What Are Your Kids Really Doing Online?
Before I start I want to make two things clear. Firstly, this is not yet another post about internet safety for kids. Secondly, if you fall into the category of parent I’m about to describe, you may be offended by what I say. I’m not sorry for offending you. If it gives you the kick up the arse to do something with the information I give you, then I am fine with that. I can live with you being slightly pissed off with the apparent offence you have taken.
Now we’ve got that little disclaimer out of the way, let’s proceed.
Tech Wise Kids
Most kids now, from quite a young age, are using the Internet. Or at least some form of technology that might be linked to the Internet. If you have a child that has a mobile phone then I’ll also take a pretty good guess that they are using at least one social media site. As a parent, you are probably already well informed about Internet safety and I’m sure you’ve had the chats with your kids about staying safe online and not giving out personal information and talking to strangers. But in most cases, you probably accept that your kids are more tech savvy than you are.
How often to you check your child’s phone or Internet usage? Do they know you check it?
How much do you know about the various different social media sites that kids are using?
Can you interpret the language and abbreviations used by kids when they comment on posts and message each other?
If you’ve arrived at this blog post because you are a blogger yourself or a social media type person, then I’m confident enough that the rest of this post doesn’t apply to you. If you are a non-tech savvy parent, that’s just sort of arrived here because you clicked on something, then listen up. The rest of this post is for you.
How much do you really know?
My own daughter was 16 last week. Luckily for her, or she may think it’s unfortunate for her, she’s had me as a mother, that’s been creating content for the Internet for quite some time and was there pretty much at the birth of social media. I get it. I understand the fascination, the almost addiction, the need to take the absolute perfect selfie. The joyful fist pump moment when you get way more likes than you expected. And when somebody cool retweets you. Wow. It can, sometimes, make your day. That people who make videos whilst sat in their bedrooms and put them on YouTube are the modern-day popstars and are starting to eclipse footballers in the popularity stakes amongst the under 25’s. I get that kids now are way different to when I grew up. Society is different. Cultures are different. Life is just different.
And what do my generation and older generations do? They criticise and roll their eyes. Create stupid memes to share on Facebook about what a ‘real’ childhood is. They call these apps and websites stupid. They somehow think that by growing up in the 80’s or the 60’s it gives them a badge of honour to tell kids these days how they should be living their lives.
Today’s teens will have more opportunities at their fingertips than any other generation before them. Technology will see to that. In just a few years our lives will be run from our smartphones and everything else will be dictated by a computer programme. But your ignorant attitude is snubbing this technology and rolling your eyes at the kids that are embracing it. Who’s the stupid one now?
Whilst at dinner last week with a mixed group of my friends and their kids there was an obvious difference between the two generations. The teens all sat on their phones all night. The adults chatted to each other. I was somewhere in-between. When one of the girls told me her Snapchat score was well over 100k, my thought was ‘Wow!’ When she told me that one of her friends is over 250k, my thought was ‘Holy shit!’ Not one other adult at that table understood my reactions. Or what a Snapchat score represented.
Basically, for a 14-year-old kid to have a Snapchat score of over 250k, they’ve posted a hell of a lot of Snaps!
The same teen showed me photos of a girl in her year at school. OMFG!!!!!! We’ll come back to this in a minute, as this did raise some Internet safety issues.
My point here is that kids are embracing new technology. You may think they are just starring at their phones or taking endless selfies, but this actually just represents how they see the world, via a smartphone. They are embracing and using technology far better than their parents or grandparents. Because that is their futures.
Automation and Robots
Many people my age are totally oblivious to the technology revolution that is happening right under their noses. They are too busy posting memes about playing in the dirt as a child and how kids today are anti-social, on Facebook. Making smart arse comments about me blogging or earning a living by doing something they still, 3 years later, don’t actually know what I do. Yes, I hear your remarks. No, I don’t care. Maybe try clicking on the odd link or two and reading my website or a blog post. But then I suppose ignorance is bliss and it’s easier to mock what you don’t know. Anyway.
The government’s office of national statistics is currently predicting that around 45% of current jobs will be lost over the next two decades to advances in technology. Robots, AI, VR are all coming for your jobs. A lot of different industries will be pulled apart and automated technology will take over. There is a very high chance that many people of my generation will be caught up in this and will lose their jobs. They will probably be replaced by a robot that is programmed by their kids. And yet you scoff at this new technology our kids are embracing? Again, who’s the stupid one now? By not embracing technology you just not only found yourself unemployed but probably unemployable too!
Ignorance Isn’t Bliss
The reason most parents my age and older generations scoff at all this new technology is a) because they can not embrace and accept change and b) it’s just easier to be ignorant rather than asking your kids what it is that app does that they are all obsessed with. Like taking an interest in what your kids are really in to rather than just telling them what they should be in to. They are the experts at being teenagers in today’s world. We, the parents are not the experts on this subject matter!
Which brings me nicely round to the Internet safety aspects.
