Fashion is made to become unfashionable - Coco Chanel

New websites, apps and hardware are developed and go in and out of fashion faster than most of us can keep track of. And like any other fashion, young people tend to decide what’s hot and what’s not before you are even aware of the phenomenon.

By the time you catch up with what’s happening in the online world, your children may have turned onto a new trend. For example, although still massively popular, many young people are now less enthusiastic about Facebook because, well, their parents are using it...

99 per cent of Australians aged 16 to 25 years use the internet, 95 per cent of whom use it every day or almost every day, mostly for two to four hours a day [#1]. The internet and mobile technology offers young people an enormous range of benefits that were not available to previous generations. They can get help with their homework. They can connect with people all around the world – particularly useful in small communities. They can anonymously access information from around the world on health and personal issues. Mobile phones also give young people an extra layer of security if they’re out late.

But of course, with all this access to new information and people comes new risks – whether it’s being exposed to inappropriate content (check out Its Time We Talked for information about young people and online porn), access to e-commerce (such as signing up for services or making purchases online), or the ability to have unsupervised conversation with strangers. Cybersmart.gov.au offers good resources and information on a range of topics relating to young people and cyber-safety.

This is a quick guide to help you understand how young people may be using technology, what some of the risks are and how you can help teach your kids to use technology safely. This is not a comprehensive guide, but a starting kit…

Know your apps

Often it’s not the apps themselves that are dangerous, but they can be used in dangerous ways. For example, Tinder, which has a minimum user-age limit of 13, was originally designed as a dating app that enabled people to meet each other online and arrange dates in real life. However, its use has become blurred as it’s now commonly used by young people to seek out new friends while also being a way for people to quickly ‘hook-up’ for casual sex or one-night-stands.

Apps such as Instagram, Omegle and Snapchat allow users to share images, however there’s not necessarily any way to verify users’ identities, making it easy for people to lie about who they are. Snapchat is a particularly popular image-sharing app allowing users to send images that will ‘self-delete’ after they’re viewed for a sender-determined period of one to 10 seconds. Some users quickly realised they could get around the self-deleting feature by simply taking a screenshot (taking a ‘photo’ of what’s on screen) while the image was up, thereby making it permanently accessible. Once these images are in the possession of someone else, they can be used to blackmail or publicly humiliate the sender. For more on this see our article on Talking to kids about sexting.

Messenger apps such as KiK Messenger, Whisper, ChatRoulette and Down (previously known as ‘Bang with Friends’) allow users to connect with one another and share information and images/videos, often with very little idea of their true identity, age or gender. While all these apps can appear to young people as an exciting opportunity to share fun images with friends or ‘potential friends’, obviously they can be also seen as prime ‘hunting grounds’ for people with less innocent intentions.

What should parents do?

  1. Set boundaries for your children - Some parents may try to ban their children and teenagers from using these technologies, and you certainly have a right to set boundaries around their online behaviour as much as you do with them offline. However, while kids can appreciate boundaries and do look to parents for guidance, experts warn that outright banning can often lead to power struggles, lots of yelling and family conflict [#2]. It’s generally more effective to sit down with the family and agree on the rules and boundaries together so that they learn the reasons behind your concerns and don’t just think that you’re laying down the law for the sake of it. You may set boundaries around the content (e.g., no Tinder until you are a certain age), where they use the technology (e.g. not in the bedroom) or how long they use it for (e.g. two hours per day).
  2. Go online yourself and learn as much as you can about the online world - There are plenty of resources for parents online. While you’re likely to always be one step behind young people’s use of technology, it’s worth educating yourself as much as you can.
  3. Teach your child to be smart online.

Some general tips to give your kids [#1]:

    • Don’t become online friends with people you don’t know or post any private information about yourself, such as passwords, phone numbers, addresses or email addresses. Your friends already know how to contact you. 
    • Understand how to block people, disable your location services and set your privacy settings to keep your information away from strangers or other people who you don’t want to see things that you post. They might vary, but it’s worth knowing how to safely use and set up the apps and platforms you use.
    • Know what the risks associated with sexting are (e.g. blackmail, screenshots that are kept forever) and never include any part of your body that can identify you, such as your face, a birthmark or a tattoo. Young people should our articles on sexting . 
    • Know the law. You can be charged with a criminal offence relating to child pornography for having photos of somebody under 18 on your phone or computer. Read our article on Sexting and the law for more details.
    • Don’t use a web cam with strangers, as they can record you.
    • Keep a record of any online harassment, or any communication you’re not sure about. Luckily, the written form of online information makes for great evidence if it’s ever needed.
    • Know how to contact website administrators (or Webmasters), in case you need to ask for insulting of offensive content to be removed.
    • Make sure you understand what people are expecting from you when communicating online – you might think someone just wants to chat and flirt, when their intention is to meet for sex or get explicit images of you.

Young people use technology for catching up with friends, educating themselves, playing games, watching movies and listening to music. They also use it to flirt, gossip and meet people. There’s nothing new about the activities this generation seek out – just the technology they’re using to do it.

The fact is young people have always engaged in what their parents considered ‘dangerous activities’ – remember, long before communication technology there was drugs, cars and ‘rock-n-roll music’! – This is just the next phenomenon that parents need to be educated about, and be able to give kids good, smart and informed advice about.

Read our other articles on how to talk to kids.

 

References
#1: Burns, JM, Davenport, TA, Christensen, H, Luscombe, GM, Mendoza, JA, Bresnan, A, Blanchard, ME & Hickie, IB. (2013). Game On: Exploring the Impact of Technologies on Young Men’s Mental Health and Wellbeing. Findings from the first Young and Well National Survey. Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, Melbourne.

#2: Carr-Gregg, M. (2014) Beyond Cyberbullying: An Essential Guide for parenting in the digital age. Melbourne: Penguin.