Your seventh-grade son wants to join a social network to swap skateboarding tips with his pals.
Your daughter in high school doesn't hang out at the mall with her girlfriends like you once did -- she's too busy posting selfies with them on Instagram. Is it a good idea to instill your fears in your kids about the dangers of sexual predators on the Internet, and the possibility of permanently writing their adolescent wrongs, searchable forever, online?
Especially, she adds, since today's children have been denied some of the freedoms previous generations took for granted as they grew up.
"These technologies are not going away," says Boyd, whose book, It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, cites her 10 years of fieldwork documenting teens on Internet usage. We need young people to learn to navigate these environments responsibly.
We do our youth a disservice when we simply exclude them from these dynamics and then expect them to figure it all out when they're off in college." Stranger danger is a leading concern among parents, Boyd says.
But the facts regarding Internet predators simply don't jibe with the level of alarm.
"A central challenge in addressing the sexual victimization of children is …
facing the reality that strangers are unlikely perpetrators," Boyd says.
"Most acts of sexual violence against children occur in their own homes by people whom those children trust." Boyd's research reveals that the majority of kids who partake in risky behaviors online -- interacting with strangers in private chat rooms, offering details about themselves on random sites, even arranging to meet unfamiliar people face-to-face -- are often the same children who are most at-risk offline, too.
What may be a more valid concern is the rising trend of sexting and cyber-harassment among teens who are dating, cited in a new study done by Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
School your kids about behaving safely when online with these tips from Boyd: Encourage technology.
"The key is to create digital training wheels when kids are younger and to offer more freedom in the teenage years, so when they leave home they make responsible decisions." Acknowledge the pluses. "Many youth who have grown up with technology use that distance as young professionals to navigate difficult discussions with bosses, or otherwise navigate conflict in new ways." Open up worlds for your child.
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