Technology, teens and bad ideas


Here’s an idea that makes a even the biggest broadband advocate in the world question the role of technology in the world of teens. According to the Washington Post

The photo-sharing site Instagram has become wildly popular as a way to trade pictures of pets and friends. But a new trend on the site is making parents cringe: beauty pageants, in which thousands of young girls — many appearing no older than 12 or 13 — submit photographs of themselves for others to judge.

As the parent of three girls, I’m more than cringing! Especially since the article continues…

Although users can keep their Instagram accounts private or use pseudonyms, they can expose themselves to the public once they share their photos with others.

The girls in the beauty contests often did not take care to keep their identities and locations private. Some dressed in shirts embroidered with their schools’ names, others provided a link to their Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr accounts containing information about who they are and where they live.

I have full access to my grade-school kids’ Facebook accounts, so I see the pictures that their friends post online. Let’s just say that some seem to forget that old adage – don’t post anything online you wouldn’t want your grandma to see. I can only imagine what’s on the Instagram contests.

A similar tool is SnapChat; I wrote about SnapChat on a different blog. It’s an app that allows you to take a picture and send it to a friend with the idea that it shows up only for a few seconds. I found an interesting article from The DePaulia (school newspaper from DePaul) that talks about why the author uses SnapChat and why she admits it’s “Possibly our generation’s self-destructive addiction.” The author alludes to the very dark side of SnapChat…

Anna Brenoff of The Huffington Post wrote, “Certainly, it is the perfect tool for sexting. You get to show off your privates and there’s no evidence left for extortion later. It also means that your Mom, who is doing her best to police what you do online, doesn’t get to see what you send your friends.”

Although she also seems to dismiss the impact…

Internet privacy is a common topic, and I believe more teens know how to deal with it than in the past. Snapchat is for friends, not enemies.

Unfortunately she seems to have forgotten that for a teen, today’s friend may be tomorrow’s enemy. And that for teens alliance to your besties may be stronger the deep-roots of teen romance. (Hacks for saving the temporary pictures are not difficult.)

So what’s a concerned grown up to do?

The Washington Post article alludes to recent steps taken at the federal level to improve online security for kids – but they also admit it’s not enough…

In December, federal officials strengthened privacy rules for children. But analysts say regulators are not keeping abreast of new technological trends that present fresh questions about the safety of children on the Internet.

Threat of legal action has also been an effective tactic. I’ve heard of stories in Minnesota involving inappropriate SnapChat pictures have benched a few athletes – both the original SnapChat sender, the recipient quick enough to do a screen save and the recipients of those captured pictures. And the results were minimized considerably because the original SnapChatter was over 18. According to Mashable, students in New Jersey may be looking at more serious consequences.

Students at one New Jersey high school could face child pornography charges if found in possession of nude photos of classmates.

Explicit images sent via Snapchat prompted a police investigation after two freshman girls shared pictures on the controversial app and later found them posted on Instagram. The Ridgewood High School students sent photos to at least one male classmate who took screenshots in order to save them to a gallery.

In a letter to parents on Wednesday, Superintendent Daniel Fishbein said school officials were working in conjunction with local police to educate the community about “legal and psychosocial implications of this activity.” Fishbein shared the letter with students in sixth through twelfth grade to address the app’s popular use among middle schoolers.

I think the key in the following example is education. Education in the community, with parents and with students. I’m amazed at how many fellow parents are not aware of what their kids are doing online – and fearful of how much I don’t know. (At least I know that nothing makes technology less cool than your mom using it!) For parents and teachers, the roadblock is often keeping up on technology. Common Sense Media is a helpful source to try to keep up on what’s happening and how you can parent to support better use of technology. Earlier today I wrote about TechTECs, an organization that provides training to communities on topics such as online privacy.

Talking about it at the community level helps too. Bringing it up at broadband meetings and PTA events. Finding ways to get adults connected with what’s happening and helping both adults and teens get the tools they need to navigate through digital opportunities. I wouldn’t trade the safety of being offline for the new worlds my kids enjoy online – but I’m interested in mitigating risks.