“Raising teenagers is like nailing Jell-O to a tree.”
I don’t often write about kids, even though I have four of my own. But a conversation I had the other day put writing about children at the very top of my list.
I have a friend who thinks she’s tech-savvy because she gave her daughter a smartphone and put a computer in her room. The irony here is that my friend does not have the slightest clue how to turn either of them on, or what to do with them. If her daughter was the biggest porn star on YouTube, sexting 24/7 or scoring crack on Twitter, this otherwise fab woman would not have a clue. To her, technology is something that she can, in her own words, “do without. I have no use for it.”
This may be fine for her, but her teenagers sure have a use for technology — and may be abusing it. About 77 percent of teens own a cell phone; on average kids between 12 and 17 send 60 texts per day; and approximately 80 percent of teens are using social media. Despite this, most parents don’t understand the need to show their teens how to properly use these tools.
Sure, we make kids take lessons on how to drive a car because otherwise it would be dangerous. Guess what: technology is the same. Why are we expected to arm kids with technology, but not arm them with the knowledge on how to use it wisely and safely? As a parent, it’s not OK to let your teens navigate the information highway without a seat belt, because nine times out of 10, the last thing they are doing is collecting information. They are giving away information — and way too much of it.
Do you know what Twitter is? How about Instagram? (I bet you’ve heard of the former, but maybe not the latter.) These are two of the biggest social media sharing sites where teens are leaving a cyber trail of bread crumbs about their every move. They use these sites to post information and photos about where they are going, who they are with and what they are buying, eating or drinking.
One of the newest crime sprees to affect teens and young adults is robbery. Teens are posting pictures of their fly new sneakers, latest phone or coach handbags and then letting everyone (“everyone” includes sketchy criminals) know where they’re going. The result: more and more teens are getting jacked (look that up, it’s a hip word, all the kids are saying it). Well, getting robbed is the least of your worries, young girls, Tweeting about how wasted you are and where you are when you’re wasted. Readers, you can fill in the blanks from there.
Every parent that has a child that owns a smartphone should also have a smartphone — and they must know how to use it. Every parent that has a child on Facebook should also be on Facebook and must know how to set the privacy and security settings for their child. Every parent who has a child on any social media site should also be on that site and must know how the platform works. You never have to use it for yourself — you just have to understand it. You must know and understand what your kids are doing there.
You must check out this site, which offers a very useful list of chat acronyms and text message shorthand. Trust me: you will want to know what it means if you see the number eight pop up on your kid’s phone screen.
Please send this article to any parents you know who need to be aware of social media and technology. If you can’t email them a link because they don’t have email, then sit them down and get them an email account. Then dust off your printer and print them out a copy of the article and of the shorthand web site.
This may all sound dramatic. But knowing this information and how to filter and secure hardware and software for your teens could truly save their life. IMHO, that’s worth a little bit of drama.
Dee Brun is the award-winning author of Libations of Life: A Girl’s Guide to Life One Cocktail at a Time, a cocktail chef and stylist, TV personality, home entertaining guru, writer, humorist, wife, mother of 4, TV Junkie, shoe-aholic, and borderline George Clooney stalker. Read her column, Isn’t it Deelightful, every Friday on Slice.ca.