Smartphones and tablets are here to stay. In fact, these devices are becoming an integral part of our future and the careers our children will eventually choose. We don’t want to deprive them of participating in the digital world, but as parents, we are concerned about the impact of cell phones, social media, and their online interactions on our children’s mental wellbeing.
Also, parents sometimes get stuck thinking about their children as the innocent toddlers and kids they were. The harder reality that we are faced with is that even when we think they are ‘innocence impersonated’, they are subjected to an amount of peer pressure and they participate in an online world that we cannot fully comprehend. This has a significant impact on our children’s mental wellbeing. Our children are exposed to an environment where they are constantly inundated with new apps, new online friends (who they have or have not met), new information, and a new way of balancing their digital activity and reality.
Although we believe we can relate, we still talk about their “digital” and their “real” lives. The fact is that growing up in this age, children don’t have this distinction. To them, digital is part of their real lives. Let’s sit with that for a bit…
Most tweens and teenagers go through a phase of getting stuck in their minds rather than talking about everything. When they encounter events that bother them, whether in person or online, their first port of call may not be their parents. They fear that when they speak up about difficult situations and their parents try to intervene (or interfere), that the situation will get worse.
This could happen when they are being bullied or cyberbullied or when they have seen content that their minds can’t really deal with at that age. They may also encounter content such as pornography or sexting that causes them to feel guilt and shame but remain curious to engage even more.
A significant number of children who are being cyberbullied or are exposed to inappropriate content online, unfortunately, turn to self-harm as a coping technique. At their age, we cannot expect them to have all the emotional tools to help them open up a conversation about their mental wellbeing, how they are feeling, and reach out to someone who can help them. Especially when they are feeling vulnerable and afraid. Sometimes self-harm could lead to suicidal ideation, which is the scariest thought for us, as their parents.
When our children are exposed to these situations, they need our help more than ever. They need advice from parents or caregivers to guide them on this journey. But for parents, not knowing when or how this happens means that we can’t protect their minds or their thoughts and unless they talk to us about it, we seldom have any way of knowing. Some parents keep a close eye on all the devices in the home, but with all our time constraints, it is so easy to miss something small that could lead to a bigger issue.
Now, more than ever, we have to spend time building better and closer relationships with our children, to ensure they know that we are their safe space. We have to create a space to have conversations about difficult topics like pornography, online grooming, sexting, self-harm, and bullying, to name a few. We also have to ensure that we have the information at hand to discuss actual difficult situations they encounter, rather than hypothetical scenarios. Where our guidance actively influences the content they search for, post, and like on social media. Where we have the opportunity to guide them on who they accept as friends or which messages on chats they react to and more importantly, how they respond.
If you are a parent who would really like to know what’s going on in your child’s online conversations, without invading their privacy, join FYI play it safe today. FYI play it safe will send you an alert when your child is exposed to potentially harmful situations.
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