We know there are different hurdles for every stage of child development, but preteens have a special set of concerns as they straddle the innocence of childhood and their burgeoning maturity. During this transition period it is vital for parents to take measures to protect our children. One way we can achieve this is to track a child’s technology activity to ensure their safety.
As parents, we are on the frontlines when it comes to protecting our children from hidden dangers lurking behind their beloved devices and consoles. Often families resort to tracking after troubling cell phone or social media behaviors have already occurred. However, proactively embracing monitoring at earlier ages can unleash wonderful learning opportunities to prevent problems from developing.
Preteen Development’s Impact On Technology Use
Besides dealing with new emotions and hormones, preteens are especially vulnerable to cyber bullies, outside pressures to sext, and are easy targets for sexual predators. Listed below is a rundown of three key technology issues that are unique to preteen children:
- Their Stage Of Brain Development Reduces The Ability To Make Sound Decisions. Many of us are aware of the important brain growth during early childhood, but it is surprising to a lot of parents that during adolescence our children undergo another surge of brain growth. This critical part of development fine tunes risk assessment and judgment skills needed as an adult. This process takes years, in fact current research shows that the human brain isn’t fully mature until the age of 25! Deep inside our preteens’ brains, the prefrontal cortex is pruning and connecting brain synapses to help with communication among the different parts of the brain. This fine tuning of the mind makes our children vulnerable to impulsive decisions and failure to realize the long term impact of their choices. Social media, fast paced and permanent, can ultimately hurt a child’s future if they make bad choices online.
- Addictions Are Easily Formed During This Transition Period. We might joke that our children are inseparable from their phones or devices, but it could become a real addiction. Cell phone and Internet addictions are quickly becoming a major problem for many people. Commonly referred to as “NoMoPhobia”, a fear of being without their phone, is where people have increased anxieties, feel phantom vibrations, and experience withdrawal when the stimulus is removed. Our preteens’ brain development makes them more susceptible to addictions, because the brain reward center is forming. Every time they use technology to feel pleasure, it strengthens a habit that could be difficult to break.
- Preteens Are Susceptible To Unwanted Influences. Simply put, puberty is difficult. As children develop their self identities it is common to pull away from family and place more importance on relationships with peers. This can lead children to experiment with clothing, hairstyles, and more. As normal as this process is, it also leaves children vulnerable to outside pressures to conform to inappropriate behaviors. This can range anywhere from viewing raunchy videos to snapping sexts to share with their crush. Technology opens our children up to a wide array of content that isn’t age restricted or appropriate for young teens. Besides pornography, our kids are viewing gorey videos, hearing vulgar language, learning self harm behaviors, and experimenting with dangerous challenges.
Tracking A Preteen’s Technology Activity
Thankfully, we can help our children avoid many of these common pitfalls by staying involved and monitoring their online activity. This process allows preteens to learn correct social media behaviors to foster good habits and user experiences. At first your child may balk at this intrusion, but remind them we are the ones footing the bill and social media is not private. It is our job as loving parents to help our children navigate the digital world safely, just like we taught them to look both ways before crossing the street.
The privilege of using technology comes with some large responsibilities and parents do have the right to limit what a preteen does online. Here are four suggestions to help our children handle their devices safely:
- Have the passwords for all their social media accounts and check in on a regular basis.
- Connect their devices to your email so you can see or control what apps they are downloading and using. Be on the lookout for hidden apps or deleting texts as warning signs they are doing something we wouldn’t approve.
- Besides reading their posts, pay close attention to their friends and contacts. Look for strange names or people that your child doesn’t know in real life- many bullies or predators use fake profiles to gain access to our children.
- Stress the permanence of the Internet. At this age, it is important for children to get used to the idea that nothing is really private and can be retrieved at any time.
The preteen years present parents a unique opportunity to help children understand technology is not foolproof and they are not always safe or private. It is important to begin monitoring technology use early and explain the process to our children so they understand why it’s important and the very real consequences of irresponsible activity. This will lay the groundwork that will pave the way into the teen years and benefit everyone in the long run.