carpal tunnel syndrome.  If your teen is showing signs of abuse or addiction to the point where they can no longer practice self-discipline for the sake of their own health and safety, it’s time to step in.

Don’t be an enabler.  Sure the cell phone is convenient when you need to find your child, but studies show that of all the people teens keep in contact with via cellphone, their parents are the least contacted.  Monitor computer time and even limit usage to a family computer as opposed to a personal laptop.  Use parental controls to block questionable sites.  If your child must have a cell phone, go old school and get a phone with only the basic functions of making calls; no camera or texting services.  If you’re paying the bill, there’s no reason you can’t stop cutting the check if you see any behavior that’s out of control.

3.  Google them.

One thing about being a teenager no matter what generation you are raised in is that you don’t always realize the permanence of some of your actions.  When you’re a teen it’s often difficult to see your life past next week, let alone in five to 10 years.  What social networking sites are allowing more and more people to do is to keep an electronic hard copy of every thought they have and choice they make. Unfortunately, this means that you and the rest of the world can view evidence of your faulty decision-making in living color for years to come.

A quick Google search of your name could reveal personal information that you may not want available to the public including embarrassing pictures and social profiles that are attached to your name.  It’s important to explain to teens that the life they have now, will not be the same life they have as adults and once a reputation is destroyed it can be extremely hard to recover the respect of others.  Emphasize that they shouldn’t post anything online that they aren’t prepared to defend in person.

4.  Get them involved in activities.

Idle hands are the devil’s play things, but if you fill those hands with an instrument, a volleyball or some pom-poms, there’s suddenly less time for tweeting and more time for participating in an activity that can build leadership and social skills.  According to research done by the Women’s Sports Foundation, females who play sports in high school are more likely to do well in high school and college, feel popular and participate in extra-curricular activities.  They are 92 percent less likely to get involved in drugs, 80 percent less likely to get pregnant, and three times more likely than their non-athletic peers to graduate from high school.  They also express higher levels of confidence in their bodies.

When teens understand that they are capable of success in their own lives, they feel less of a need to escape to online versions of themselves and to become immersed in the lives of celebrities in blogs and gossip sites.

5.  Get familiar with Facebook.

It’s very possible that a teen can be speaking a completely different language right in front of your face.  You don’t necessarily have to become a 106 & Park and Jersey Shore expert, but it’s helpful for you to know what a “twitpic” is and what it means to “poke” someone on Facebook so you can get a good gauge of behavior that’s harmless and when you should start to worry.  Educate yourself about digital threats including cyber-bullying and talk to your children about the consequences of participating in such behavior.

6.  Talk about Internet safety.

As adults we can sometimes wrongfully assume that Internet safety is something everyone should already be informed about, but to some teens, it’s not so obvious that you shouldn’t reveal personal information about yourself on the net, or exactly what important personal information really is.  Online predators have lots of practice in putting pieces together through what others think is harmless general information like popular hangouts you talk about, information you share about your school, or posting where you are through a “Places” or Foursquare application through Facebook.  They also know exactly what to say to make a teen want to turn an online romance into an in-person encounter, which can lead to a very dangerous situation.

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