To what did I owe such recognition? My sons didn’t have a phone.
Well, to be fair—and to tell it in their words—the twins were “the only 11-year-olds in the school, and quite possibly the universe“ who did not have their own phone.
Fast forward to this year.
The twins are now in the sixth grade. Having earned more independence and more of our trust, my husband and I recently decided to take the plunge and get the boys a phone.
One phone. To be shared. (Hey, they shared a uterus, so they can most certainly share a phone, says this Meanest Mom in the World.)
With a new phone now at their 12-year-old fingertips, I began to hear the voices of all the moms who ever engaged in this digital dance before me: Did you set up filters (plural)? Can you read their texts? Can they read yours? Will they get an Instagram account? Do they Snapchat?
Though I thought my husband and I had done our digital homework, I soon began to realize that today’s digital world, where teens and preteens are largely at its helm, is much larger, frustrating, and frightening than I had ever anticipated. Even among the most-used social sharing sites, there are dangers—especially when you consider kids today are often more tech savvy than we are, and Google is now a recognized verb in most homes. If your kid can spell and he’s curious, there’s a good chance he’ll turn to Google before coming to you.
I recently learned there are actually organizations who help educate schools, parents, and and other groups on digital citizenship, or using technology appropriately. If you have an elementary school child, it’s a term he/she is probably already familiar with.
A good friend of mine and mom of two elementary-age children and one middle-schooler works for such an organization. It’s called Education Service Center Region 20. My friend, whom I’ll call “Techie Mom,” travels around the region providing awareness sessions to schools, churches, and more on the latest and not-so-greatest tech trends.
Having just given my 12-year-old sons their first phone, and having a very curious nine-year-old daughter (who learned how to swipe and click an iPad as early three years old), I had to know more. So I asked Techie Mom what she thought we, as parents, should be most concerned with when it comes to kids—younger kids, age 12 and under—and technology. Her response? YouTube, Instagram, and something called musical.ly.
I should also say that, when used appropriately, these social sharing sites and apps can be a lot of fun! As a media marketing professional, I use them. Personally, I use them. My kids see me using them. They see their friends using them. Bottom line: having kids who know their way around social media and tech trends is part of our world, today, like it or not. And we, as parents – at one time or another must learn our way around them too.
So with help from Techie Mom, here’s a little more about each trend and why it could be dangerous, especially for kids just getting their fingers wet in the app and social sharing world:
1. YouTube. YouTube is fast becoming a daily part of kids’ lives—even our youngest of kids. Just how much is it being used? Check out astonishing YouTube stats here! Now, in order to create a YouTube account, the user must confirm he/she is at least 13 years old. Um, OK. That’s helpful, perhaps, to monitor what your child may upload to YouTube. However, as a mom of three children younger than 13, I worry more about what my kids may search for (and find). While Google restrictions are pretty solid, according to Techie Mom, YouTube restrictions are NOT. For a video to be restricted, it must first be flagged. So if a certain video has not yet been flagged by someone, there’s a good chance your six-year-old can pull it up.
Have you ever flagged a video on YouTube? Neither have I. I don’t know about you, but I don’t put a whole lot of faith in other people searching through billions of videos and flagging them based on what they deem appropriate. And I certainly don’t have time to do it either.
In our home, we personally removed YouTube from the iPad my youngest daughter “shares” with us, and if she wants to search for music videos or covers, she has to be with an adult. Honestly, this was our easy fix. However, with the 12-year-olds, one of whom plays guitar and uses YouTube for music tutorials, we rely on a heavy and recurrent dialogue about safe and responsible searches and YouTube use…at least for now (insert sigh from this Meanest Mom in the World).
2. Instagram. When the 12-year-olds recently asked me if they could have an Instagram account, I was hesitant. I asked them, “What do you want to use it for? What will you post?” Their answer? “I don’t know!” Exactly. Hearing this was confirmation to me that, at this point, there’s really no reason for them to be on Instagram.
