Saturday, April 20, 2013

Drinking, Drugs, and Danger in the Digital Age! Is Your Family At Risk?

Drinking, Drugs, & Danger in the Digital Age

Depending on the generation, youth has always faced its social challenges, tested them, and moved through them - scaring some young people more than others. Over the past couple of months, however, two high profile cases have been in the news regarding the degradation of two young females by their peers - in real life, and then perpetuated by online victimization. The combination of drinking, drugs, and dangerous behaviors in the Digital Age has catapulted the violators of such injustices and their victims to a whole new realm of exposure, and of ensuing consequence. While emotions are highly charged around both of these recent cases (as with many others that mimic these horrific offenses), and while there are many different levels of accountability for all parties involved, Parents and Guardians are on the front lines of responsibility. And although there are a myriad of strategies to intervene effectively with both offenders and victims, Parents and Guardians, there are three critical interventions you must implement - now.

First, Parents and Guardians, give your children access to technology that is age appropriate. This not only takes into consideration the kind of technology, but also the degree of usage/exploration with the technology. We have rules/laws about the age of drinking. About the driving age. About the voting age.  Why? Because we know that the 'right to participate in a privilege' goes hand in hand with the 'responsibilities that accompany it'. On previous blogs I have addressed this, but once again, know exactly why you are giving your children a piece of technology. State the reasons to yourselves and to your children. Once you  do that, sit down with them and explain its uses as well as the rules/expectations that come along with it. Get everyone in the family on a Family Online Safety Agreement (see below). Introduce your children to the world a 'little at a time'. Help them experience success and allow them to demonstrate responsibility. Do not send them out blindly into an environment where they can falter and fail; where they can destroy their lives and perhaps someone else's forever.

Technology must be age-appropriate.

Secondly, Parents and Guardians, discuss and implement Digital Citizenship with your children.  
Although most of us struggle greatly with the heinous acts of offenders, many of us are even more incensed with the horrific online victimization that accompanies such injustices (photos, videos, etc. of the victims streaming through the Internet). In no way am I  defending any of the offenders when I remind Parents and Guardians that our children are subject to peer pressure. They are impulsive and egocentric. They think in the 'now'.  They are not analytical or evaluative; they typically do not project into the future about the dire consequences of their actions. Parents and Guardians, it is your job to have a conversation with your children about Digital Citizenship - what is good, appropriate, and decent behavior online (and off). If is critical that you lead by example and that you are crystal clear about what your children are to do when and if they find themselves or someone else in danger or in harm's way. In numerous studies,  many young people have stated that they feel that their 'online life is separate from their real life' and therefore, the same rules of respectful behavior do not apply. Remind your children that the 'law' does not see it this way.

Model and teach "Empathy".

Thirdly, Parents and Guardians, model and teach your children empathy. You might think I am joking. No way. This is probably the most important of the three concepts. Read on, carefully. We live in a world of technology; it is amazing and it provides us with incredible knowledge and entertainment! However, in study after study, researches have found that individuals who participate in online aggressive acts also demonstrate lower levels of empathy. In males, researches have detected  a decline in cognitive (thinking) empathy; in females, lower levels of affective (emotional) empathy. Think about this simple fact - we cannot feel badly or sorry for another human being and hurt or harm them at the same time. The lack of empathy itself is exacerbated by the aforementioned facts: the immaturity of the youth involved with their decision making and the disconnect they feel from the real world and their online world. Parents and Guardians, first, you must model empathy.  How are your treating others - online and off?  Do you demonstrate respect, kindness, and a healthy regard for others? Do you practice empathy with your own children?  Next, talk about empathy and teach it to your children.  Use the tragic examples in the news as 'teachable moments'. Ask them what they could have done differently or what they would do if they found themselves in a dangerous situation.  Role-play!  Yes, role-play with your children (age appropriately).  Go through the motions of a harmful situation. Stop and discuss healthy choices - how and when to make them. Parents and Guardians, the more you talk about and model empathy, the more likely your children will be to implement it when the time comes. It could make all the difference between hurting a victim and/or helping one. In short, their decision to chose to be empathic or not could significantly alter the rest of their lives.

Audrey Pott - Age 15

On September 10,2012, a beautiful 15 year old girl named Audrey Pott, attempted to take her own life after being horrifically violated - in real life and online.  Two days later, on September 12, she died. Her family has been forever scarred. Our hearts go out to them. The offenders - their lives and their families- are also forever changed. This didn't need to happen. Parents and Guardians, as we give our children freedoms to enjoy, it is our duty to instruct them about the responsibilities and the dangers inherent within them. 

Let's start today.  Let's step it up.  Let's protect our children... and all the others who deserve no less.    

Note: The Family Online Safety Agreement and other critical tools for parents are available in cyber bullying no more: Parenting A High Tech Generation.  Amazon

For more helpful parenting tools, tips, and resources, please visit Holli Kenley.
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