Whilst you are being ignorant of what Snapchat is and does or why it’s different to Instagram and not even having a clue what Periscope is, your kids are being exposed to some real, actual dangers. And most of it is there in plain sight and if you wasn’t being so ignorant then you’d also see it.
Take the 14-year-olds photos I went OMFG at. She looked a good 10 years older in the photos. She had an inch of makeup on, her cleavage pushed up so there wasn’t much of it left to cover and she was posing like a page 3 model. Yes, she had a lot of likes on her photos. She also had a lot of very creepy comments, many telling her she was sexy AF, and many commenters were way older than her. If that was outside in public and a random stranger came up to your daughter and said she was sexy as fuck, what would you do? Lamp him or call the police? You certainly would not ignore it. But you do online. Why is that different?
Tip Of The Iceberg
Given that I have a teenage child myself and I work in social media, she is fully aware that I will snoop. There is also stuff that she will show me anyway. Most of the time whilst viewing I will see (on teens public accounts);
Girls photos with inappropriate comments as I’ve previously mentioned, requests for nudes or hook up arrangements (and we aren’t talking dates here or even a Netflix and chill)
Drinking, smoking and drug taking and on Snapchat it all comes with step by step commentary too
Young teens engaged in sexual acts
Bitching, bullying, name calling, arguments and threats
Very desperate attention seeking
And all this is in the public domain. If I can see it then why can’t these kid’s parents? I think we’ve already answered that one. But even if you are monitoring your child’s Internet usage, and they know you are, then they probably also have secret accounts. Likewise, remember the boys in Ford Cortinas and Fiestas with co faster stripes that used to hang around outside the school gates? They now hang out on Snapchat asking for nudes and sending dick pics. Make no mistake grooming is on the increase and getting very sophisticated. The rise of the Internet has brought us many great things, but it’s also given dangerous predators many new hiding places and often in plain sight.
Don’t Cut The Cable!
Chances are your kids have seen something online that was disturbing, illegal or made them feel vulnerable. But before you go taking their phones away and disconnecting the wifi, remember what I said about those job-stealing robots? We absolutely can not and should not stop our kids fully embracing and using today’s technology. Yes, it won’t hurt to have yet another Internet safety chat with them. But actually, it’s up to you to up your own game and learn what the hell they are talking about when the abbreviations they use don’t make any logical sense at all and look like someone got dyslexic with the alphabet spaghetti!
Do you know all the different mainstream apps and what they are used for? Would you spot the warnings signs of online grooming? Do you know how to set yourself up a sneaky secret second account in case your kids block you?
Show An Interest
I get it. You say you haven’t got the time for all this social media stuff and haven’t got the inclination to start Snapchatting your friends. And why should you learn what it’s all about, it’s what kids do?
So, you don’t have the time to help protect your child online? To monitor their safety? To actually take a tiny little step in the right direction to future proofing yourself so that all this new technology may not be so baffling to you when the robots coming looking for your job?
Wow! I wouldn’t go holding your breath waiting for your parent of the year award!
Why not try showing an interest in what your kids are doing? Not in an authoritative, concerned parent kind of way. But a genuine, help me out son, how do I work this app, kind of way. Ask them what the Snapchat filters are or which is their favourite. Send them a Snap. Ask them who their favourite YouTubers are and actually watch a few videos. You might be bored to tears but at least you might just grasp what a YouTuber is.
And if they say they want to start a YouTube channel, instead of laughing, why don’t you help them? Even if it’s just Googling about how to optimise a video for search engine ranking, at least it shows you are taking an interest in what they do. Or take a look at ways to monetise their channel so they can earn themselves some money. And guess what will happen then? Your kids will know that you have an understanding of all this Internet stuff and are more likely to speak to you if something they see does concern them. Now, how’s that for progress?
Now You Embrace It
We’ve established how you can better keep an eye on your kids online, how about you take things a step further and start future proofing yourself? Do some research, look it up about the robots taking over and if you will be affected by it. And if you think you will be then start planning to either retrain or be the person programming the robot. There is nothing wrong in looking to the future and making sure you will still be able to pay your mortgage in 10 years time.
At the same time take a look at your own social media usage. Are you an over-sharer that posts endless mundane crap that your kids are probably embarrassed by? Do you air your dirty laundry in public or Facebook your problems rather than facing them? Are you inadvertently posting inappropriate photos of your kids publicly? All those school uniform photos? Photos that have the school badge on the uniform making it easy for anyone to identify the school your kids go to. Whilst watching your social media habits and potentially your whereabouts at the same time? Perhaps you’re the one making your child a target?
Technology and the ways and means in which we communicate aren’t going away. Things are not going to go back to the way they were in our day. Pen and paper and payphones are history. So rather than scoffing and belittling Internet usage, why don’t you give it a go? You might even learn something!
I will follow this post up with some how to’s and signs to look out for but for now, can you at least download Snapchat?
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