If you’re new to Insta, as it’s often called, it is good to know that, like YouTube, Instagram has a minimum age requirement of 13 years old. But unlike YouTube, Instagram doesn’t ask users to specify their age. Also know that even if you use the settings to mark your child’s posts private, his profile is public. Anyone can see his profile photo, username, and bio. Makes you want to think twice about what you or your child writes or displays in that profile, doesn’t it? Another thing to watch for: Instagram’s Photo Map feature, which acts like a GPS, adding a location to an image. This feature can be turned off in the app’s settings. While you are in settings, Techie Mom says BE SURE to make your child’s account setting private. Why? For one, if your kid decides to #hashtag a photo or video clip, only your child’s followers, whom they have accepted as such, can see it. Public accounts, by contrast, allow those hashtags to go out there—wherever “there” is—for anyone see or find. Techie Mom says with her tweens she personally has a “no hashtag” rule. (As a Meanest Mom in the World, I like that idea too.)
Now, here’s something new that Instagram’s latest update allows us (the parents) to do that got my friend and techie mom pretty excited: Instagram now lets us log into multiple accounts on ONE device. Why is this good? You can now have the kids’ Insta accounts on your phone for easier access! When your account is set as such, a parent can see what her child posts, who direct messages her, comments and more.
For additional privacy and safety tips on Instagram—because there a ton—I found the information here very insightful and easy to follow!
3. musical.ly. I had never heard of this one! Apparently, musical.ly is a free iPhone/Android app that delivers an instant video experience, allowing users to take part in contests, follow musicians, and create music videos that combine a variety of effects. You can even lip-sync voice overs. Create instant music videos with effects? My 9-year-old daughter would be all over that! Techie Mom told me musical.ly is probably the most popular app with elementary age children. The problem? Up until recently, musical.ly was what Techie Mom calls an open app, which means the videos created with it could not be made private. In November of 2015, however, music.ly announced private accounts. With the update, musers, as they are called, now have the option to make their profile a private account. See how here. If you have yet to make an account private, “fans,” as they’re called on this platform, could set up your child as an easy target for cyber-bullying, says Techie Mom. Even among approved musers, Techie Mom suggests really talking to your child about what he/she puts out there and who might see it. If your child is letting her creativity flow and crafts a video, be mindful of what he/she is wearing and what can be seen in the background. Plus, on musical.ly, one can share other fan’s videos. So while your daughter may not be sharing her recording, a “fan” of hers, might.
4. Vine. Another popular video app that Techie Mom did not immediately volunteer in her top three dangerous tech trends but agreed parents should carefully monitor is something called Vine. I only recently learned of Vine because I overheard my 12-year-olds talking about it. The popular video app even made USA Today‘s list of five apps that could be dangerous for kids about a year ago. Vine lets users record and share short, six-second videos. Seems safe, right? Where it can get complicated, however, is when you factor in the peer pressure kids can face on social media. In the case where I overheard my sons talking about Vine, the conversation centered around a dare being shared on Vine called the Warhead Challenge. The boys love the popular sour candy, so in their 12-year-old minds, what could go wrong? Only a bloody tongue, according to the internet! Ask your child about the so-called Fire Challenge, Kissing Challenge, and Cinnamon Challenge. There is a good chance he/she has already heard, and maybe even seen, one of these so-called dares or others like them!
SO WHAT’S A PARENT—ESPECIALLY A TECH-CHALLENGED PARENT—TO DO?
How do we navigate tech trends that change so rapidly? A big part of me wants to just say “no” to every device and app and throw my children into a bubble, but that’s not realistic and probably not fair.
ESC Region 20 provided me with the following list of proactive tips that, at the very least, give us a place to start:
- Start the conversation as young as possible with your child regarding the dangers of drugs, dares, and dangerous tech trends.
- Get on social media to see what is trending and popular (it’s here to stay and changes quickly).
- Educate yourself on technology privacy settings and monitoring options.
- Become familiar with local and national available resources (www.sacada.org, www.drugfree.org).
- Stay involved in your school community. Begin conversations about these topics and revisit them often.
- Remember that you are not alone—the vast majority of parents have the same questions you may have
I’m by no means an expert, but I’d add this: Hover. My husband and I read our 12-year-olds’ texts, limit apps, and check their search histories (and thankfully, find them really boring).
Like so many young kids, my twins wanted their own phone for a long, long time. They finally got one, however, knowing full well that their phone would also come with a lot of conversation and one Meanest Mom in the World.
Because there’s no app for that…yet.