Monday, February 17, 2020

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It is dark. Close to midnight. All the rooms in the house are silent, except for one, in which a tiny noise pings every few seconds. The buzzing of a cell phone.

This goes on and on, and beneath the silent tomb of blankets, a 12 year old child texts his friends, eyes heavy and weary, until the early morning hours. He scrolls through several snapchat conversations and pictures, material which miraculously disappears a few hours after it was sent, leaving no trace of its existence. The perfect platform to share lascivious gossip or inappropriate photos. But there are ways around it, ways to canonize the material forever, like a Scarlet A, eternally branded.

The material that passes before his eyes is inarguably harmful. It is uncensored and pornographic, homemade content that is too mature for his young mind. With no parent to direct him away from its intoxicating grips, he is soon lured in by inappropriate images he receives in confidence, but to seem cool, he then passes them on to his friends. It becomes his normal world to see what is generally left unseen.

This is going on in our community. These are our children, some as young as 12. This is what some of them are doing behind closed doors.

And so we ask you, do you know what your kids are doing on their screens? Do you monitor their internet usage with apps like Bark, Ourpact or Netspark? Use a filter? Screen their texts? Do you give them time limits? Do you have discussions with them about internet safety? Is it perhaps time to think about that?

What if all the parents got together and came up with boundaries, a deal of sorts between us? With our kids, maybe we could start to limit some of the problems, the limits of late nights of chatting with “mature content,” the strangers admitted into seemingly “safe” class chats or “houseparty” meetings, who later Facetime various youngsters in groups, or try to meet up with them.

Maybe we could prevent our kids from making the perilous mistake of making an embarrassing personal video or photo and sending it to a friend, who later shares it. We could intercept and educate what qualifies as bullying or just plain meanness. It could open up greater dialogue between parents and kids. We have a responsibility to educate our children, both in school, and out. And although this is new territory for us, never having navigated the domain of social media as children ourselves, we must begin the journey together of finding a way to make the internet both safe, fun and appropriate for our children.

Name Withheld Upon Request