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Your kids are playing with digital fire, and they need your help

Posted September 7

Kids everywhere are silently suffering. Are yours? (Deseret Photo)

Self-esteem and self-image have always been serious societal problems, but nowadays they're taking on a new form- a digital one. The internet is largely uncharted territory; the wild, wild west of the 21st century. Your kids are smack-dab in the middle of it, and it's dangerous. Because cyberspace is new terrain, many parents don't know how to protect their kids, or even what to protect them from. Here's what you need to know:

(Disclaimer: The internet can be a wonderful place. This article is not meant to discourage using it, but to be aware of its dangers and to take action before your kids stumble upon a character-crushing scenario.)

Social media can hurt

Social media is affecting your child's identity. Many young people use Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and plenty of other social media platforms to tailor their self-image to their friends. They try and put their best foot forward, but leave out a much needed sense of reality. It can result in a cyclical effort to appear happier than everyone else, while secretly hating yourself.

You might remember the young Australian model, Essena O'Neill, who went viral at the end of 2015 for deleting her Instagram account. She's spoken out several times online about what life was like with over 500,000 followers. Her message: much of what you see online is not real life. Behind the sexy Insta posts were elaborate photoshoots and an extremely miserable 19 year old girl. She reveals that a life of effortless beauty is not realistic, and people need to stop idolizing that lifestyle.

Social media will damage your child's self-esteem if it drives them to compare themselves to other people, like who Essena used to be. Striving to meet unrealistic expectations leads to nothing but failure.

The takeaway: how many photos does your child take before capturing the perfect image? To what lengths do they go to portray the perfect life online? Do your children use social media to stay in contact with friends, or do they use it as a tool to try and become more popular?

Texting games

One mom told the story of how a simple texting game amongst middle schoolers is affecting young people. It started with a simple text her son received from a girl: "On a scale of 1-10, how cute am I?"

This is a dangerous game to play, and young children don't know the problems it can lead to. This game is played via text but also all over social media. Users post a selfie and ask that viciously hopeful question. Asking the public to judge you based on physical appearance, let alone with a numerical value, is a bad idea.

"Adding insult to injury is the fact that every middle-school girl has a “prettier” friend who of course pulls in 9s and 10s. Those superficial ratings become gospel — regardless of talents, abilities or intelligence, she is a 9 and you are a 6. The phone said so. Case closed," the mom wrote.

Follow your kids on all of their social media accounts (even if you don't use them). If you feel the need, don't be afraid to ask them about their text messages or online messenger activity.

Apps

Possibly the most mysterious aspect of technology to adults today is the advent of apps. While you might use FaceTime, Safari and the Weather app, you should know that there's a darker side to the app store.

  • There are apps to secretly hide other apps.
  • There are apps that put you in contact with strangers through images, video, text, etc.
  • There are apps that erase the evidence of whatever you've done within it, and let you hide behind anonymity to do or say whatever you want.
The takeaway: you need to know what apps your kids are using. Take a look at their iPad or whatever it may be. If you don't recognize an app, research it. Make sure they're using apps in a safe way.

Cyberbullying and suicide

You might feel confident in your ability to protect your children within the walls of your home, but those walls could be providing a false sense of security. The Internet is a doorway. It can take your children anywhere and put them in contact with almost anyone. Check out these terrifying statistics:

  • About 42% of kids with access to technology (cell phone, internet, and social media) say they've been bullied before.
  • About 20% of kids who are cyberbullied think about suicide.
  • Out of that 20%, one out of every ten kids attempts suicide.
The takeaway: talk to your kids about what they do online. Set firm guidelines regarding how they use the internet. If you don't allow them to talk to strangers outside your home, don't allow it online.

This article is not meant to scare you; it's meant to prepare you. Be aware of how your children use technology, stay up to date on the latest tech trends (especially because your children are), and be the protector they need.

David Snell is a writer for the FamilyShare team, specializing in humor writing. He's trilingual (English, Spanish and Movie Quotes), passionate about all things communication and is always up for learning new skills.

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