Today’s children can barely comprehend a world without screens and social-media accounts, and their parents are left trying to navigate the perils and pitfalls of the internet.
Licensed social worker and consultant Marcus Stallworth says it’s worth remembering that young people’s minds are still developing, and they’re under a lot of outside influence. But he says parents and caregivers still should have the last word on what children decide.
“How they choose to dress and decision making, or how to approach the opposite sex – Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram – those things didn’t exist when we were growing up,” says Stallworth. “And the kids will say, ‘These are mine, these are private.’ Remember that you are the parent.”
Stallworth stresses that parents can and should get involved in their children’s online worlds. Experts say parents should have access to their child’s online accounts and monitor their posts. Some advise insisting that online use happens in a common area of the home where its use can be monitored.
Stallworth says of the children who have been approached inappropriately, only about a quarter told a responsible adult. Stallworth says he doesn’t want to add another demand onto overwhelmed parents, and parents may meet pushback or feel intimidated if they try to enter their children’s online lives. But Stallworth says doing it works a lot better than we might think.
“You could learn a lot about your child by sitting down, playing a video game with them – how they respond to successes, how do they handle stress,” he says. “Kids, if you ask them the right questions and if they feel you’re sincere, they’ll answer questions. You just have to ask them.”
On the topic of online disinformation, Stallworth says he has lobbied for school systems to include media literacy in their curriculum. He says part of the appeal of some kinds of untrue stories in social media comes from the fact that the controversy itself draws looks and likes.