Interview with Dr. Adam Pletter of iParent101

We had the pleasure a couple of weeks back of meeting Dr. Adam Pletter (via Twitter). Dr. Pletter, Psy.D is a licensed clinical psychologist from Bethesda Maryland who specializes in the treatment of children, adolescents, and young adults. The issues he sees frequently cross over into the area of digital parenting, a topic very close to our hearts.

Dr. Adam PletterDr. Pletter is also the founder and chief knowledge merchant at iParent101, an educational resource for parents and families focused on improving digital parenting and making sure kids and teens are using technology, the internet and social media safely and responsibly.

We had a long conversation with Dr. Pletter on Friday and wanted to share his thoughts, philosophy and some of his experiences. Questions and answers are paraphrased since we didn’t record the conversation. All errors are ours.

Q: What is the philosophy behind iParent 101?

Dr. Pletter: Whether they believe it or not, most parents are not digital natives, and are afraid of the technology that their kids are using. They’d like to think that they understand enough to guide good digital behavior but they don’t, generally. Kids tend to not think through what they’re doing online before they do it, often with adverse consequences.

We want parents to be equipped to help kids avoid those negative consequences.

Q: How do you help parents be better at the digital thing?

Dr. Pletter: First, I try to help parents understand the risks around child and teen use of electronic devices, the internet and social media. Second, we focus on the safeguards and resources built into the kids’ devices – mostly but not exclusively their smartphones.

We impress upon parents that smartphones are adult devices. In the same way that parents wouldn’t hand a teen car keys before teaching them how to drive safely, parents should grant a level of internet access that is age appropriate. What they are allowed to do online should evolve over time, at a pace that parents are comfortable with. Most of this can be done with the parental controls built into today’s smartphones.

Q: What are parents most worried about? What question do you get the most?

Dr. Pletter: Pretty simply it’s, “How do I keep my kids safe?” Safe from strangers, safe from places online that have adult content that they shouldn’t be seeing.

iParent101Q: Do you see a lot of cyberbullying?

Dr. Pletter: It is problem, particularly with group messaging. Kids are getting teased, and some are getting excluded. The FOMO is real, and kids are getting left out and seeing it online as it happens. If kids are posting pictures of a party on Instagram, that could be very hurtful for the kids who weren’t invited.

Q: What age do you recommend for the first smartphone or internet access?

Dr. Pletter: For the smartphone, I don’t like to see it happen before 11 or 12. With younger kids, if parents need to keep in touch, a flip phone will suffice. For internet access in general, it depends on the level of maturity that your child is demonstrating – common sense, good judgment and communication skills.

Q: Where do you see the most problems?

Dr. Pletter: It’s definitely the messaging apps. Parents are familiar with texting, but when it’s done via messaging app, parents often aren’t aware that it is happening at all.

Q: Is pornography an issue that you come across at all?

Dr. Pletter: I think that parents aren’t talking to kids about pornography enough because they don’t understand how readily available it is – often just a couple of clicks away and accessible via computer, tablet or phone. Pornography is so easy to find that kids think it’s perfectly okay to be looking at it.

Q: Do you recommend taking away the phone if there’s a problem?

Dr. Pletter: No, I’m not a fan of consequences without a learning experience. If all you’ve done is take away the device, you haven’t changed the behavior that caused the problem.

Q: How do you recommend that parents get up to speed?

Dr. Pletter: YouTube is a great example. There is plenty of educational and entertaining content for kids of all ages, and yet there is lots of adult content as well. Young kids shouldn’t be turned loose on YouTube without some parental oversight. The good news is that the parental safeguards on YouTube are pretty robust, but they’re easy to understand, implement and change over time as your child grows up. Understanding and managing YouTube controls is pretty good shorthand for controlling access on other devices and across the web.

Q: Any final thoughts?

Dr. Pletter: There is no way around the fact that by giving a child a smartphone, parents are agreeing to take on a whole new level of parenting responsibility. It takes some work, but it can be done well. Doing nothing and hoping for the best isn’t a great option, but that’s what many parents find themselves doing.

 

To read more about Dr. Pletter or to inquire about a seminar in your area, you can click here.

 

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Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

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Pew Internet Research: The State of Digital Parenting Part II

In Part I of this series, we talked about Pew Internet’s latest research on the state of digital parenting. In that post we focused on the gap between what parents are doing about monitoring teen internet activity and what may actually be happening. In short, we think in some families, a lot may be slipping between the cracks.

