First comes technology, then a host of unintended consequences follow, leaving us wondering how do we deal with these problems? The internet, social media, and mobile devices have thrust a very dangerous technology into the hands of nearly every adolescent child.

Why is it so dangerous? Adolescents are at a time in their lives where they have neither the life experience or the decision making skills to safely manage the impact of cyberbullying (as either the victim or the bully), or becoming a victim of sexual exploitation; one in five teens who regularly use the internet have received unwanted sexual solicitation.

We expect children to make mistakes. In fact, trial and error is a primary learning tool for teens. Even the juvenile criminal justice system recognizes this. A juvenile’s criminal record becomes sealed at adulthood, giving them a second chance to learn from their earlier experiences and become a productive adult. The internet and social media gives no such break. A teen’s mistakes and indiscretions on social media are memorialized forever. Even when a social media account like Instagram is deleted by the user, screen shots of the account live on as posted images on other sites.

From kindergarten on, children are taught how to properly socialize with each other. The Golden Rule, “Treat others the way you want to be treated,” is chanted by children sitting in a circle with their teacher. What about teaching them that the Golden Rule applies even when that person is unseen somewhere in the world reading their social media feed. We have seen numerous examples where a rude, inappropriate, or threatening post can destroy lives or dreams. The only thing standing between the horrible consequences of social media misuse is the decision center of the teen brain that won’t be fully developed until about age 23.

I believe that digital citizenship and all that entails should be a manditory part of a child’s education experience, beginning in early elementary school. Although, I am advocating for schools to pick up this issue, parents must engage their children about the the danger of social media misuse before they hand them a mobile device. An ongoing conversation and accountability is every parents job to provide their children in the digital age. Parents can learn how to do this by going to my Cyber Safety for Parents class or by using the tools provided on this website.

When so much is riding on our child’s digital reputation and the unforgiving nature of the internet, we must teach them how to safely navigate social media and not leave them to their own devices.