Polls show attitude split between parents & teens

By Sue Scheff

Two polls came out recently, and both confirm that our youth spend a lot of time online.

The poll by Common Sense Media showed that 59% of parents believe their teens are addicted to technology. Among the teens themselves, 50% believed they were addicted. While 78% of teens check their devices hourly, 69% of parents do the same.

AT&T and the Tyler Clementi Foundation released a poll of parents and teens living in New York City on Internet safety and cyberbullying. 48%  of the teens surveyed said they have been cyberbullied, while 41% of the teens surveyed said that the comments their peers post online are mostly mean. It’s important to point out that New York City residents do not necessarily represent the entire country.

Although 78% of parents said they are speaking with their children about online safety and cyberbullying, there is a significant gap in the actual experiences. 57% of parents believe their children would tell them if they are being harmed online, but only 33% of the teens say they have actually done so. 43% say they would be “terrified” if their parents reviewed their smartphones, while 47% of parents admit they never check their children’s devices. There is a definite breakdown in communication – online and off.

This poll also showed that these teens spend at least three hours every day socializing online.

Finding a healthy digital balance is crucial at all ages. It starts at the top – with the parents. If mom and dad are checking their devices at mealtime or rudely in front of friends, you can’t expect the kids not to mimic their behavior.  Starting your boundaries early with your children (with their device contracts as soon as they are given a phone) is the best way to have them understand that their smartphone is not sewn into the palm of their hand.

Once you understand you need a healthy digital balance for your entire family, the next essential step is how are you using your social networking time?  Especially since we determined everyone is spending a good amount of time on social media (including mom and dad).

It’s important to review your social media habits. Many kids will text, post and send on the fly without thinking of the consequences.

From sending a sext that could lead to potential legal problems or posting questionable content that could risk losing a college scholarship or possible employment, it’s imperative that we start early (like with giving our kids boundaries on smartphones), we chat with them about their digital decisions. We need to have them understand and have confidence online, that when in doubt — they can click out. In other words, don’t send that text (or possible sext) especially if it makes them feel uncomfortable, don’t post a comment or image they’re unsure about and don’t be afraid to click out of a chatroom, app or website that doesn’t feel right. When in doubt, click out. Be sure your kids understand this, since you typically are not with them while they are in their cyber-land.

Positive posting

Remind your kids, and yourself, the old cliché that our parents and grandparents always said;

“If you can’t say anything nice, say nothing at all.”

This never gets old and it’s just the same for online behavior. If you’re not posting positive, think about what the end result is that you are trying to accomplish? Chances are it’s probably not good and nothing constructive can come from it.

If you see someone is being harmed online, don’t ignore it. Post something positive even if it’s a  private message to the person that is being bullied and let them know you are there for them.

Have you started your own blog or website yet? Share your activities, photos, community service events – create a blog site that is uplifting and positive. One that is engaging and makes people feel welcomed as soon as they open your page.

With all the time we spend on social media, we need to be sure we are making it as inspiring as possible.

Create social media habits that involve sharing positive posts, being a cheerleader for your peers and others, and a role model for those following you. Young and old alike, you never know when digital eyes are looking up to you for mentorship online.

The commonality of finding your healthy digital balance time online and your social media habits is starting your kids early with their guidelines/boundaries and chatting with them frequently offline about their online life. Be sure to go online with them and have them teach you things too. It’s a great way to learn more about their cyber-world.

Mom and Dad, don’t forget lead by example. Your kids can read. Create your own positive social media habits too.

Sue Scheff is an author and parent advocate. She founded Parents’ Universal Resource Experts, Inc in 2001. You can find Sue on Twitter at @SueSheff. Read more about her here.