Let’s focus now on what parents of 13 – 17 year old internet and social media users admit that they parent-teen-laptoparen’t doing. The percentage of parents who rarely or never talk about:

  • What is appropriate to be shared online – 19%
  • Age-appropriate internet content – 20%
  • Age-appropriate traditional media (books, magazines, TV and movies) – 20%
  • Online behavior towards others – 22%

By contrast, only 11% of parents rarely or never discuss how to behave at school or at home. Consider a couple of factors:

  • What your teen says or does can have a much wider reach online than in the real world. The average teen Facebook or Instagram user has hundreds of online friends, who in turn have hundreds of connections. Cyberbullying and other inappropriate content can spread like wildfire.
  • Online communications and posts can be anonymous. Yik Yak, Ask.fm, Whisper, Reddit, 4chan…there are numerous social platforms with million of users where your real name is either not used or is strictly optional.

On the age-appropriate content front, we’d argue that since all kinds of inappropriate content is widely available online, for free, it’s more important to warn about setting limits online than offline. For the most part, you know your teen’s physical location. It is almost impossible to know where he is online, at all times.

In summary, if your teen is online a lot (she is), you should be talking about appropriate online behavior and content a lot.

 

 

 

 

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School Overturned on Instagram Suspension

There’s an interesting story out of a New jersey high school this week that has an important message for parents embedded in it, and overall the result is a surprise to many.

red-solo-cupLast year, a star high school athlete from Allentown NJ posted two photos to Instagram in which she was wearing an Allentown high school sweatshirt, off the school property and not during school hours, and she and another student appeared to be drinking alcohol. There is no indication how the authorities were alerted to the pictures, but once they were, they investigated and suspended the student from extracurricular activities for 30 days.

The penalty was appealed to the New Jersey Department of Education who last week overturned the decision (too late; it already happened) stating that “discipline can only be levied for incidents away from school grounds when it is necessary for a student’s safety, security and well-being and the conduct interferes with the orderly operation of the school.”

In summary, if a student is doing something away from school that the administrators don’t like, they are powerless to levy punishment unless the act is disrupting the school in some way.

We don’t condone what the student did, even if she wasn’t drinking alcohol which she never confessed to. We do caution teens and parents that minors should never post anything depicting improper behavior, or anything that might look like as much. She was guilty of at least one of those in this case.

Where does this leave parents? In charge – exactly where they should be. Schools aren’t going to stop underage drinking; nor are they going to keep kids from posting it on social media. That’s all on the parents.

Taking it one step further, in the words of columnist L.A. Parker writing in the Trentonian:

“Even worse, punishment offered no follow up, no counseling, or any other support for a teen shot with a beverage. The panel allowed [the student] an appeal but that served only as a matter of protocol.”

Parents, online or off, are in charge of the counseling and support of their kids, especially when they’re not in school. It’s up to you to talk to your kids about appropriate behavior.

The more things change…

 

 

 

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47% of Teens Say Parents Do Not Limit Screen Time

There is a new survey out this week by Common Sense Media that takes a fresh look at teen and tween media use, and it is getting a lot of press. The survey used a large sample of 2,600 subjects between 8 and 18 years of age, and parsed the responses between tweens (8-12 years old) and teens (13-18 years old).

Most articles that we’ve seen are focused on how much time young people are spending online, and indeed it is a large number. Not surprisingly, TV does not dominate the total any more. Tweens spend almost 6 hours per day on media, 2:26 of that on TV; teens spend almost 9 hours per day on media, 2:38 of that on TV.

teen-screen-timeYou might have noticed of late that strict rules governing how much (how little) time young people should be allowed online/using media seem to be loosening up. In September, the American Academy of Pediatrics had the following to say:

“In a world where “screen time” is becoming simply “time”, our policies must evolve or become obsolete…Tech use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits.”

What is reasonable will differ by parent and child, some experts are no longer advocating a strict, set limit of one or two hours per day on media. The times have changed.

What did the teens and tweens in the survey have to say about the parental guidance they get and rules they are governed by?

When asked, the teens in the survey indicated that parents are more concerned with what type of media teens/tweens are viewing than how much time they spend on it:

  • 72% of tweens say their parents have rules about screen time, 53% of teens say they have rules
  • 84% of tweens’ parents have rules about what kind of content they can interact with; 66% of teens have rules on permissible content
  • 25 percent of online teens say their parents know either “a little” or “nothing” about what they do online
  • 30 percent say their parents know either “a little” or “nothing” what they do on social media

Assuming the teens and tweens are accurately describing their situation, there are a few conclusions to be drawn about the current state of digital parenting. Focusing on the teens:

  • 47% of teens have no rules about how much time they spend online
  • 34% of parents don’t care what content their teens are viewing or interacting with. The number is better, but “no opinion” seems like a less than perfect parenting stance
  • One third to one quarter of parents have little or no idea what is going on online or on social media

Is all of that true? It’s tough to say – the parents’ responses might differ. There are frequently big gaps between what teens think is going on and what parents think.

