Imagine if some of your direct messages suddenly were made publicly visible to all? The potential for friendship disaster may be very high, especially in the high drama world of middle and high schoolers.
Click on your name in the upper right hand corner to view your timeline.
Click on past years (one at a time). It will open up a box (see image) listing all the individual posts you made to others. Hover over the upper right hand corner so that a little pencil icon appears. Choose “Hide posts from timeline.”
Repeat this for each year.
No go help your kids do the same on their timelines.
This is a powerful reminder that we need to be scrupulously careful about the things we post online, even in a supposedly private context like a direct message. As soon as we put it in writing and release it into the ether, we lose control.
Statistics like these have prompted initiatives by parents and school officials to administer Breathalyzer tests to young people. “Remember the debate over whether school nurses should distribute condoms? Now it’s: We know they drink, but what message does it send if schools give Breathalyzer tests?” says Mark Defino, a parent in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. School officials there have been testing kids for alcohol before school dances and proms since 2007.
Attorney Daniel R. Rosen, whose firm handles auto accident cases, adds, “Besides the moral implications, it’s a matter of balancing the privacy rights of students against controlling drinking and driving.”
The debate over Breathalyzer-testing our youth rages across the country. In the Pequannock school district in New Jersey, it began in 2006 and hasn’t stopped. That year, at a Pequannock school dance, 40% to 50% of the kids arrived under the influence of alcohol. A survey of 400 juniors and seniors taken during that school year revealed that 219 students had used alcohol in the previous 30 days.
Pequannock school officials decided to rely on Breathalyzers to keep the students honest. The district implemented a program that warned students; they could be tested for alcohol up to 80 hours after they have consumed it. If a student had a drink on Friday, it would be evident on a test on Monday. Since that program began, the number of juniors and seniors consuming alcohol has decreased by 37%.
I commend the district for having the courage to take action instead of waiting for a tragedy,” says Lacy Link, an educator in Northern New Jersey whose district is considering a similar program. She notes that many parents support the program. “Some have purchased breath alcohol ignition interlock devices of their own,” she says. Breath alcohol ignition interlock devices (BAIID) are designed to prevent an individual from operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. The result is peace of mind for parents by reducing the likelihood that their teenagers will be arrested for drunk driving or be involved in a near-fatal or fatal drunk-driving accident.
One in three eighth-grade students has tried alcohol. One in five teens binge drinks, but only one in 100 parents believes their child binge drinks. Seventy-four percent of kids (ages 8-17) said their parents are the leading influence on their decisions about drinking. Having regular family conversations about alcohol can reduce underage drinking and drunkenness by 30-60%. When parents and kids are better connected, kids are less likely to drink or use other drugs.
To help parents tackle this tough issue, MADD provides a parent handbook on its website and arranges community workshops. Around the holidays, it’s particularly difficult to curb teen drinking and driving, not only because kids let loose after exams, but because of capitalism, straight up.
Barron H. Lerner, M.D., Professor of Medicine and Public Health at Columbia University Medical Center and author of the book One for the Road: Drunk Driving Since 1900, notes that the alcohol industry has opposed many anti-drunk driving measures by enthusiastically promoting the phrase “responsible drinking” in public campaigns while opposing legislation aimed at deterring drinking and driving. Plus, beer companies, in particular, continue to advertise heavily and promote events on college campuses.
Teenage drinking and driving statistics are alarming, but parents are not without resources. The best resource is sharing yourself, and speaking from the heart, without judgment. No Breathalyzer test is a substitute for an open and honest conversation with a young person about taking responsibility for their actions. When young people feel they are heard and affirmed, constructive change can happen.
Pari Chang is an attorney and professional journalist with writing credits that include The New York Times, SELF, and Glamour.
About five years ago, a parenting magazine for which I do a lot of freelance writing asked for my review on a safety product that had been mailed in to their offices by a PR agency. It was a wrist band that small children could wear around swimming pools, ponds and lakes. Immersion in water would set off a wireless alarm, letting adults know that their immediate attention was required.
Water is dangerous. Parents and supervising adults need constant vigilance. While any tool that seems to offer additional supervision would seem to be a great idea, I’m not convinced. These kinds of products can also lead the adults who should be watching to get lazy, to stop paying constant, close attention. To forgetting to latch the gate. Or turning away for one moment to answer the phone.
Things don’t have judgement like people do. Kids pull bracelets off when adults aren’t looking. Batteries fail. Connections aren’t made.
It’s too easy to let something else do the watching when it should really be us.
I think about this every time someone asks me about Internet surveillance software for their kids and teens. Like the pool monitor, our initial instinct is to say “Yes, great! Let’s watch them in every way possible to keep them safe!”
But it doesn’t usually work out that way in actual practice. If you are using SocialShield or UKnowKids or McGruff to remotely monitor your kids’ activities online, then the temptation is to relax and stop asking them so many questions. Maybe you don’t need to connect their Facebook page to your email account so you can get notifications. Maybe you don’t need to regularly sit down with them and review their news feed, or the text messages on their phones. After all, you now have a fancy dashboard that shows you who they are talking to, what sites they are visiting and what photos they are posting online.
You’re still missing out on something. As with the pool safety monitor, you are missing out on the direct connection to your kid. You are missing out on the shared processing of all this information and communication. The chance to ask them about something they posted in casual conversation, or to remark on the cool gif they made or funny video they posted. And because this direct monitoring puts you in each others’ faces from time to time (with all the eye-rolling, groaning and moaning this may elicit from your kid), they actively self-censor what they do on the Internet.
This is exactly what you want, right? You want them to pause before they click “send” or “post” and think “Will this freak my mother/ father out?” Because if it won’t freak you out, it probably won’t be mistaken for bullying, or sexting or potentially embarrassing material that may prevent them from being elected to office in 25 years. The hope is that eventually they will learn to internalize this filter. Which is when you can pull back and give them a little more incremental freedom.
A recent survey by Cox Communications found 34% of tweens said they lied to parents about what they have been doing online; only 18% of parents knew about this. Why would we want to put even more distance between us by watching them from afar? That’s a rhetorical question actually. I know the answer — because our kids hate it. A 2011 Pew Internet study found that monitoring increased the number of arguments between parents and kids. But while it’s tempting to hide behind monitoring software to avoid the conflict that results from asking your 13-year-old daughter to log into her Facebook account with you, it doesn’t accomplish much.
With all those fancy surveillance tools, it’s just too easy for kids to forget mom and dad are watching, because it doesn’t come up in conversation all the time. It isn’t in their face. They are lulled into forgetting. And since the object isn’t to catch them doing something wrong (or drowning, heaven forbid, to extend the pool metaphor) but to keep them safe, that’s not much good.
So don’t send me an email telling me that the pool safety wristguard saved your nephew’s life or some Internet software stopped a bullying scandal, because I’m happy for you. Really. I’m glad harm has been avoided.
I don’t think these services or objects are inherently evil. But I do think they are the easy way out. They are a job half-done. They make it too easy to keep a constant, honest, eyes-peeled, mind sharp watch on our kids, at least until they are old enough to watch out for themselves, whether they are at the pool or up in their room with an iPad.
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