From The Author's Desk: Plugged In But Tuned Out? How Kids Underestimate Online Danger

From The Author's Desk: Plugged In But Tuned Out? How Kids Underestimate Online Danger

(Welcome to the second in a new series from our very own book author, Lilla Dale McManis, MEd., PhD.)

How To Protect Your Kids Online: The Ultimate ‘How To’ Parent’s Guide is extensively researched to provide you accurate information and proven strategies to keep your kids safe when using the internet. This article draws from the guide to highlight how kids’ drive to be connected along with underestimating their digital footprint and ability to read and handle situations opens them to risk. 

When it comes to technology, most kids feel they’re pretty smart.  And in truth around operating the devices themselves like smartphones, tablets, and computers they really are. How many of us as parents have handed over a device to our kids to help us out? LOTS-right? 

But when it comes to them making wise decisions around how to best to use the internet through those devices it’s a different matter altogether. To better understand why kids need our guidance, we need to visit the area of brain development. The prefrontal cortex of the brain won’t be fully developed until the mid-twenties. This is important because this area of the brain is responsible for complex decision-making, planning, judgment, impulse control, and understanding the point of view or perspective of others. It is also highly connected to social and emotional responses-driving kids to want to “fit in”.

Kids feeling like they’re experts at technology and having still underdeveloped decision-making skills can land them in situations using technology and media that can be quite dangerous. This falls into two major areas of concern:

1) Our kids putting themselves into situations of immediate danger.

2) Our kids putting themselves into situations that have repercussions down the road.

Let’s look at some of how this plays out…

A study of over 1500 tweens and teens revealed almost 90% think social sites are safe even though they say they know sharing personal information comes with risk. Only 60% use privacy settings on their social media profiles. Only half turn off location and GPS on their Apps. They also overshare information that can identify them. Half post their email address and almost a third their phone number. 

Oversharing is rampant and a key area that can quickly get out of control. Kids overshare because it makes them feel connected, to try out different personas, or to vent. Unfortunately, many are getting into dangerous territory. Almost 40% say they’ve shared intimate images, with many thinking sending a photo of themselves or someone else topless is okay. 

Kids routinely underestimate the extent to which such content gets passed on. Well over half didn’t know a message they sent to one person got sent on to others. Many kids have a very unpleasant surprise as almost 1/4th have had something private or personal show up in the public domain.  

Our kids are all creating a digital footprint--a permanent record or trail of everything they do online. Parents are particularly worried about how their teen’s future academic or employment chances might be impacted by online activity; it’s a major worry for almost 70% of parents. 

They have good reason. A recent survey reveals 1 in 3 college admissions officers visit the Facebook or other social media profile of applicants, and about this many turned applicants down for admission based on what they found out! Yet half of teens aren’t concerned about negative ramifications to their future from posting personal information. Findings like this show the real disconnect facing our kids. 

Kids Say One Thing and Do Another

Much of this has to do with kids telling us what we want to hear. Almost 80% of 10 to 18-year-olds say they do know what’s posted online can’t be deleted and that they’ve had conversations with their parents about how to stay safe online. However, there’s troubling evidence this doesn’t translate into practice for many kids. Half (likely an underestimate due to social desirability) would actively hide their online behaviors/activities from their parents. 

So What Can Parents Do?  

Monitor. Don’t allow your kids to post negative images, malicious comments, and the like. Use these opportunities to educate them to make good decisions. 
Check search engines. Regularly see what comes up under your child’s name and screen names. You can also use Google Alerts to notify you whenever your child’s name is posted. 
Support a positive online reputation. It’s unrealistic not to expect your child to have a digital footprint, but encourage and support your child to share a positive hobby, interest, or area of expertise. This helps build a positive digital footprint. 

Closing Thoughts

The drive to feel competent around technology, be connected, and to fit in combined with immature decision-making that is the hallmark of all children, can lead kids down a path that is hazardous both in the short-term and long-term. For parents and caregivers, this means actively guiding them to have the kinds of experiences that can promote optimal outcomes. We invite you to read our book to truly become prepared for the task of protecting your kids online. 

About the Author

Lilla Dale McManis, MEd., PhD., is the co-author of How To Protect Your Kids Online: The Ultimate ‘How To’ Parent’s Guide. She is a founding member of the Early Childhood Technology Collaborative and has worked for the last decade in the area of education and technology. Dr. McManis is President & CEO of Parent in the Know and believes strongly in translating research into meaningful practice.

(Download the complete guide, "How To Protect Your Kids Online" using the exclusive $10 discount code "onlinesafetygroup" during checkout)

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