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Back to School: Monitoring kids in the digital age

Rosecrance’s Mary Egan offers tips.

Not all silence is golden, particularly in the universe of social media.

Teens talking via text messages and sites such as Facebook and Twitter can produce invisible interactions hidden away from parents. Parents have to break through those silent barriers so they can still be engaged in their children’s lives.

Back-to-school time is the perfect opportunity to talk to teens about using social media, oversharing and bullying, and to reinforce messages about drug and alcohol abuse.

“Parents have to work harder to communicate with their child about setting limits and guidelines for using social media, and even just learning who their child is communicating with,” said Mary Egan, director of outreach for Rosecrance Health Network. “Friendships play out in a more indirect fashion than ever before with less face-to-face contact and voice conversations.”
Egan said parents need to frequently monitor their children’s social media activity and cell phone use.

“Good parenting techniques require active and regular communication about what is appropriate communication, who are true friends and the danger of social media communication,” Egan said.

There are products available to monitor a child’s online activity, and parents need to educate themselves about parental control options. Facebook, for example, requires its users to be at least 13 years old.

The recent celebrity photo-hacking scandal reinforced the lack of understanding and even arrogance among youth that they can protect their online communications or photos, Egan said.

“Often, it is forever on the World Wide Web, and someone can gain access to it,” Egan said. “Also, schools are increasingly dealing with bullying, conflict and fights that spill over into school from social media, and the parents have no idea these conflicts were occurring.”

Social media also allows teens easier access to drugs and alcohol. Teens can contact their friends online to get drugs, find out where parties are taking place and even buy drugs online with a few button clicks and without their parents ever knowing.

“Peer relationships are an indicator of your child’s values,” Egan said. “Therefore, friends who use drugs are one of the biggest identifiers to whether or not your child is using drugs. If a parent doesn’t know who their child’s friends are, how will they identify any concerns, especially with drugs and alcohol?”

Egan said parents should limit online communications to certain hours of the day so kids aren’t connected all the time. Limiting use during homework time, during bedtime or so kids can engage in healthy activities such as exercise are good examples.

“Kids can be secretive about their online activities, so an active parenting role is needed to monitor these behaviors, and regular communication between parent and child can assist in keeping tabs with their child’s friends, moods, etc.,” Egan said.

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