Friday, Jul 12th

Safeguarding Your Child's Digital Experience

DigitalParentingMeredith Dutra and Jennifer CronkRaising kids in this rapidly changing digital age can be overwhelming to say the least…from toddlers to teenagers, there always seems to be something for parents to worry about. And questions like, “How much screen time is okay,” or “Should I let my tween use this new app,” can feel even more overwhelming when we don’t know where to turn for answers or if we feel like we are alone with our concerns about technology. Luckily for parents here in Scarsdale, we have technology teachers like Meredith Dutra and Jennifer Cronk to help us wade through the uncertainties. On Tuesday, January 23rd, this dynamic duo gave a presentation “Digital Parenting: Tips & Triage,” which aimed to answer questions, give guidance, and create a digital parenting community for our PTA members.

The presentation began with Ms. Dutra and Ms. Cronk (who are not only teachers but parents themselves) sharing some of the findings from the Technology Survey which was given to the Scarsdale School Community at the end of the last school year. The survey found that we are in fact, not alone and many parents, teachers, and even students are concerned with how technology can impact attention, mental health, social well-being and so much more. With these concerns in mind, Dutra and Cronk went on to discuss a plethora of tips and suggestions for establishing a sense of digital well-being at any age.

One of the first pieces of advice they offered is to start talking to your kids about their use of technology when they are young. Not only does talking about digital safety and your family’s rules around screen use establish a foundation for communication in regard to technology norms, but according to Dutra and Cronk, it’s easier to make an impression with young children who still want to comply with adults. Starting discussions early also promotes a sense of community and lets kids know they are not alone if/when they encounter troubling issues in their digital worlds.

This doesn’t mean that as parents, we shouldn’t still talk with our teens about their use of technology, quite the opposite…in their presentation, Dutra and Cronk emphasized that because their prefrontal cortexes are still not fully developed, teens need help from their parents to curb screen use. We can’t just tell them, “Get off your phone,” or “Don’t sext” we need to show them how and to give them healthy limits and boundaries. For tips navigating the digital world with teens, the presenters suggest reading, Behind Their Screens, by Emily Weinstein and Carrie James.

For any age, the teachers also suggest utilizing parental controls on your children’s Apple devices saying, “ With Content & Privacy Restrictions in Screen Time, you can block and limit specific apps and features on your child’s device. You can also restrict the settings on your child’s iphone, ipad, or ipod touch for explicit content, purchases, and downloads, and privacy.”

Dutra and Cronk discussed the use of parental control and monitoring apps like Bark, WebWatcher, Flexispy and more. While these types of apps are beneficial in that they allow parents to monitor their children’s online activity and personal messages, Dutra and Cronk warn that it can be a lot of work for parents to constantly check these apps and it could threaten the bonds of trust between you and your child. Ms. Cronk suggested using some of the more intrusive monitoring apps more sparingly and only on an “as needed” basis. In the same breath, she also made clear that with her own teenagers, she knows all of their passwords, checks their phones regularly, and doesn’t allow her children to have their phones in their bedroom past bedtime.

The presenters highlighted some of the pitfalls of several popular apps used by children and teens. First, they warned about “guilt by association” and detailed a story about how a large “group-text” between high schoolers ran amok when a few of the kids started making racist remarks. Unfortunately, the entire group was held accountable for the wrongdoings of just a few, prompting Dutra and Cronk to warn kids:

-Only text with people you know in real life
-Only say things on text that you would also say in person
-If something happens in a group text, leave the chat immediately

They also encouraged parents to spot check their kids’ conversations and audit their friend lists asking who they are, where do you know them from, and checking age appropriateness of the group.

When they talked about the widely popular app Tik Tok, Cronk and Dutra encouraged parents to be aware of popular “challenges” and “trends” describing how vaping and the new nicotine pouch Zyn were first popularized on the social media app. They also warned of Tik Tok’s algorithm and how it has one of the most powerful recommendation engines which quickly learns its users likes and vulnerabilities and shows the user more of the same content to keep them scrolling on their site. What’s more, Ms. Cronk explained that if a user lingers on a sad piece of content, Tik Tok’s algorithm will continually show the user more sad content and can even lead to recommending content with suicidal ideation. Cronk advised users to make sure they are only searching for happy things on the site like images of puppies and kittens.

Next Cronk and Dutra talked about how Snapchat seems to be the preferred app for teens to connect and communicate. Since the messages on this app “disappear” quickly, they encourage parents to extend message length to 24 hours and to have an account yourself so you can follow and audit your child’s stories. They also described some of the social pitfalls of Snapchat such as the Snapmap feature which allows users to see where all their friends are. Dutra and Cronk said this can be particularly hard if a group of friends is all together but have left one friend out.

Of greatest concern for parents, Dutra and Cronk informed the audience that Snapchat is currently being used by professionals (mostly from other countries) as a tool for “sextortion.” The professionals troll Snapchat looking for teen boys and then lure victims into sending incriminating photos before demanding money from them. Unfortunately, there have been several incidents across the US which have ended with the boys taking their own lives. The presenters urge parents to talk with their teens about this alarming trend and to remind them that if they are mixed up in a potential case of sextortion to immediately log out of the app, tell a parent, and that nothing is likely to happen. They also shared these tips to help parents navigate through a “worst case scenario”:

-Take a moment, take a deep breath and realize that you have just been trusted to help. A child who has gotten into this situation really believes they have ruined their lives; this moment is precious. The first thing is to de-escalate the child.

-Take the child’s phone, not in a punitive way. “Ok, this problem is too big for you to handle on your own. I am going to help you. I am taking your phone to give you a break. Let your friends know that I am taking your phone for a little while, make up any story you want. You need to unplug and get your bearings. These are criminals you are talking to and they make their living by sending teens like you into a panic.”

-Tell the child you will keep an eye on their social media and make sure nothing is released.

-Take pictures of everything, make a screen recording of the conversation.

-Let the police know and fill out an report.

To wrap up the program, the presenters shared several helpful resources to help parents navigate the digital world such as the website, and the books Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport and Digital for Good by Richard Culatta. In addition, Cronk and Dutra shared these important takeaways from the program:

-Our children’s childhood is different from our own
-Have conversations and ask questions from a place of interest
-Follow your kids on their social media accounts
-Create mental health/cell phone breaks and cell phone free zones for all
-Model behavior you want your children to follow