Friday, October 30, 2009

The Friday Information Corner --Kristen Routh

Do you remember your first crush as an adolescent? Maybe that special-someone grabbed your attention in the hallways at school? Your heart would beat a little faster when you spotted your crush in the cafeteria or you sat behind that person in class. It seemed like you could think of nothing else but getting to know your crush, talking with him or her, or maybe even “going out.” You used all means necessary to capture your crush’s attention: “accidentally” bumping into him or her in the hallway after rehearsing how you would smoothly apologize seconds later; leaving notes in his or her locker revealing you thought your crush was cute; or maybe even gathering enough courage to ask for your crush’s phone number so you could talk to him or her outside of school hours.

Many of your children are experiencing crushes like these. Just like you had romantic daydreams focused on someone who remained agonizingly out of reach, your children are becoming enamored with the idea of having a boyfriend or girlfriend and are conceiving plans to grab the attention of that special someone. However, with the accessibility of modern-day technology, your daughters and sons have powerful new tools at their disposal what can help them turn their innocent dreams of social connection into what could become dangerous realities.

Technology and cyberspace now add new dimensions to youthful socializing and romance. Adolescents are branching out on the internet and using other forms of technology to make friends, flirt, and even date. Research from the American College of Obstetricians (2003) suggests that more than 1/3 of teenagers in the United States have a computer with Internet access in their home and that percentage increases substantially in more financially-affluent neighborhoods. Most adolescents use the internet at home for personal use including chat rooms, instant massaging, and social networking. With the increasing popularity of teens socially networking over the internet, more teens are sharing personal information online, including photos and videos, without your knowledge or consent.

How are your children connecting using technology? Here are just a few of the ways:
Adolescents keep their social networks buzzing with news of who’s-dating-who, who’s-cute, who’s-meeting-up-later-for-fun. With the accessibility of E-mail on computers and cell-phones, notes left in lockers and passed in class are being replaced with quick e-mails.
Instant Messaging: More commonly referred to as IMs, these online communications allow your children to carry on conversations in real time. IMing is now more popular than the home phone as a way for teens to talk.
Web logs: Known as BLOGS, teens pour out their thoughts, feelings, latest news on webpages rather than the pages of a diary.
Websites: Online gathering sites like and attract young people who come to meet others or even vent their private feelings through “status updates.” Photos and videos can be posted for public viewing as well as, messaging, emails and “wall posts.” Kids can search for existing friends on-line, view pictures of potential “crushes,” and even send private “friend requests” to people who your children may or may not already know.
Chatrooms: These are essentially electronic conference calls with many people talking at once. Adolescents often set up their own private chats, but some bolder chatters enter discussions with strangers in public chat areas.
Cell phones: Most parents buy their kids cell phones for safety reasons, however adolescents often view this device as a lifeline to their social lives. They can call, text, send photos, e-mail, and even remotely connect to social networking sites. Cell phones allow kids to reach out even more to people without the necessity of a home-based computer.
Camcorders/Webcams: No longer reserved for capturing major life events, video recording devices are used by adolescents to capture images of their friends and themselves in often embarrassing situations. Posting their videos to websites like allows the entire cyber-world to view and comment on your children’s videos.

Although there are many positive aspects of meeting and greeting online, parents need to be aware that misuse can lead to broken hears and bashed reputations. E-mails and IMs allow rumors to spread like wildfire on the internet. Someone intent on damaging another person’s reputation can easily send a message, photo, or video to hundreds of classmates at one time, by pressing one “send” button. In a 2005 survey conducted by MindOHI, an education company that focuses on character education, nearly 80% of the teens surveyed said that they had read or spread gossip on line. When that gossip has to do with a young girl’s sexual reputation, the emotional damage to that girl can be devastating.

The same survey by MindOHI found that 50% of the teens surveyed had seen a website that made fun of their peers. Teens dump their boyfriends or girlfriends “publicly” on webpages, or even post photos of other teens after Photoshoping or morphing their faces into embarrassing creations. Teens often take camera-phone photos or videos of other teens caught in public displays of affection and upload the private moments to the internet or post to websites where millions may view it, causing deep wounds to teen’s reputations.

Parents may blame the Internet when something bad happens such as their child’s hurt feelings, or even more serious problems such as children meeting online strangers in person. However, blaming the Internet may backfire on keeping your children safe. Many adolescents who are teased or tormented in cyberspace withhold that informations from their parents, fearing that they will be forbidden to go online. Hey reason that it’s better to tolerate the teasing than to be cut off from their social world.

Here are some things to consider to encourage open communication with your children about the proper use of technology:

  • Focus on the behavior of your children, not on the technology. The technology may have changed, but kindness and decency should still be at the top of both you and your children’s list. If your daughter is going to break up with a boyfriend, she shouldn’t send him an e-mail or text message to do so.
  • Talk about public versus private with your teen. A young girl may think it’s okay to pour out her innermost thoughts on a public website. Point out how that information may be used against her or might be used to fuel rumors.
  • Consider your child’s age when buying a new technological device. Does a 10-year-old really need a camera phone, or will a basic model suffice? Can you be sure your child won’t misuse a webcam? If you decide to buy a technological device, instill the message to your child that there is a responsibility that comes with receiving the new device.
  • Talk about romance and relationships. Kids may have a lot to teach parents about new technology, but parents have more to teach their children about relationships and romance—on and off the Internet, with and without technology. If parents neglect to talk about the excitement of love, crushes, and relationships, adolescents will get their information from peers, the media, and the Internet.

    How are your children connecting using technology? Talk with them, and find out today.

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