Making online safety as easy as 1-2-3

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Scott Whitehead talks to a group of young men in his mentoring program.

Photo used by permission from Caught Up.

Scott Whitehead talks to a group of young men in his mentoring program.

With kids gaining more exposure to social media and access to the internet, advocates say that teaching them how to safely and correctly navigate is vital in helping them to avoid mistakes in their online presence.

“They don’t understand how they’re affecting themselves,” said the parent of a child who had inappropriate pictures leaked from the social media platform Snapchat. The mother and the child will not be identified to protect their privacy.

The daughter, who was only 13 years old, went through a tough time. Once her photos were leaked, she had to change schools and the family sought legal action. Rebelling, she used social media to continue to send inappropriate messages out.  

Although the mother tried her best to monitor, she found it did not help as much as she thought.

“It did and it didn’t,” the mother said said. “Kids are kids and it’s amazing how they learn to get around it all. Honestly, the worst part is, it doesn’t matter how much we monitor or block her, she still manages to get around it.”

Scott Whitehead, a volunteer with Caught Up Mentoring, a Detroit-based group for young men, sees the effect social media has on the kids he’s around.

“It allows you to see things differently from when I was kid. You can see way more things from all over, and it’s more negative stuff out there than positive,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead noticed in the groups that he mentors that they gravitate towards whatever is shared the most, like fighting videos and sexually explicit content, in order to keep up and impress the kids around them.

“They really don’t know how to maneuver it. They’re growing up with this, it’s their life so they put everything on social media, which is very, very dangerous,” Whitehead said.

“They don’t understand the effects. Jobs, even colleges are looking at these kids social media and see this stuff,” Whitehead said.

So, how does a parent monitor social media when it’s ingrained into everyday life?

“I think to a certain extent, kids really shouldn’t be on social media,” Whitehead said. “It should be monitored, but how can it really be monitored when parents aren’t with their kids for many hours of the day? I’m not sure how that’s how that’s possible.”

Family Counselor Jodi Brown said the hardest part for parents is to learn to show support, even in tough times.

“Kids need to know that their parents will love and accept them, even if they have gone through a social media trauma, even if they ‘brought it on themselves,’ so to speak,” Brown said. “They need to know that their parents will have their back.”

Brown explained that kids will go through unique experiences, but the best way to try and monitor their social media is to explain the dangers early on and be honest.

“Teens need the opportunity to make bad decisions and learn from them while still in the safety of their parents’ home,” Brown said. “Later, parents should come to the point of letting go, but it is hard. Instead, parents can talk to their kids about what kinds of things should be brought to their attention and why.”

Brown, Whitehead and the mother of the child all agreed that although there is no clear but solution to monitor social media, the best way to prevent traumatic experiences from happening is education and security.

“Make sure they have it linked up so they can monitor it right away,” the mother said. “Have passwords so [kids] aren’t able to download without them knowing.”

Brown suggested allowing usage in doses, rather than none at all.

“Earlier on, parents can require that access to social media be limited in terms of frequency and length of time,” Brown said. “Parents can choose to not allow smartphones for younger kids, and require knowing passwords and the like.”

Whitehead explained that he stresses the educational and beneficial aspects of social media to his mentees.

“We’re not going to be able to get them off, so we like to teach them and show them how to use it to benefit them,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead also works in human resources, so he explained to the younger generations that it can play huge role in their live going forward.

“Social media is really your brand; that’s how they [jobs] see you. What they know is what they see and that can hold you back,” Whitehead said.

Brown advocates for a safe, educational presence for kids to lead on them on the right track.

“I just want parents to know that their kids need them, sometimes when they least act like it. They need their parents to be strong enough to say no when necessary and trusting enough to say ‘yes’, even when they know the kids will make a mistake,” Brown said.

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