Monday, November 28, 2016

Teens, Drugs and the Internet

I’ve spent a lot of my life watching children — as a parent, and then working with parents of troubled teens. I’ve seen so many adolescents gravitate towards the wrong thing like moths to a flame. Even if they don’t dive into the fire, they almost can’t help but be drawn to it.
It’s nothing new that teens put peers’ input above that of their parents. But what has changed? The input comes not just from classmates and neighbors, but from complete strangers who enter our children’s lives through their virtual world — the Internet.
When it comes to teenagers, it’s no surprise that social media is their virtual playground with 93 percent of teens checking YouTube weekly

Why does this concern me?

Over the last year, we’ve gotten just a rough idea of how much bad stuff kids can find on YouTube. Last May, researchers from a non-profit consumer group, the Digital Citizens Alliance, searched YouTube for videos that came up after entering “buy drugs without prescription.” The organization’s researchers found 38,000 videos and these findings were featured in newspapers and network television newscasts.
This news coverage of Digital Citizens’ initial research forced YouTube to take downmany of the videos. However in February, less than a year later, Digital Citizens did a second review on the same search term and it still produced 17,000 videos! More disturbing was that it showed a sharp increase in videos for Percocet (up 37 percent), tramadol (up 42 percent), and Oxycontin (up 108 percent), with many pushing purchases of these painkillers without a prescription.
Teens, drugs, and the Internet: it sounds like the perfect storm.
Many question why Google, who owns YouTube, would allow this type of behavior to continue.
Follow the digital trail.
Digital Citizens showed that these videos come with advertisements running alongside them. That means Google makes money on them... a lot of money. Of course everyone is allowed to make money; however, when it puts people — especially children — at risk or in danger, shouldn’t there be guidelines or protections in place?
Google confronted.
When a reporter asked Google for a comment last June about Digital Citizens’ first report, the company’s response was:
“We take user safety seriously and have Community Guidelines that prohibit any content encouraging dangerous, illegal activities. This includes content promoting the sale of drugs. YouTube’s review teams respond to videos flagged for our attention around the clock, removing any content that violates our policies.”
Another reporter asked about the newest research for a story this month, a Google spokesperson responded with virtually the same scripted reply.
No new answers despite increasing concern about how Google does business. ADigital Citizens survey showed that 88 percent of Americans agree that Google has a responsibility to make the Internet safer. More than half (53 percent) say Google isn’t doing enough. When asked if Google should not be able to profit by using ads from illegal or illegitimate products or services, 57 percent agree that Google’s conduct is not okay. As a parent, I want to be hopeful that Google wants to do the right thing for our children; it should be their corporate responsibility.
A recent spate of stories following the Digital Citizens’ findings — including news that YouTube has 200 “trusted flaggers” screening the site for inappropriate videos and a new, sanitized, kid-friendly version of YouTube with content designed for the 10-and-under set — indicates that Google recognizes there is a problem, but they plan to address it on the company’s own terms.
But why can’t Google just promise to stop running ads next to videos promoting illegal or illegitimate products or services, especially when they know that the youngsters like to frequently visit YouTube?
Everyone from parents, to young children, to veteran CEOs is looking to Google to see how the company deals with its YouTube problem. We all want Google to do the right thing; let’s face it, everyone young and old turn to Google at some point during their week.
As parents we are forced to blindly trust the giant (Google) to protect our kids in the virtual world when we aren’t there to monitor their activity.
The Internet is the neighborhood where the children of the 21st century hang out. Cleaning up the Internet, making it safe for all who visit there, has to start at the top with the biggest and richest company. If Google acts responsibly, or we consumers begin to hold them accountable, it is much more likely that small companies and other entrepreneurs will follow suit. Google has a mantra, “don’t be evil,“ but someone has to show Google that “don’t be evil“ is not the same as doing the right thing.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Digital Parenting: Offline Chats Means Online Safety

Your Child's Online Behavior Is a Reflection of Offline Parenting

Raising children in a digital society can be challenging. Today kids are exposed to technology and are sometimes given their very own keypads in their first years of life.

Generations earlier, the big talk was about the birds and the bees. Maybe parents would discuss this with us only a few times. A handful at the most -- sometimes not even that much in our adolescent years. Sex was (and is) a topic that many parents want to talk about as briefly as possible and then walk away.

When it comes to the digital world, there is no walking away. The reality for today’s youth is that their online reputation will someday determine their college admission and very possibly their future employer. Every keystroke, post, and comment counts.

Your child's online social skills are as critical as their offline people skills.

Where do you begin?

In tech terms -- by chatting. The tech talk is not a conversation you have once or twice, it's an ongoing discussion since the web is changing (as are your children) on a daily basis.

Unlike the sex talk, talking to your child about their cyber-life has to be done on a regular basis. It should be as common as, "How was your day at school?"

Short chats are better than no chats.

Whether you are riding in the car or sharing a meal, be sure you take ten minutes or more to talk about their digital lives.

The Internet is evolving every day, not only for our children but for adults too, so this can be a two-way conversation. Encourage them to show you new apps or websites they’ve discovered, and you can show them what you have learned as well.  Are you frustrated with your computer, tablet, or mobile device? Who better to teach you easier ways to work with new technology than your teenager?

Keep in mind, cyberspace is the 21st Century playground for our youth and teens. Not everyone they meet on this playground has good intentions. Just as you would discuss their offline friends and social activities, chat with them about the friends they mingle with online and the websites they visit. Building that relationship of communication and trust at home will empower them in the cyber-world. Again, it’s why your offline parenting skills are critical to helping your child make better digital choices.

Think CHAT:

C - Communication is key. Offline parenting will help online safety. Never stop talking about your child's daily cyber life. It is just as important as how their day was at school.

H - Help is always a call/text away. Be sure your child knows you are available to them. Note that the number one reason children don't report cyberbullying to their parents is fear of losing their lifeline to their friends -- the Internet. They should never have to fear your judgement, especially if they fall victim to online harassment. Make sure they know their safety is always your priority and that you are on their side.

A - Action plans. Talk to your child about action plans for cyberbullying. You are your child's advocate and you will be there to help them implement steps to prevent online cruelty. Starting with the child knowing to tell a parent or adult, and continuing with learning how to block and report.

T - Treat others as you want to be treated. It is the most important rule in real life and on the Internet. Always treat people with kindness. Make it a top priority.

With short chats, you can learn how to better protect your children from cyberbullying in a way that works for them and for you. Through daily check-ins, you can empower them to make better digital decisions when you aren't around. Teach them the phrase “when in doubt, click out,” so they know what to do when they feel uncomfortable in a chatroom, on a website, or using an app.

It is imperative to understand that in today's society the online world is as important to our children’s lives as their daily offline world. We must also treat it that way. Talking to them on a daily basis about their virtual lives, even if it is only for a few minutes, is just as important as getting their homework done on time.  You don't have to be a tech-geek or social media super-star, just be a caring parent.