ASSIGNMENT 13: The 'tech talk,' keeping kids in line online

By: Megan Lowry Email
By: Megan Lowry Email

EAU CLAIRE, Wis (WEAU)--These days it's hard to find someone not on Facebook. In the last few years social media has exploded! But if you're a parent keeping up with social trends, and your kids "friends" on Facebook, that doesn't mean you’re seeing the whole picture.

Newer sites and apps offer teens endless options to interact online, and then hide their experiences. So how do you monitor it? And can you?

Meet the Fentress’s, Emma, Jack, and Becca love music, sports and staying connected.

I have a folder on my iPod that has Facebook, Skype, Instagram, Snapchat. I Snapchat almost all the time,” Emma Fentress, 13 said.

"I Snapchat not as much as Emma," Jack Fentress, 12 said.

9-year-old Becca can't wait to set up her first profile. “Some of my friends have Snapchat or Instagram I want them but I know I shouldn't have them, Becca said.

When it comes to social media, Facebook is like a high school football game, a parent approved activity with plenty of adults watching. But it's the newer sites like Snapchat, Kik, Facebook Poke and Instagram that are popular underneath the bleachers.

"We are learning along as parents just as much as the kids are," Holly Fentress said.

Holly says as a business owner she considers herself tech savvy but with three kids and just as many devices it’s impossible to monitor everything.

"I normally keep track of it with my daughter or my son telling me what’s new," Holly said.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, there are more than 800,000 apps through iTunes and hundreds of thousands more on Google Play.

New apps are pop up every day but with that, new risks pop up too. Kids are talking with friends, but also sharing pictures and videos. With apps like Snapchat and Facebook Poke the pictures you share disappear in as little as one to ten seconds.

"It could be as simple as taking a picture of themselves with their tongue sticking out and sending it to their friends just as a note to say that ‘I'm thinking of you’ and they laugh and then it’s gone and it’s kind of a fun thing," Social Media Researcher Justin Patchin said.

Patchin says there is a serious side too. He says some kids can use the disappearing features to bully or to even send naked pictures.

Patchin says it's not just your child’s pictures you have to think about.

Take Instagram, you take a photo and can digitally enhance it and share it on Facebook or Twitter. You can also like other people's photos even strangers and share them too.

"You have to always understand that whatever you send could end up in the wrong person’s hands," Patchin said.
While he says there are cases where the apps are abused for the most part parents can relax.

"The research has shown, that at least preliminarily, teens are using these things just to have fun and I think they are learning that if they send something inappropriate eventually it is going to come back and haunt them," Patchin said.

Emma says she uses Snapchat to show friends what she's up too.
“I'll send group messages and you can send videos you can show them instead of having to explain how funny it is,” Emma said.

Holly says she trusts her daughter but learning about apps like Snapchat makes her uneasy.

"She called me over and said ‘hey mom look at this’ and I was busy doing work on the computer and by the time I looked up it was gone and that was the first time that I realized that pictures were on and off and she had been doing it for a couple of weeks. So you have to be really smart in asking what does this do," Holly said.

That's where Patchin says sitting down with your kids for a 'tech talk' can help.

"It really is impossible to keep track of the individual sites. That’s why parents really need to educate their kids in terms of general online responsibility," Patchin said.

Like parenting, there is no rule book for social media.

"As a parent it’s their decision when it’s appropriate based on a lot of different factors. Some 10 year olds might be mature enough to handle it while some 16 year olds may not," Patchin said.

Patchin says 13 is a good age to let your child start social networking. For younger kids Patchin recommends parents set up a profile for their kids to use, so parents can control who the child interacts with.

"As adults we need to model examples of how to interact appropriately online," Patchin said.

"We can help our kids but other parents don't always monitor it and even though we do monitor it we don't always knowing what they are doing," Holly said.

But if you talk to your kids, you may find they’ll listen.

“If I do post I think is it informative, helpful, or funny," Jack said.

“I don't want to do anything that makes me uncomfortable or would make my parents respect me less or my decisions,” Emma said.


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