Teens and Social Media Safety: Tips for Parents

Kids_social_media_safetySnap Chat. Whats App. Voxer. With new online messaging and communications applications seemingly popping up daily, parents more than ever need to be mindful of their children’s technology and social media use, health care providers caution.

“Technology is great, but it has consequences, especially on our younger population,” says Dr. Christopher Min, a CHOC psychologist.

And while valuable, the convenience and speed of social media and technology can also have lasting impacts: Dr. Min estimates that social media or technology use surface in about half of his patient cases, and he’s seen suicide attempts that were related somehow to social media or technology.

“Teenagers’ lives are very much revolving around these things,” he said.  “It’s made teenage culture very unstable.”

Risky behavior and teens

Teens might be more inclined to participate in risky behavior online for both physical and emotional reasons. First, while their bodies and hormonal systems are fully developed, their brains are not, Dr. Min says.

“Brain development is far from over,” he says. “Their brains have not matured to the point that they can always prioritize, put on the brakes and consider consequences before acting.”

Secondly, teens feel significant pressure to be accepted. They also have a distorted perception of what’s normal because they are so encapsulated in their age group, school and circle of friends, he says.

“Acceptance to a peer group is very important,” says Dr. Min. “Adolescents will go to great lengths to be accepted into a group, or to feel like they are.”

Tips for parents

Every parent wants their child to feel comfortable and happy with friends, but they also want them to stay safe. To that end, Dr. Min has several tips for parents of children using social media and technology:

1. Monitor teens’ social media use.

To what extent a parent should track social media activity depends on the child, Dr. Min says, but parents need to be aware how a child uses these tools. Monitoring can be accomplished through regular discussions or more formal means such as sharing log-in information, depending on the child’s responsibility level.

 2. Encourage teens to get together in person.

The underlying reason for social media is create a sense of connectedness, and this can be accomplished faster than meeting in person. Instead, parents can help create connections by facilitating actual meetings with people, Dr. Min says.

“Be that cool mom or cool dad who makes it fun and cool to hang out at the house,” he advises.

3. Remember that parents control access to social media.

Dr. Min reminds parents that they pay for Internet or cell phone access. Parents should exercise authority and reason with teens by stating clear consequences and rewards for social media use.

“In treatment, I like to help parents realize that in the structure of the family, the control has to rest in the parents,” he says. “They don’t need to be powerless.”

Tips for teens

Dr. Min also has advice for teens. He recommends that teens who are ready to post something online instead pause for five to 10 seconds to consider their actions, the post’s meaning and possible consequences.

“This will help them in not posting things that they don’t want cemented on the Internet forever,” he says.

Learn more about psychology at CHOC.

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Tips For Teens to Avoid Distracted Driving

If teens didn’t need another reason not to text and drive, police across the region will crack down on distracted drivers in April as part of national Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

The California Highway Patrol, state Office of Traffic Safety and more than 200 local law enforcement agencies statewide will be out in force, ticketing drivers caught texting, holding cell phones to their heads, or driving while appearing distracted in any way.

The federal government reports that about 3,300 people died nationwide in car accidents involving a distracted driver in 2011. Further, 18 percent of all injury car accidents in 2010 were attributed to distracted driving.

Law enforcement officials say that young and inexperienced drivers are more likely to have an accident because of distracted driving. For a driver of any age, using a cell phone behind the wheel reduces brain functions needed for safe driving by up to 37 percent.

If that weren’t sobering enough, teens in California have a financial incentive to put down their phones while driving: The fine for a first-time texting or hand-held cell phone violation is $159, and subsequent tickets cost $279.

According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, about 57,000 people statewide received tickets for distracted driving in April 2012 alone. Almost 450,000 people received tickets statewide in 2012.

Here are some tips from the Office of Transportation Safety to help motorists of all ages prevent distracted driving:

• Turn off your phone and/or put it out of reach while driving

• Include in your outgoing message that you can’t answer while you are driving

• Don’t call or text anyone at a time when you think they may be driving

• Adjust controls and set your song playlist before you set out on the road

• Stay alert and keep your mind on the task of driving – often after a long day at school or a not-so-restful night’s sleep, people’s minds can wander when behind the wheel. If you find yourself daydreaming, clear your head and focus on the road.

• No eating or drinking while driving

• No grooming

• No reading

• No watching videos

• If something falls to the floor, pull over before trying to reach it.

• Try not to get too involved with passengers

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Talk With Your Kids About Inappropriate Cell Phone and Internet Use

In a study released this month by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), an increasing number of adolescents participate in “sexting,” which can include sending sexually explicit images of themselves or other minors by cell phone or the Internet.

Over 1,500 Internet users, ages 10 through 17, were surveyed about their experiences with appearing in, creating or receiving sexual images or videos. The study found that 2.5 percent of youth surveyed have participated in sexting in the past year. If sexting is defined as transmitting sexually suggestive images, rather than sexually explicit images, that number increases to 9.6 percent. Most kids who have participated do so as a prank or while in a relationship, and a significant number of the incidents included alcohol or drug use.

Study authors recommend that more young people are educated on the consequences of possessing or distributing sexually explicit images, which is currently treated as a criminal offense.

Experts agree that talking openly with your kids is a great way to learn how much your kids know about the topic, and an opportunity to discuss with them the potential consequences. Express how you feel in an age-appropriate, non-confrontational way. An ongoing, two-way dialog can go a long way in helping your kids understand how to minimize legal and social risks.

In many cases, kids are acting this way in response to peer pressure, in a form of cyberbullying or pressure from a boyfriend or girlfriend. Sometimes it’s impulsive behavior, blackmail, or flirting. Make sure they understand that sharing these type of images should be avoided via email and the web too – not just their cell phones. Let your kids know that in any case, this is activity they should not participate in or support.

For more information on kids and cell phones, please click here:

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    If teens didn’t need another reason not to text and drive, police across the region will crack down on distracted drivers in April as part of national Distracted Driving Awareness ...