iParent: A Crash Course in Social Media, Part 3

Click here for Part 1 , Part 2, Part 4 , and Part 5.

When Brandon was 7 years old, he was running around our church with another staff kid when they decided they were hungry. They left the building they were in and went to the building where they were sure they’d find food. The doors were locked, though, so they decided to climb an 8′ tall chain link fence to get in another way. Boys will be boys, so instead of climbing back down the fence on the other side, Brandon jumped. His shoelace got hung on the fence and he fell to the concrete, head first. By the time he was finished at the ER that night, he was really hungry! I felt terrible that my little guy had gotten hurt; I also learned that day that kids don’t always use good judgment. Had I known my 7 year old would leap off an 8′ fence onto a concrete sidewalk, I would have instructed him about the dangers in doing such a thing.

When Abby was 3, the kids went ahead of me into the garage because we were leaving the house. I realized that I needed to check and make sure the front door was locked, so I headed back in, and hit the garage door button as I did. When I came back just a few seconds later, Abby was holding onto the garage door and going up, up, up into the air. Turns out, it wasn’t nearly as fun as she thought. She hung there crying as I came to her rescue. Had I known she thought the garage door was a carnival ride, I would’ve done things differently.

When your kids are little, it doesn’t take long at all for them to get hurt if you’re not paying attention. We get that. What a lot of us don’t get, though, is this: when they get older, it doesn’t take long at all for them to get hurt if you’re not paying attention.

textingKnow this – sexting is common among teenagers, and it’s dangerous. If parents think that teenagers, even many of the good ones, aren’t sending naked pictures and sexually explicit texts to their boyfriends and girlfriends, they need to think again. I wanted to find current stats on the issue for a class I was teaching, but couldn’t. So I surveyed high school students at a church on a Wednesday night. They answered these two questions anonymously: Have you ever sent or received sexually explicit text messages? Have you ever sent or received sexually explicit photos?

36% said yes. For the most part, these were Christian kids. These are the ones who attend Bible study on Wednesday night even though most of their parents aren’t making them. That either means that Christian teenagers are sexting just as much as everyone else, or the number is even higher for unchurched teenagers. Either way, it’s not good news.
What I find interesting is this information I found in another survey:  About two-thirds of parents with kids aged 12 or younger said they were worried about “sexting” or other sexual behavior as a result of social media. But the number dropped to fewer than half for parents of kids aged 13 to 19.

We parents are not paying attention as much when we need to be. Or maybe, we think that because we covered it when they were younger, we don’t need to revisit the topic again when they’re in high school. But if you haven’t heard, the frontal lobe isn’t fully developed until the mid-20’s. That’s the part of the brain that is the command center for reasoning and decision-making, and provides the ability to recognize future consequences from current actions. We need to be concerned about these texting and social media issues long after the age of 13.

You might wonder why anyone would ever send a text that has such obvious damaging potential – same reason Brandon jumped off a chain link fence and Abby grabbed the garage door and let it carry her up. They don’t think anything bad will happen. Teenagers who are dating, or interested in dating, text each other all day long every day, and it sets up a false sense of intimacy. In two weeks time, they’ve shared things that would normally take 2 years to learn about each other. Texting feels safe. They text things they’d never say face to face, and send pictures they would be horrified for anyone to see.

That’s why parents need to be proactive and start the conversation on sexting.

Here are some important points to make:
*Once you’ve hit send, you have no control over where a text goes or who sees it.
*Sexting is child pornography.
*If your boyfriend asks you for a nude photo, it’s not because he loves you. It’s because he lusts you. There’s a difference. In a decade or two, we won’t be hearing sweet stories about how romances began from sexting. We’ll be hearing testimonies about how it ruined reputations and relationships.
*Never send anything to anyone, words or pictures, that you wouldn’t be comfortable for the whole world to see, because that’s what can happen.

And some questions to ask:
*Do you know anyone who has sent an inappropriate text or photo?
*How would you feel if you had a picture like that was sent all over school?
*Do you know that on Snapchat, people take screenshots of photos?
*What would you do if your boyfriend/girlfriend asked you to send a nude photo?
*Do you know that photos that hit the Internet never go away?

Teenagers aren’t little anymore, but they still need our guidance in order to make good decisions. The last thing any parent wants is to see a child fall and then wish he or she had done things differently.

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