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We’ve all heard the stories…pedophiles, stalkers, child trafficking, etc, the dangers of the online society in which we find ourselves living.

The society that is “normal” for our kids and teenagers.

Like youth of old (I mean “yesteryear”), the youth of today like to do similar things. They spend time with friends, chat, poke each other, laugh, play games, gossip, and more. However, these are all things available at our fingertips. Instant gratification.

More and more, younger and younger, I have kids entering my office with the “need” to have a smartphone. Sometimes the parents agree. Sometimes I agree that it could be handy to have an old limited-minute flip phone not capable of internet or texting. I’m also a strong believer that electronics don’t follow a kid to his/her bedroom. There’s research out there to support the fact that electronics in kids’ rooms are messing with brain waves while they sleep.

But I must be in the minority because many people with whom I speak allow their kids to have a TV in their room, XBox (with Netflix capabilities! Have you seen what’s on Netflix???), tablets, phones – the list goes on.

I try to give some perspective to my clients (Disclaimer: I have young children so it’s easier to monitor. However, setting boundaries at a young age and sticking to them, including negative consequences, will help in the future):

1) We have ONE television in my house, with NO satellite or cable. Through DVD’s and Netflix, the parents control what is watched.

2) We had a family reunion and stayed in a cabin that BARELY had cell phone service. One preteen had a moment of panic (“You mean I can’t download anything???”) and then he had a week’s worth of non-hooked-up fun.

3) We go camping. In a tent. No TV. Heck, for years we didn’t even have the boat we have now, and my kids still prefer playing on the beach.

4) My kids get limited computer time. The computer is in our living room. I can see what they are doing. They also have RARE access to my smartphone, under supervision.

5) Remember those trips I talked about? We put over 4,300 miles on the car (that’s approximately 63 hours of just driving). Of that, less than 800 miles utilized our movie player, and that’s only because I forgot to pack the books on CD for our last trip. And guess what. The kids were mad at me. Yes, my two under-7-year-old children were mad that I forgot the CDs and they had to watch movies (ps, they got over it).

When I tell clients these things, I usually get replies such as “But I have to have Mom’s cell phone so I can check Facebook!” or “I’ll be responsible when I get a phone!” Even parents get pulled into kids’ persistence – “I finally got him/her a phone because I was sick of listening to the whining.” My absolute favorite is when I hear a parent say “I can’t take away the phone. It’s his/hers. He/She pays for the minutes.” Who is in charge in their house?

The difficult part can be getting parents or kids to understand the responsibility of technology. Yes, we know it’s dangerous. But this is Nebraska. Small town Nebraska, in fact. So what if I have an avatar account that says I’m 29 (when I’m really only 12)? So what if I don’t personally know that person who wants to be friends on Facebook? So what if I bully the kid in my study group on my school computer because the rest of my group is doing it, too? So what if I anonymously post on YikYak that the unpopular kid should just put him/herself out of misery? So what if I tweet that embarrassing picture of that kid so everyone in school can see it? So what if I give out my address? Bad stuff doesn’t happen here.

But it does. I know. As a therapist, I’ve seen these things “in progress” and, unfortunately, when “it’s too late.” I speak to kids and parents, discussing how the consequences of this society tend to be bigger, farther-reaching, and more public than in the past.

Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube 0 all popular social media sites. Sites you’ve heard of. Sites that are parent-recognized and, therefore, popular but not a secret. Ever heard of YikYak, Tumblr, Vine, Whisper, or the dozens of other social media sites that allow messaging, pictures, etc.?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not completely against technology. It can be educational, fun and helpful. It’s just this: do you know what your kid is doing? You may want to take a look. You are the parent and, therefore, you have the responsibility of protecting and teaching your children.

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Jessica McCaslin

Jessica is a mom who is working outside the home part-time and who is learning to cope with the ever-changing daily challenges of full-time parenthood. She graduated with her Master's degree in community counseling from the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 2005, and works with a diverse mental health population. Jessica resides in Central Nebraska with her husband and four children on the family ranch.

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