Sue Scheff: Teaching Pre-Teens About Technology

Tangerine Times founder has written a very timely Blog about the distressing news of kids and sexting/texting. Please take the time to become an educated parent and proactive in keeping your kids safe not only online, but with their cell phones.
By Myrna L.

This summer I’ve been working to expand my abilities into the video world. I was interviewed by a educational film maker about Social Media and teens (I will write more about this later). And, I’m excited to be part of a new video series about technology and kids (more on that later too). I’m also working on including a video component to my site which requires a little time and patience, both of which I’m in short supply lately due to our move. That said, I am excited to find new avenues to talk about teenagers and particularly their use of technology.

What Do YOU Know?
Frequently I get asked advice or “what do you wish you had known?” questions from parents of younger children. They are wisely looking to parents with older children for some guidance on issues surrounding technology use. Parents with children between the ages of 8 - 10 have a particularly important task. This is the age group (I think) that becomes strongly interested in personal technology but has the least maturation and ability.

Terrifying Texts
When I saw this interview with a ten year old girl who received terrifying texts, it made me even more resolved to engage parents of pre-teens in the discussion of technology use. The age-old “chain letter” has taken on a whole new life in the form of text messages. The pre-teen recipients just aren’t old enough to put the messages in perspective and are frankly, freaking them out. How do the messages reach these kids? One way is via the computer. It’s easy enough to send text messages via the AT&T, Verizon or T-Mobile website (so the cell number isn’t traceable). Granted, these messages are spam but the affect on the kids is still the same. It feels real to them. You can tell that by watching the ten year old girl in the interview.

Raising Good Cyber-Citizens
Parents of pre-teens can start by identifying technology use as a teachable skill that is something to be added to the parenting “list”. We teach our kids table manners, personal hygiene, how to study and how to treat other people - don’t we? This is simply one more teachable skill we need to add to our parenting duties. More work you say? It’s true, but if we don’t add “Raising Good Cyber-Citizens” to the list of parenting jobs, it may be our own kids that end up on the receiving end of technology gone bad.

Specific Tips for Safe Texting for Pre-Teens
If you are determined to get a cell phone for your pre-teen, start by making sure it is the simplest device possible. Try to avoid “loaded” or “smart” phones that have multiple capabilities. It’s hard enough keeping tabs on the “voice” part - if you want them to have texting capability - get ready to monitor it. It’s a lot of work. And, it can get really out of control FAST. Add features as the child matures and they demonstrate their “techno-skills”. I’ll write about how to buy a cell phone, when to buy and what features in a future post. For now, here’s some tips for if your pre-teen already has a phone with texting capabilities:

•Remind your child to send only appropriate texts and pictures (an inappropriate picture would be one that showed body parts that are normally covered by a swimsuit)
•Upon purchase of the phone, sign up for a call blocking program with your phone company (you can add this later if you forgot when you initially bought the phone)
•Tell your kids NOT to give their cell phone number freely to people they don’t know well. Teach them to guard their personal information and not divulge things like phone number, address etc to people they don’t know or where other people might overheard.
•Tell them not to respond to texts from people they do not know. This is hard for kids because they think it’s a friend of a friend. After all, texting and social media are designed for building groups and communities. They are meant (ideally) for older, more mature people who understand that a friend of a friend is NOT my friend.
Just some thoughts to get you thinking.
Follow TangerineTimes on Twitter at @BBerryMom

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