A Parent’s Guide to Texting, Facebook, and Social Media

The Internet isn’t just prevalent in our lives, it is our lives. According to a 2010 Pew Research Center survey, over 93% percent of teens ages 12 to 17 go online, 75% of them own a cell phone, 66% say they text, and  72% of teens have a social networking profile (eg. Facebook).

With the growing popularity of these social networking sites and mobile cell phones, the neighborhood playground now spans the globe.  Teens, as well as adults, now have access to and are exposed to more people than ever before.  Unfortunately the world has always known evil people to find new opportunity and the Internet is no exception.  The ubiquity and popularity of the Internet is just their fertile place to lurk and be mischievous if not downright hostile.

What follows are seventeen of the most shocking statistics I’ve read about a growing epidemic of online harassment and cyberbullying.  It’s a wake-up call for parents, teens, educators, politicians – just about everyone who uses the Internet or mobile phones. It is also a dramatic statement that the role of adults is to help our youth learn to use the Internet safely, not forbid its use. Because accessing the Internet is no longer a luxury or discretionary choice.  I’ll repeat my opening statement: The Internet…..is our lives.  (Keep reading too because at the end of this article, I have 2 important recommendations for parents on how to help their children use the Internet and mobile technologies safely.

  1. About half of all teenagers have experienced some form of online harassment and 10 to 20 percent experience it regularly (Cyberbullying Research Center).
  2. Over 25 percent of adolescents and teens have been bullied repeatedly through their cell phones or the Internet (i-SAFE).
  3. Over half of bullying and cyberbully attacks go unreported to parents, educators, or authorities.
  4. On a daily average, 160,000 children miss school because they fear they will be bullied if they attend classes.
  5. Every 7 minutes, a child is bullied on a school playground, with over 85 percent of those instances occurring without any intervention.
  6. 100,000 children carry guns to school in 2009 as a result of being bullied.
  7. As a result of being bullied, 19,000 children are attempting suicide over the course of one year.
  8. Once every half hour a child commits suicide as a direct result of being bullied (online and offline).
  9. At the end of 2010, over 30 children had taken their own lives after being cyberbullied.
  10. 64 percent of all teens say they do things online they don’t want their parents to know about (Lenhart, Made, and Rainie, 2006).
  11. 71 percent of teens receive message online from strangers (National Center for Minind and Exploited Children).
  12. 51 percent of teens have been asked for personal information online (MCAfee, Inc.).
  13. 42 percent of youths ages 10 to 17 have seen porn in the past year.Two-thirds of these exposures are unwanted (University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center).
  14. 26 percent of teens have been harassed by their cell phones either by voice or text (Pew Research: Lenhart, 2010).
  15. Size doesn’t matter – cyberbullies don’t have to be “tough” or big.
  16. 72 percent of parents say they can see their child’s full profile on social networking sites.
  17. Most victims have not set up privacy and security settings.

What can a parent do?

First, take the time to learn what Facebook is. Even if you don’t have to time yourself to use it, you need to understand it. Whether it’s Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, or any other social networking site, these sites are part of mainstream communication today.

Next, take some time and set up privacy and security settings. I can count on one hand out of the thousands of people I’ve met in workshops, seminars, and classrooms who have even glanced at the privacy settings in Facebook, the most popular of all the social networking sites.  Admittedly Facebook might be doing some squirrely things with our data but to their credit they do offer the most robust and sophisticated system of privacy settings of any social site.  Unfortunately their mission is for all people to be more social so the personal default settings are often a lot less restricted than most people might realize.  To help both adults and teens protect their privacy when using Facebook, I’ve prepared a step-by-step guide on how to “Network Safely When Using Facebook.”  It’s available now for only $5 by clicking here.

Third, it’s important that parents prepare not only their teens, but themselves as well, to combat this serious topic. The Parent’s Guide to Texting, Facebook and Social Media: Understanding the Benefits and Dangers of Parenting in a Digital World by Shawn Edgington guides parents and teens to developing an open communication on the dangers of the internet and bullying. It’s important that both parents and teens recognize symptoms and causes of bullying and are able to report it to an adult. Learn more about The Parent’s Guide to Texting, Facebook and Social Media and order Shawn’s book.

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