We do worry that many parents have adopted a “don’t ask don’t tell” mentality, possibly because knowing what is going on is terrifying, possibly for other reasons. There is clearly some risk in that. First, multitasking is difficult, and homework, family and activities deserve some dedicated time. Second, you want to be sure that your teen is staying safe and being “good”. Third, what gets posted or shared online could impact future college admission decisions or job opportunities.

If you’re in the don’t ask, don’t tell camp because of the following:

  • You don’t have time
  • You don’t know where to start
  • You’re “sure” there’s nothing bad going on
  • You’re worried about your teen’s privacy

We can help. Starting as low as $49, we can give you a full Social Score for your teen, telling you exactly what you might want to be focused on, and where the problem areas may be lurking. You can learn more or sign up here.

 

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

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New Pew Research – Parents and Social Media

There’s a new research report out this month from the Pew Research Center for Internet, Science and Tech, and it’s worth taking a look at the whole report, titled Parents and Social Media.

The results were culled from a number of different surveys commissioned by Pew over the last year, and overall 75% of parents in the sample were social media users themselves.

A look at some of the highlights, along with our comments:

47% of parents surveyed say that they’re friends with their kids on Facebook, but 65% of parents over 40 are. We would have expected this number to be even higher, since we hear from a lot of parents what they “know” what their kids are doing online because they’re friends on Facebook.

About one third of parents have taken to social media to get parenting advice in the last month. It’s not surprising that it is not higher. Parenting questions tend to be personal, and most people’s social media experience is public.

36% of parents of kids over five have had concerns or questions about their technology use in the last year. In our humble opinion, this number should be higher, and we encourage parents to constantly be questioning what their kids are doing online.

Only 12% of parents have been concerned about something someone else posted online about their child. That is good news.

It is important that parents take a genuine interest in what their children are doing online. That can be accomplished either by following at least some of their accounts or consistently talking about safe and appropriate behavior – ideally both.

If you’re looking for help, we have that for you.

We are also working on a free version of our product. You can check out our Kickstarter campaign here.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

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Talk To Your Teens About Reacting to Online Trolls

The word “troll” – referring to an online player who acts a certain way in order to get a reaction from the person or people on the other end of the comment – has risen in popularity coincident with the rise of social media. The line between trolling and cyberbullying is very blurry at times, and unfortunately, a snarky remark can quickly devolve into cyberbullying depending on the reaction of the victim.

tween-online-activityAs a parent, it is important to be able to help your teen deal with trolls, or ignore them entirely, as is often the best course of action. Financial pro Josh Brown, who is very active on Twitter, wrote about ignoring trolls recently, in a Quora piece titled “Why don’t I fight with people on Twitter.” As follows are some of his reasons, and our comments:

“It would only make sense for me to spend time and energy fighting with a stranger on the internet if I cared what they thought or had a desire to change their opinion. I don’t.”

It’s not easy to develop a skin thick enough to not care, especially is the slight is personal. It’s a great idea to start to cultivate this mindset at a young age, and remember that it doesn’t have to be personal if you don’t let it become so.

“Whenever I see two other people going at it on Twitter, my immediate reaction is a cringe. I feel embarrassed for them and I certainly wouldn’t want to come off that way myself.”

Exactly. Perhaps you’re inclined to respond to a troll because of how his comments make you look. You could end up looking far worse if you engage in battle, on his level.

“Supposedly, Plato once said “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I don’t know if he ever actually said that but I absolutely agree with it, no matter where the saying came from. The world can be hard enough on people without me adding extra stress to anyone else’s life. How dare we make someone’s life tougher than it already is? Even if they throw the first punch, I don’t want to cause pain.”

Maybe the troll is having a bad day, or is acting out because someone treated him harshly. It’s best to just let the incident die out quietly.

“I believe in Karma, or at least in the concept. I’ve seen so many people get what they deserve and pay the price for lashing out, being nasty or attacking others.”

Actually, you don’t even need to believe in karma. Let’s say that you react harshly, and other people viewing your comments didn’t see the original. Are you sending the message that you are fair game for trolls since you are yourself trolling? Perception becomes reality.

I hate bullies. I’m raising my children to stand up for people, not to tear them down. When I see examples of bullying I feel a revulsion in the pit of my stomach, it’s always been that way. I would never want to be thought of as someone who bullies others or uses whatever advantages I may have to hurt someone else.”

