That was made abundantly clear last month as the Taber Police Service and various other concerned agencies hosted a parent information night at D.A. Ferguson school gymnasium which touched on issues of Internet safety, being weary of Internet predators, child pornography, and the simple responsible use of various forms of social media.
It was certainly an eye opener as the message was brought home that the love-lorn letters passed around in the classrooms of years past have been replaced by sexts or explicit images over the phone in teenage romances.
Another story arose of how various Lethbridge police officers logged onto a Penguins game as various characters meant for six-year olds and within minutes someone in Cyberspace inquired if their parents were around.
Just last week, a 14-year-old boy appeared in court in Lethbridge answering charges from three teenaged girls saying they received numerous harassing sexually explicit and threatening messages on their social media accounts, demanding they provide sexually-explicit photos of themselves. If they refused their social media accounts would be compromised and they would be harmed.
Being privy to all these alarming accounts of how social media have been abused to attack the moral fibre of our society, does that mean parents should put their children in a protective bubble and send them back to the stone age with their access to the outside world?
Of course of not, but parents have to be as vigilant as ever that they are keeping the healthy lines of communication open at all times with their children.
Auto-pilot parenting is never a good thing, but has to be avoided now more than ever in the dangerous skies of advancing technology involving children.
Does a 15-year-old girl really need to profess her love to her boyfriend by exchanging explicit photos? No matter how advanced technology has come, love can be expressed in the old-school ways of flowers, written word, or simple acts of kindness showing you care for someone instead of just saying you care for them.
As the information session showed last month, very few middle-school, high-school romances last – by a show of hands in the packed crowd of parents upon showing who was still with their high-school sweetheart. Very few teenagers would have the mental maturity to keep private the intimate images they have of an ex, perhaps preferring to get a good laugh among buddies as the sweet feeling of a first love turns sour. More intimate times between two people behind close doors with no social media involved will more likely remain behind closed doors between the people the action was intended for.
That sweet 15-year-old boy a naive girl has been communicating with in a chat room, telling her everything she wants to hear in the quest for acceptance, could very well be a 30-something man trying to set up a rendezvous.
Kids need guidance now more than ever when emotion meets the Internet Highway for a smooth drive into adulthood. Simply burying your head in the sand hoping everything will work out to a healthy childhood is not an option, our future generations are to important.
The talk for parents, involving technology for parents, may prove as uncomfortable as the talk about ‘The Birds and the Bees,’ but it must be done nevertheless.
The Internet can be abused, but there is also a world of information out there at parents’ fingertips to offer tips on practising healthier use of social media.
Teenagers have a hard enough time gaining acceptance in a culture where everyone is trying to fit in somewhere.
That struggle will not be made any easier as a child’s character can be tarnished at the mere touch of a computer key, sending an intimate image when even the intent was from a grown-up version of puppy-dog love.
Internet safety and responsible use of social media is not something that should be taken lightly.