Maintaining a Dialogue About Monitoring with Kacee Bree
Today’s teenagers face a constant barrage of online threats that parents just one generation ago could have never imagined. The proliferation of smartphones, messaging apps, social media and the Internet have connected and empowered teens like never before. But many teens don’t fully respect or comprehend the consequences and degree of permanence that can result from mistakes made in the digital world. From sexting to cyberbullying, technology can get even the best kids into trouble that can haunt them forever — and it is up to the parent to monitor them and keep them safe.
As a counselor, youth minister and advocate, Kacee Bree Jensen witnesses firsthand the effect technology has on child and teen development. A consultant, pastor, author and speaker, Jensen was hired by her church to act as a representative on school campuses. A parent and stepparent herself, Jensen has been working with young people for 16 years, and works to counsel children and educate parents on topics like bullying, relationships, depression, grief and other social issues.
Sexting, Bullying and the Need to Begin a Dialogue
According to the Pew Research Center, nearly one out of four teens report being “online constantly.” Around 75 percent of teens have access to a smartphone, which is their gateway to the unrestricted Internet. The overwhelming majority of teens report having accounts on traditional social media sites like Facebook, as well as on image-sharing apps like Instagram, video-sharing apps like Vine and messaging apps like Snapchat.
That’s a lot to keep up with. In Jensen’s experience, keeping kids safe online has to start with a reality check by the parents.
“Even if you think you have the best kid in the world, and you probably do, it’s a different world online,” Jensen said.
The research backs ups that sentiment. According to CNN, more than half of teens now admit to having engaged in sexting — sending sexually charged messages or photos through a messaging or social app. Most kids are doing it, and many teens admit they have shared “private” photos with other kids or have been shown suggestive photos that weren’t meant for them to see.
Sexting isn’t the only threat facing today’s teens. Research shows that around half of teens have either been bullied or bullied others online — but fewer than one in 10 ever tell a parent.
“Kids are being cyberbullied but they’re not telling anyone,” Jensen said. “They are embarrassed or they feel their parents won’t get it.”
Bullying can range from common name calling to constant harassment, from which connected teens may feel there is no escape. In many cases, a leaked sext message or photo can be the basis of the harassment. In several tragic, high-profile cases, teens have committed suicide as a result.
“Kids don’t have inhibitions on social media,” Jensen said. “So they are saying harsher things online because they feel like they want to fit in. If someone is attacking a kid, they want to fit in, so they attack to feel like they’re part of the conversation. They say, ‘well, I would never say that in person’. They have this disconnect between online world and real life. But their words have an effect in real life. Kids need to understand that social media is just as real, if not more so because it is so public.”
Once you accept that no teen — even yours — is “safe” without parental monitoring and guidance, the next step is to begin and maintain a dialogue based in empathy. This, undoubtedly, can be a tough conversation to start.
“For parents, the main thing is to approach the situation with grace,” Jensen said. “Kids are learning, they feel insecure, vulnerable, guilty about things that they’ve said or things that have been said about them.” Parents should talk to them with patience and kindness, understanding that to communicate with them respectfully will only open more doors.
Trust Your Child — But Not the Digital World Around Them: Monitoring is a Must
Once a parent explains to their child that they will be monitoring their online activity for their own protection, the child is likely to push back. Parents walk a fine line between the need to keep an eye on their kids and the risk of invading their privacy, which can make teens want to take their activities underground.
Kids will inevitably accuse their parents of not trusting them. But parents have to understand that their primary responsibility is their child’s safety. Whether they trust their child or not, parents should not trust the bullies, predators and potential for exploitation that lurk on the other end of their teen’s smartphone screen. Explaining that it’s not about whether or not you trust THEM, but it’s about your lack of trust for what’s out there, will go a long way in preserving a relationship of trust with your teen.
“If they are mad, it’s okay,” Jensen said. “It’s more important for them to be healthy and responsible, it doesn’t matter if they’re mad. You have to be the parent. Our number one job is to be a parent.”
Parents can not possibly keep up with their teen’s online activity site by site, app by app. TeenSafe monitors every aspect of digital communication, including texting, which is crucial because that’s where teens get into so much trouble.
“I love TeenSafe because you’re able to see the text messages. You’ll be shocked, but then you can go have the conversations and ask the hard questions,” Jensen said. “Text messaging is scary because although kids understand the publicness of social media, they say things through texts that they otherwise wouldn’t.”
Teensafe enables parents to tracks their child’s location and monitor their messages and online social activity, but it can also help a parent save their child’s life. According to USA Today, TeenSafe has helped parents identify and remove immediate threats to their child’s safety, such as getting into a car with a drunk driver.
Educating Both Teens and Parents About the Dangers
All of this technology, and all of the platforms it supports, are new. Both parents and teens are learning as they go.
“A lot of it is education,” Jensen said. ” We need to bridge the gap as parents in helping kids understand that this is real life — what you post is there forever and what you say can hurt someone. If you wouldn’t say it in person, why would you say it online if the ramifications are the same?”
Parents have to take the time to try to recognize the warning signs and connect the dots.
“If your kid is lying, acting up, displaying anger, all that emotion could be coming from social media addiction or something that is happening online. How often are they on their devices? What are people saying about them and to them? If they need help detaching from devices, parents are responsible for getting them the help they need.”
When it comes to monitoring your teen, it is important not to forget that threats don’t always come from obvious sources like Facebook or text messaging apps.
“What I’m also seeing is the gaming culture. Kids are online playing Xbox and chatting with strangers they meet on the games, and then they talk to them through text messages or snapchat. In essence, kids are texting random people with crazy names like ‘Killer202’. Thank goodness for TeenSafe, so we can be aware and have conversations.”
In the end, however, technology like TeenSafe can only supplement good parenting — it can’t replace it.
“It’s all about knowing how to develop and be a good parent through the times,” Jensen said.