Again, be very aware of the fact that in fighting back, you might be viewed as a bully. Avoid that if you possibly can.

It’s easy for use to say that parents should insist teens and tweens react kindly and compassionately at all times. With fast-paced and sometimes anonymous communication on the internet, it can be difficult to keep your cool and turn the other cheek. When things start getting testy, putting the phone down is a good idea.

 

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Cell Phones, Social Media and Growing Up Too Fast

There was a time when 10 year-olds tended to hang out with other 10 year-olds. Likewise for 12 year-olds. And 14 year-olds. A 10 year-old hanging out with a 17 year-old? Didn’t happen. Now that has changed.

In today’s digital world, with 95% of teens having internet access, 90% using social media and close to 80% having a smartphone, age as a qualifier for both joining in and choosing a peer group has become optional to say the least.

Joining In

Unless he possesses extraordinary intelligence and perhaps a similar maturity level, a teen needs to be at least 13 to get into high school. Most people can agree that the maturity level required to function at a high school level is markedly higher than is the case in middle school.

tween-online-activityThere is essentially no age or maturity threshold for entering the smartphone and social media world, unless a parent imposes one. In reality, parents routinely give kids a smartphone or internet enabled iPod or other device at 7 or 8 or years old (your experience may be different), and tween use of these devices is frequently unsupervised. Membership to any social network is available to anyone with an internet connection, an email address and a willingness to lie about one’s age. It’s that simple.

Make no mistake – while most networks and apps have a stated age limit, they are in the business of attracting new users and most will only deny a new user based on age under a very narrow set of circumstances.

Choosing a Peer Group

Let’s leave Facebook aside for a moment, where real names and identities are still most common use case, and parents tend to see at least some of what kids are up to. Once a tween has signed up for a network or app, the peer group or community of friends that he chooses is strictly user-determined. On the internet, nobody know how old you are. Other than parents, most people don’t care.

A 12 year-old on Twitter or Instagram or YouTube or Ask.fm can choose to follow or interact with anyone with a public account, regardless of the age of either party.

Let’s say that your tween is interested in humor, or professional sports, or Call of Duty. It is easy for him to seek out users with common interests and engage as he pleases.

In doing so, tweens are almost certain to view and interact with content and commentary that was created by, and intended for older users.

Growing Up Faster (Too Fast?)

In following the course of action outlined above, which is not at all uncommon in our experience, tweens are likely to witness things like pornography, cyberbullying, harassment or posting borderline inappropriate selfies.

This is happening in many cases at an earlier age than parents would think appropriate, and than would have been possible absent the smartphone/social media environment in which they now operate.

The adult nature of the content is only one problem. The other is the risk that the tween will view what he is seeing as normal, and perhaps even join in. What’s normal for an 18 year-old could be profoundly taboo for a 10 year-old. In the case of cyberbullying, sexting and harassment, the results can be devastating, both for the victim and your tween.

Parents’ Role

If you are parent whose tween has a connected device and unsupervised internet access, it is up to you to decide the boundaries of acceptable use, and ensure that your tween is not growing up too fast. This starts with having knowledge of which apps he has downloaded, which social networks he is using and what types of people he is interacting with. If your strategy to date has been to hope for the best, catching up can be daunting task. For parents looking to get up to speed quickly, engaging with ThirdParent can give you a clear picture of what your tween is up to online, and what corrective actions need to be taken. It’s not to late to become more involved.

 

 

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Viddiverse – Safe Kids’ Video Network Where Uploads Are Permitted

Research assistance for this post was provided by my daughter Kara (pictured below)

viddiverse-logoThis month we interviewed Malcolm Bird, CEO of child-directed video site Viddiverse. Since we reviewed their competitor batteryPOP last week, we’ll say up front that the principal difference from a parents’ point of view is that Viddiverse allows kids (if parents approve) to upload their own videos, whereas batteryPOP does not.

Bird created Viddiverse and launched it in June 2014 with a couple of very specific issues that in his view were in need of solving:

“A video site for parents who don’t want their kids under 13 going to an open social network”

and

“Kids want to upload their own videos”

I know that the second above is true; my 7 year-old daughter was in the habit of asking me at least once a week if she could make a video and upload it to YouTube. The answer had been “no” to date, and it goes without saying that allowing a child to post videos is fraught with risk – principally the risk that she posts personally identifying information and by doing so is overly exposed to predators or cyberbullies.

viddiverse-karaThe site, targeted toward the 8 – 13 crowd, features a mix of professionally produced videos and user-generated content (UGC). I signed my daughter up for an account and told her to watch some videos and see whether anything there interested her. She watched 4 or 5 videos and told me that the content is very good.

