Check Your Teen’s Tech

I consider myself a pretty tech-savvy mom, as far as new-millennia parents go. I’m a therapist, I’ve built a basic website and I have been using email since the early 90’s when it was so new, none of my friends had email addresses. I believe that technology is a wondrous thing that has changed the way we interact with one another on so many levels.

But now that I have teenagers, I’m much more aware of the dangers associated with technology. The most recent danger I’ve come across is an app called “Omegle”. I discovered this app on my fifteen-year-old’s iPhone while doing a random “security check”. We have an agreement that as long as she’s living under my roof I will spot-check the phone from time to time. (Actually it’s not an “agreement” so much, it’s more of a parental mandate.)

I am also well aware of the delete button; that my daughter is able to erase the things she doesn’t want me to see. I also want to afford her some level of privacy to have conversations with her friends that I’m not privy to. But these random checks have turned up a few red flags now and then that have blossomed into opportunities for some very productive conversations about safety with my teen.

Helping Teens Use Tech Responsibly

My husband I agree that it’s important to teach our kids how to use technology responsibly, rather than shelter them from it. Believe me, there are moments where I wish I could lock up my daughter until she’s 25 and then expect her to magically be prepared for the outside world, but it just doesn’t work that way. Just as we can’t teach a child how to drive a car if we never allow them behind the wheel, we can’t expect them to use the Internet responsibly if they are kept from using it.

Don’t Talk To Strangers

Unfamiliar with this Omegle app, (which was free- there is a paid version as well.) I looked up their website.

Their tagline says it all: “Talk to strangers!”

Why would anyone want to talk to a stranger?

I put on my therapist cap, and realized there are several people who could be in this category:

  • People with social anxiety/difficulties who want the feeling of real friendship but not the hassle of doing it in a healthy manner. This would pose a tremendous risk for the autism spectrum/Aspergers population.
  • Teens looking for the thrill of “talking to strangers” because of the adrenaline rush they get from knowing their parents would disapprove. Rebellion is certainly a problem parents of teenagers have faced since before the invention of fire.
  • And pedophiles. A social platform where no one’s identity is revealed and its’ users are marketed as “Strangers” who are chosen for you to talk to “at random” is a virtual playground for a child predator searching for their next victim.

Further investigation on Omegle’s back-story turned up this on Wikipedia:

“The site was created by 18-year-old Leif K-Brooks of Brattleboro, Vermont, and was launched on March 25, 2009.”

Well, that explains quite a bit.

The Scary Truth

I also learned that in October of 2014, a Minnesota man was arrested after kidnapping and sexually assaulting two 13-year-old girls he allegedly met via Omegle.

Ugh. The instinct to lock up my daughter until she’s 25 crept in again.

A calm, rational discussion with my daughter about the use of the app revealed some startling information. Two users had already asked her for her Kik and snapchat names so they could “talk to her privately”. We spent time discussing the dangers, as well as educating her about how pedophiles go about “grooming” their victims. I can’t be sure that these people were indeed pedophiles, but it’s crucial for parents and teens to be aware of the systematic way child predators seek out their victims.

My daughter was certain that the people who contacted her were boys just a little older than her, who wanted to meet other teens. I educated her on the possibility that it could be someone much more dangerous. Luckily, my daughter understood, but even if she didn’t, calmer, parental heads would prevail and we would disallow this app, regardless. We’ve decided to ditch Kik and snapchat as well. The texting app that came with her Iphone is more than enough. Better safe than sorry.

It helps to have our kid’s buy-in and understanding, but it’s not absolutely necessary in order to do what’s right for them. This is one of those times.

I fear for the parents out there who aren’t so vigilant. And who can blame them? As tech-saavy as I consider myself, there are new things that crop up almost daily, that our kids know about long before we do.

Stay Informed

Here are a few ways to stay informed on the latest trends:

https://www.commonsensemedia.org

http://www.internetsafety101.org

http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/parent-guide

 

Above all else, if you’re not comfortable setting healthy boundaries for your children, seek the help of a professional counselor.

It could literally save your child’s life.