By Mathieu Morin, youth worker at the Valcartier Family Centre

It goes fast, don’t you think? The world is changing so fast that soon no one under the age of 20 will know what a button phone is! We’re exaggerating here… but not that much. It seems impossible to separate them from their screen for more than 10 minutes, so much so that many adults, parents and specialists, wonder whether this pervasive digital presence has not become a social problem among teens.

Here’s an overview of the situation from a youth worker’s perspective. In two parts, to save your eyes and your time, but also because there is so much to say on the subject! We begin by looking at the virtual phenomenon in general: the various applications, risks, and parental supervision.

Difficult to find your way around

At home, at work, at school, to manage your finances and even to do your grocery shopping, digital technology has entered itself into every area of everyday life; so much so that we are almost on the edge of society if we don’t use it enough! The young generation have clearly understood this: in the morning, at lunch, at night, during a break, to play, to text, to search, to look; on the tablet, on the laptop, on the cell phone.

As far as social media is concerned, there must be as many different platforms as there are of kinds of chips. It’s hard not to get lost in it and above all, it’s hard to stay up to date. Is Facebook still your main social media platform? If so, you’re definitely old school! We’ve seen Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, Pinterest, Periscope, Whatsapp and many others. Nowadays, the fashionable platform is TikTok, and that may well have changed between the time this article was written and its release. However, while knowledge of social media is an asset, you don’t have to be religiously following the parade to be able to mentor your kids. And whether it’s social media, e-mail or a web browser, the safety tips are the same.

Avoiding the traps

The virtual world is a magnificently useful, easy and accessible tool, which is why it is so popular. As you know, this comes with various dangers, including the danger of exposing oneself (yourself, your personal data, your computer equipment, etc.) or falling victim to malicious individuals. The instructions must therefore be very clear for your teenager, regardless of their preferred virtual application:

– Refuse friend requests from strangers and beware of messages that are “too nice”.

– Delete e-mails from suspicious sources (avoid opening, replying to and opening attachments). For example, a financial institution will never ask you to enter personal information (SIN, password, etc.) in an unsolicited email.

– Set the security settings for all applications used correctly.

– Avoid sharing sensitive content (e.g. credit card, personal information).

– A photo shared on the Internet is very difficult, if not impossible, to permanently delete afterwards and will probably be seen by hundreds of users, even if the profile is secure. Would you be uncomfortable with the fact that a photo ends up on the Centre Vidéotron’s giant screen? Better keep it to yourself (source: SPVQ)!

A word about cyberbullying

This is probably the most negative “technological” consequence. Although it has always been unacceptable, bullying used to take place (yes, bullies are getting older too) in person at school, on the way home, or on the bus. Today, the victim does not find peace when she arrives home: bullying continues on their cell phone and computer. It is now possible to share intimate photos, hate messages and other messages with a single click. This new face of bullying has made it even more frightening, and the consequences are multiplied. If it’s any comfort to you, police services take this situation very seriously and any threat of unwanted photo sharing or extortion is considered a priority response by investigators. In addition, the school has a duty to intervene even if the events occur outside of school hours or on its grounds.

Shaping my child in the virtual universe

It can seem delicate to supervise your child on a subject that you haven’t really well mastered yourself. The important thing is to go according to your values and your limits, as in any other area. Here are a few guidelines to help you:

– Take an interest in what your teen is doing on the Internet, the games they are playing, the videos they are watching, etc., in order to help maintain communication.

– Be available and reassuring. Above all, don’t judge your child: there’s nothing worse for a kid who has made a mistake than to be afraid of the parent’s reaction! He or she may then mask their action by making other mistakes in the process, making the situation worse. You will probably (rightly) be angry and you will have the opportunity to show it later. For now, your child’s first instinct should be to turn to you and count on your support, no matter what the reason is.

– Educate your child about the risks, advantages and disadvantages of the web and help them adjust their security settings. Educate them about cyberbullying and responsibility for what they do, say or share online. Don’t hesitate to ask if you don’t know enough about it yourself.

– Lead by example: it will be difficult to convince your kid to diversify their activities if you yourself spend a lot of time online!

– Try to find a balance between no supervision and too much interference; your kid also needs autonomy and to feel that you trust them. It’s a good idea to plan times when screens are allowed and other times when the devices are not allowed (e.g., meals, 1 hour before bedtime, family outings, homework time, etc.). Including your kid in setting the rules will make it easier for them to follow them later on.

– Ask for help if you need it: worried about your child? Several resources are available. You can also contact a counselor at the Valcartier Family Centre, who will provide you with personalized support.

My Virtual Teen – part 2

The next article will deal more specifically with screen time and the concerns expressed by parents.