As a parent, it’s nice to know that the content on Viddiverse is engaging, but my primary concern is whether it is safe. Let’s take a look:

  • The site is compliant with COPPA (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act), so parents should be confident that kids will be protected from advertisers and that their data is safe
  • The only personally identifying information the site collects at signup is whether the user is a boy or girl
  • The child must provide a parent email at signup, and the parent is required to pre-approve the account
  • The parent’s identity is verified by requiring a $1 donation via credit card to a charity. This is a nice touch as the problem of a child posing as a parent is one that is often left unaddressed
  • When a user submits a video, moderators review the content almost immediately to screen for age-appropriateness and safety issues
  • There is a “report abuse” function prominently displayed below each video
  • The site allows users to comment on videos, but comments are screened by software that flags and removes adult language and cyberbullying
  • Parents have the option of receiving an email each time their child posts a video, and are able to change account permissions at any time

Overall, Viddiverse strikes a good compromise between providing content and features that appeal to pre teens and managing safety concerns. There are, however, a couple of areas that may prove tricky:

  • As the site attracts more users, it will be a daunting challenge to effectively screen each uploaded video in a timely fashion. Not impossible, though
  • While Bird states that cyberbullying has not yet been an issue in the comments section, if the user experience at YouTube is any indication, it will be at some point

The company is not disclosing its number of users or website traffic numbers yet, but Bird claims that engagement has been good, with users are spending about 15 minutes on the site per visit. Viddiverse looks like a very safe option for pre teens, especially those with a flair for publishing their own content. Viddiverse lets them do it safely, and keeps parents in control.

 

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High School Cyberbullying Poll

TAKE THE TEEN CYBERBULLYING SURVEY NOW

You may have heard of our intern Taylor, apart from the fact that she is our intern. This past year as a high school senior, Taylor no-cyberbullyingwas revealed as being the voice, and heart, behind the feel-good anonymous high school Twitter account @BCHSAnonmous. Luckily, we found her just before the masses did.

Around graduation time, Taylor’s true identity was revealed, and local and national media outlets rushed to share her story. The @BCHSAnonymous account has since been handed off to another high school student, and Taylor has moved on to college, but luckily for us she is still our intern and teen cyberbullying specialist.

Taylor put together a cyberbullying survey directed at high school and college students, and is in the process of soliciting responses. If you are in your teens please fill out the survey below, or forward this to someone who is.

TAKE THE TEEN CYBERBULLYING SURVEY NOW

Results will be shared here and via Twitter and Facebook as soon as the responses come in and are tabulated.

Thanks for helping out and playing a part in stopping cyberbullying.

 

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Selfies and Risk | Final Thoughts on the Celeb Leaked Nudes

We wrote earlier this week about the much-publicized leaks of celebrity nude photos, in a post we called: “…Leak of Celeb Nudes… a Teaching Moment for Parents”.

All week the debate has continued, much of it focused on how we the public should be thinking about violations of privacy such as this one.

We finished our earlier post by concluding:

“most importantly, don’t take risqué selfies. Ever. The repercussions can be devastating.”

There was a big backlash this week against the notion that since these celebs took the pictures in the first place, they were at least partly to blame. Actually we agree with that backlash – they are not to blame.

The acquisition of these pictures was theft, plain and simple. It is not appropriate to blame victims of theft when that which was stolen was safeguarded in a generally accepted manner. We do not support or condone victim blaming or slut shaming in any way. Our advice in the quote above was directed to parents talking to teens/tweens about making good decisions in tricky/risky situations.

Second is the issue of Revenge Porn, as many are calling this event. We think that describing what happened in this case as Revenge Porn is wrong.

In order to have effective Revenge Porn laws in place, we need a definition that makes sense and is enforceable in a very specific set of circumstances: when the victim either gives a photo to, or allows a photo to be taken by, a significant other, who then sends or posts the photo in order to harm or embarrass the victim. That set of circumstances will be impossible to legislate against when all incidents of inappropriate acquisition, transmission or distributing of risqué images are lumped into the same basket. In our view, the goal of the posters in this case was either financial gain of fame; not revenge.

If your son or daughter’s ex hacks an account or steals photos, that is already illegal and covered by existing laws. If the ex acquired the photos legally, then distributes them maliciously, a relevant law is required either nationally or in each state to deal with it fairly. We are not there yet.

Finally, there is a difference between telling your son or daughter not to send risqué selfies and blaming those who may have done so for eventual leaks. Our advice to parents stands; talk to your teens about not taking risqué selfies, even if it has become part of a normal romantic relationship in today’s environment.

 

 

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