Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Should Parents Care About What Their Kids Are Doing Online?

 When it comes to technology, there is often an asymmetry between what parents and kids know. 


Being older, parents are much less likely to be the first to hop on the latest apps, while children tend to use them much earlier. And that means that adults usually only discover the dangers of various platforms well after their kids have begun using them. 


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The reasons for this are sociological. For kids, social status is everything. They want to be the most popular person in school. And modern technology provides a route for doing just that. Kids are jumping on whatever platforms they can so that they don’t miss out. 


These developments, however, are worrying for parents. Many simply can’t keep up with the changing online environment. And the vast majority have no control over the type of content that their kids view. 


The strangest part of the entire process is how the digital world is fragmenting identities. Teenagers can often wind up with multiple personas, depending on the platforms that they use. That’s leading to a range of unexpected behaviors that parents might struggle to manage. 


For parents, concerns usually fall into the following categories: 


  • Reputational: Parents are concerned about how their children’s behavior will affect their prospects in the future. They already know that many companies trawl people’s social media accounts, looking for more information on the type of person they are. If they find something they don’t like, they’ll flat it up, potentially denying that person a job.

  • Criminal: Enticing a minor by computer might be illegal, but that doesn’t stop thousands of people from trying to do it every year. Parents worry that criminals will use new apps and platforms to hoodwink their kids into meeting up with them. 

  • Search risk: Once something is on the internet, it appears to stay there for life. Thus, once you say something, it can potentially follow you around for decades to come, potentially impacting everything you do in the future. 


In general, parents understand the risks that the internet poses. Things hang around for a long time, anything you post is highly visible, and messages can often go viral. We’ve seen dozens of examples of young people’s lives being destroyed by mistakes that they made online, and we don’t want it to happen to our own offspring. 


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The good news is that most teenagers are managing all of this rather well. Most understand the risks of posting with reckless abandon. They know that it’ll likely follow them around for years to come if they do something controversial. And it could land them in serious trouble at their school. 


If they do post something contentious, they need to go into it with a full understanding of the drawbacks. Sometimes they might want to say something they think is true but other people will not like. 


Parents need to bear this in mind too. The internet is a forum to act disgracefully and heroically. And young people need the opportunity to do both when exploring their characters. 


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