If you haven’t been able to skim the family safety headlines lately — no worries. We’ve plucked a few stories from the top of the family safety heap for you. Talk about them around the dinner table tonight, continue monitoring smartphone apps, and most importantly, keep the relationship and communication with your kids strong.
Sarahah and Live.me are two new apps tweens and teens seem to love that, unfortunately, also bring inherent dangers into your family.
Saraha, an Arabic word that roughly means honesty, allows kids to send anonymous comments to friends. Users can also comment on other profiles anonymously, including accounts of strangers. While some kids use the app to send kind comments or flirt harmlessly with a crush, Saraha has also become a hub for bullying. Comments are anonymous, which can give kids the digital courage they need to say things online they would never say to a person’s face.
Live.me is a live-streaming app that allows users to broadcast to unseen followers and encourages building a celebrity-like following. Unfortunately, while most kids dream of becoming Instagram or YouTube famous and are attracted to this app for that reason, they may also encounter pornographic, illegal, and predatory accounts. Live.me also shares a user’s location and allows others to search for people streaming near them.
Family Talking Points
Anonymity = bullying. Anonymity and technology just don’t mix. When apps allow anonymity, then it’s likely that bullying and crude behavior become part of that culture. Discuss integrity — the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles — so that kids understand why being accountable (not hiding anonymously) online is important.
Live streaming is risky. Live steaming opens the door to a world of content that your child may or may not expect to see including pornography, drug use, criminal activity, racy behavior, racism, crude language, and even live violence. Remember: Live streaming invites strangers into your home and you into the homes of countless strangers, where it’s uncertain what you will find.
Monitor apps. Your child isn’t going to be the first to surrender his or her phone each week for review so if you want to know what apps your child uses; it’s up to you to be consistent with monitoring. Be able to recognize the app icons to look for (see above, right) and make sure you approve of the apps your child is using. Remember, you are the parent, you set the expectations and rules, and enforce the consequences.
21-Year-Old Blind After Excessive Gaming on Smartphone
A recent story out of China reminds us that good digital habits begin early and that technology addiction is a real thing with real consequences.
A 21-year-old Chinese woman has reportedly gone blind in one eye after days of playing Honor of Kings, a favorite, multiplayer Smartphone game. According to reports, doctors diagnosed the young woman with Retinal Artery Occlusion (RAO) in her right eye. RAO is a blockage in one of the small arteries that carry blood to the retina, which is a layer of tissue in the back of the eye able to sense light.
Family Talking Points
Know the signs. Signs of tech addiction include a sense of euphoria when digitally connected, neglecting friends and family, sleeping less, dishonesty about usage, feeling ashamed, anxious, guilty or depressed as a result of too much technology use, and withdrawing from favorite activities.
Take action. As parents, we usually sense when something is awry in our family dynamic — even if we linger in denial for a little while. If you have a hunch your kids (or you) are too tethered to technology, you are probably right. Some quick tips: Practice being present. Being present requires you to put away your phone, make eye contact, ignore visual distractions, actively listen and engage with the person speaking. Also, establish tech-free zones such as movie time, dinnertime, and car time. If the expectation is in place and parents are leading the charge, kids will learn early to unplug.
Is Your Kid a Bully? Then You Could Go to Jail
Technology has taken bullying to historic levels both online and off. And, a new law in one city addresses the issue of bullying by punishing parents of bullies with fines and even jail time.
Parents could face punishment if their child violates the city’s curfew or any city law, including bullying, twice over the course of 90 days. According to reports, parents could be fined $250 and sentenced to 15 days in jail. The law is now in effect in North Tonawanda, a city just north of Buffalo.
Family Talking Points
Stress Accountability. What the police are doing to parents — holding them accountable and responsible for the actions of their minor children — models real-world consequences. With schools and cities overwhelmed with bullying cases, take the time to discuss with your child, the responsibility that comes with owning a piece of technology and what happens with misuse. Put consequences in place for inappropriate or intimidating behaviors online or in a public place. Most importantly, know what your kids are doing. Stay connected, stay talking, and stay on top of their behavior online and off.
Get serious about empathy. Don’t ignore or minimize the damaging ways kids can treat one another. The wounds of bullying today run deeper than prior generations can imagine. Ask your child to think about what mean comments, exclusion, or “joking” words would feel like if directed his or her way. Teach empathy — the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person — every chance you get. Get involved immediately if you see bullying happening to your child, another child, and explore ways to help them heal.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family. (Disclosures).