SnapChat. Instagram. Twitter. These days, there are lots of places where kids are sharing the ups and downs of their lives. Notice we didn't list Facebook.
"They don't do it (there) because Mom and Dad are on Facebook. It's not cool anymore," said Greg Tankersley, director of community development at La Salle High School.
The danger is that on these newer social media outlets where a teen's parent may not have an account --- or in my case not even knowing SnapChat exists until researching this story --- adolescents may reveal more about themselves, their siblings, and their friends than they would if they knew a parent was likely to see their posts. Embarrassment isn't the only danger here. An innocent picture posted to Instagram, may attract the attention of a child predator.
"And the implications of putting something out there for public consumption is not something that an adolescent understands, at least intuitively, the consequences of their actions, particularly when it comes to putting out public images or opinions or language about what they do in their daily lives," said Dr. Jennie Noll, a psychologist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.
She's just completed a study funded by the National Institutes of Health looking at the ways kids present themselves online and how often they agree to meet someone offline. Among her subjects were low-income teenage girls along with girls who'd been abused or neglected.
"It was shocking to me that in this survey we found that 30% of our sample had met someone offline who they first met online, whose identity was not fully confirmed," Dr. Noll said.
Abused and neglected girls were more likely to present themselves online in a sexually provocative way, too.
"We all meet people offline that we first met online. The majority of those meetings are not dangerous," said Dr. Noll. "However, most people would agree that it's one of the more dangerous things for an adolescent female to meet someone offline…because of the probability that that could end-up being a dangerous situation for her."
In a previous study, she met a girl who was raped after agreeing to go to the mall to meet a guy who'd started texting her a lot.
"And he was very charming," said Dr. Noll. "And he had (exerted) a lot of pressure for her to get in the car with him. She eventually agreed and he took her somewhere private and a victimization situation happened that was quite traumatizing to her."
So Dr. Noll advises teen girls that if they're not going to bring a parent along, at least go with a large group of friends to meet someone they only know from the internet.
She also wants to let parents know that the software you bought to protect your kids from the dark side of the internet likely isn't working. In her research, she's found that parents often don't know how to set-up the parental controls on the computer or that teens find ways around them. Instead, she urges parents to have an open, honest conversation about what they see online, what their friends are doing, and whether they'd handle the situation differently. (See the raw excerpt of our interview with Dr. Noll for more on this topic.)
Dr. Noll is also a mom. And she told FOX19 that in her household, sites like Instagram are set to private so that only her children's friends can see what they're up to.
At La Salle High School, the biggest "scandal" has been some insensitive tweets from some of the boys.
"A lot of times, it's kids just trying to be cute," Tankersley said. "We're trying to teach these young men about the ramifications of their behaviors when they're adults. Things they do today can impact them down the road."
La Salle's teachers and staff members know the internet is here to stay. They're not trying to fight it. They're just trying to ensure it has a positive impact on their students' lives.
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