This is a question posed by Chelsea Clinton and James P. Steyer (CEO of Common Sense Media) in an article out earlier this week on CNN.  Some of the stats they shared included that:

  • More than 7.5 million American kids under the age of 13 have joined Facebook, despite the site’s user agreement which requires individuals to be 13 years old to open an account.
  • By the time they are 2 years old, more than 90% of all American children have an online history.
  • At 5, ore than 50% of kids regularly interact with a computer of tablet device, and by 8, many kids regularly play video games.
  • Teenagers text an average of 3,400 times a month.

And their article aligned with a lot of what I write about as an Internet safety expert (see my post from last year: “Is the Internet Corrupting Our Youth?”), chiefly that the explosive growth of technology is dramatically transforming our kid’s lives.  As parents often share with me, technology and media seems to be the single greatest influencer of their kids today; every year, kids are spending more and more time online and with multiple, connected media, entertainment and Internet sources.

Despite the many benefits of technology and media, there are many dangers, including: Internet addiction; exposure to pornography and other questionable content; and, interaction with online predators cyberbullies, and identity thieves.  And as Clinton and Steyer highlight (and as we covered in a recent post here), while the research is only in the early stages, it suggests that the Internet may be changing how our brains work, limiting attention span, lowering comprehension, and contributing to poor focus, greater risk of depression and diminished long-term memory. (For more specifically on pornography’s impact on the brain, check out another recent post here).

As the article continued:

“Our new world of digital immersion and multitasking has affected virtually everything from our thought processes and work habits to our capacity for linear thinking and how we feel about ourselves, our friends and even strangers…  Young people now routinely post and share private, personal information and opinions on social media platforms without fully considering the potential consequences.  The immediacy of social media platforms (and I would add the availability of pornography, violent and other harmful content), coupled with vulnerable youngsters who are socially inexperienced and not fully developed emotionally (see our post here about the mental development of our kids), can create a combustible mix.  Kids often self-reveal before they reflect, and millions of kids say and do things they say they later regret.”

So what’s a parent to do?

  • Get informed: Educate yourself about the dangers online and learn how to protect your kids from them.
  • Get parental controls (we recommend SafeEyes) on all Internet-enabled devices (gaming devices, computers, phones, etc.):  If it can connect to the Internet, then it can expose your kids to the good and bad of the online world.  Parental controls can include filters, time-limiting software, monitoring/accountability and much more.
  • Set clear rules for your kids and engage in regular conversations with your kids about their online lives:  Make sure your kids know what is, and what isn’t appropriate online behavior. (Check out these conversation starters).

And for a free, simple and helpful guide to online dangers and safety, be sure to check out our Internet Safety Guide for parents.  We also have a number of other resources listed in our parent resources to help.