Parenting

Dear Well-Meaning But Ignorant Parents: Here’s What Your Teens Are Really Doing Online

I’ve been mulling over this topic for quite some time, but this morning it became increasingly clear to me that I must say something. Folks, stranger danger is a real thing. And even more real today than it was 10 years ago thanks to, you guessed it, the Internet.

Strangers on The Internet

I speak specifically to the parents of kids old enough to be on social media. Of course, I am no such parent, but I am a teacher of those kids. I am also only six to 10 years older than the high school students I teach. Maybe that makes me unqualified to speak out, but maybe it makes me the most qualified candidate. Many of my colleagues and the parents of my students are old enough to be my own parents, so I tend to share a camaraderie with my students. And yet, I am far enough removed to be able to speak in ways that they cannot yet speak for themselves.

YouNow

The reason this subject has become suddenly so urgent to me is because today I read an article about a new website called YouNow, which is essentially a livestream site that a person can set up a camera feed and you can watch it constantly. Users can connect with cameras using hashtags like #sleepingsoundly. In other words, people—teenagers—are setting up cameras in their bedrooms so anyone, any stranger, can watch them sleep…or whatever. And while the stream is happening, there is a constant commentary by all watchers. I watched one today (for about 10 seconds because I felt totally creepy) of a teenager somewhere singing on his porch. The comments ranged anywhere from “you have a great voice you should date me” to much more obscene things like calling the boy a “fag” and telling him he looked like various parts of genitalia. Now yes, this website is not specifically marketed for teens, and yes, there are terms of use that technically prohibit obscenity and illegal acts. But if you know anything about teenagers you know that they quickly find loopholes to most rules. The Internet, especially social media, is NOT safe. And it is sobering how real this is.

Apps Teens Use

You may be thinking, “I’m smarter than that. I have a Facebook and I watch my kids online.” You might have a Facebook. So do I. And so does my mom and my grandma and all of her friends. But you know who doesn’t have a Facebook? Your kid’s friends. I took an informal poll of my 150 students at the beginning of the year, and 60-80 percent of my students don’t even have a Facebook. They connect with each other on Kik, an app that allows users to text each other without exchanging phone numbers. They use Snapchat, an app that allows users to send pictures that supposedly disappear forever after 10 seconds. They use Whisper, an app on which a user can “anonymously” tell their deepest secrets to a vast community of other secret sharers. They use Yik Yak, Tumblr, Twitter (do you know about subtweeting? you should.), Instagram, Oovoo, WhatsApp, Meerkat and sometimes even dating apps, like Tinder.

The problem with thinking you’re smart is that I would almost guarantee that there is at least one of those apps you’ve never heard of. And if you aren’t on it, your kids probably will be.

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Kayla Nicole Milam is a Jesus-loving newlywed and a high school English teacher in California who loves, among other things, rollercoasters. And picnics. And books. And chapstick. She looks forward to being a mams someday, and she’d love for you to visit her at her blog.

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