Are your teens deep in the social media and cyber world and you just don’t know how to fish them out? According to teen and youth advocate, Kacee Bree Jensen, it’s never too late to get them back on track.
“For whatever reason parents feel like they can’t translate [parenting] into the cyber world and they’re scared of what their kids are going to do if they take away the devices,” says Jensen.
It’s a natural fear for every parent, so it gave us comfort when we sat down with Jensen and she told us she got started late to the game too, with her 14-year-old step-son.
“It’s one thing when you’re dealing with it as a youth worker and youth advocate and then to have it in your home and see some of the impact of social media on your kids. It just took it to the next level for me.”
Jensen teaches parents how to keep kids safe and kind on their devices through her workshops and website Let’s Talk Teens. So when her step-son moved into their home, she saw her advice in immediate action.
“We kind of had thrown him into the ocean, expecting him to know how to swim,” says Jensen. “Then when he didn’t, we had to go rescue him and pull him out.”
And that’s where she says parents don’t need to be afraid to start with the basics, teach your kid to swim again and then let them get back into the ocean, with a life raft.
Do a reality check
First up, Jensen tells parents to take a step back and evaluate what dangerous pornography, bullying or sexting your kids might be exposed to on their mobile devices.
“I mean, it’s scary! You don’t even really want to know what’s going on,” explains Jensen. “A lot of times parents will say, ‘well, I have a good kid.’ Yeah, you probably do really have a good kid, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t been exposed to some of these things.”
Then do a reality check on yourself.
Jensen recommends asking yourself, “Where do I stand? Do I understand these apps? Am I educated enough to know how to keep my child safe? How can I continuously monitor in a healthy way?”
Take the device and COMMUNICATE
Jensen warns this may be the most difficult part, but she did it with her teen and saw success. Her and her husband took away his phone and all his devices, then told him they were going to start from scratch. She says it will be hard, but if you can communicate clearly “why” you are doing it, your kids will start to understand.
“Communicate with your child that you’re going to go through their devices or iPads, their phones and maybe even do it with them,” suggests Jensen. “Communicate ‘why’. Explain, ‘You know I just want to keep you safe, I saw this article, or I saw this information…’ and go through and look at every single app your child is using, even look through their messages.”
Get on the same page
Jensen recommends, then, to be open and DON’T be sneaky about the process.
“Talk through some of the conversations you see. And maybe make a list of some of the things you think need to be improved on,” says Jensen. Most importantly she adds, “Try not to react if you do see things that you were hoping you wouldn’t see on your child’s phone.”
“If you are just monitoring and reacting, you’re skipping the education side, where you’ll actually see progress.”
Jensen said this part was key for her step-son. They focused most of their time on being an authentically kind person on and off your device, and what that means.
“He is a very kind person and so reminding him constantly, ‘How would this make you feel if somebody sent this message to you?’ or ‘How would this make you feel if this was posted on your wall?’ was important,” says Jensen.
They also focused on the dangers of forming friendships with strangers online.
“We talk to him a lot about not starting relationships with people until you really know who they are, not giving out phone numbers and all those details,” says Jensen.
Do constant check-ins
Unfortunately, the work doesn’t stop there. Checking back in is how Jensen stays on top of how her step-son is doing.
“If we didn’t feel like he was living up to the standards that we believed were right for him, then we would start over again, or go back to the steps that we needed to go back to,” says Jensen.
Set up monitors
“After you do the checkup, I think it’s really important to delete, delete, delete [the apps and messages], and then put up all the safeties,” suggests Jensen. “I think that’s where you all come in, with your monitoring and your safety tools. Don’t be afraid to use WebSafety and all of that, because just as quickly as they uploaded the apps the first time, they can do it again.”
She said she went really extreme on the monitoring side with her step-son. And she tells parents in her workshop
that the tools are out there. It is just a matter of parents using them to get the help they need.
Don’t be afraid to get started today
“It’s okay to start over. If they get mad, they get mad,” says Jensen.
But as a mom and youth advocate, Jensen knows even her own advice can be terrifying.
“I think that’s what I hear from parents so often, they ‘don’t want to be the bad guy’ and ‘this is their personal space.’”
Jensen says she continues to tell parents, “It’s called social media because it’s out for the whole world to see, so it’s not their diary, it’s not a personal space. They’re using it to put themselves out their and expose themselves to a huge world.”
Which is why she reminds parents that they should treat parenting online, exactly how they treat parenting in the “real world”.
“This is how we keep our kids safe. You want to know what they’re doing, who they’re hanging out with, what they’re doing after school, how they’re treating people and how people are treating them. You know, just all those regular parenting things.”
Don’t give up
When we asked if it all went well with her step-son, she admitted it wasn’t always easy.
“It wasn’t great at first,” says Jensen. “I will say it went better with time. We stuck to our ground, and we just communicated over and over again why were doing it. We were really open with what we were seeing with him.”
She says if parents are willing to put in the time, the process of checking in and educating will just become the norm for all parties. And the long-term benefits will bring parents the comfort of knowing they are doing everything they can to monitor their kids safety on and off their devices.