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Youth need supervision on the Internet highway
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Parental monitoring is critical to the health and well-being of adolescents, whether the issue is Internet use or behavior in general.
Tommy Phillips, assistant professor in Mississippi State University’s School of Human Sciences, said although parents do not want to look over their teen’s shoulders constantly, a reasonable level of supervision is essential.
“Research shows that low levels of parental monitoring are related to increased levels of risky behaviors,” he said. “Although teens will always be able to keep some secrets from their parents, those who are doing well and engaging in fewer risky behaviors tend to have parents with reasonably good grasps of where their teens are, who they are with, and what they are doing.”
Adolescents rarely like being monitored, but Phillips said it is necessary given their stage of development.
“We know that brain development isn’t a finished process until sometime in the 20s, and the last part of the brain to become completely developed is the prefrontal cortex, which is home to the executive functions, such as risk assessment, judgment, decision making, problem solving, weighing options and controlling impulses,” he said.
As a result, no matter how mature they might believe they are, adolescents are prone to making unwise, or even unsafe, decisions sometimes. This immaturity can cause problems when they use social networking media.
To find out what your children are doing online, talk to them about what sites they like to visit and ask questions. While the Internet can be a wonderful resource for research and communicating with others, parents may want to take advantage of resources to monitor their children’s activities.
Jamie Rone Varner, an instructor in Computer Applications and Services for the MSU Extension Service, said even with all the helpful resources and tools for children on the Internet, it is far from safe. Today’s smartphones, tablets and laptop computers are making it much harder to monitor what youth are doing and saying online.
“Parents should establish common-sense rules and consider installing monitoring software,” she said. “Talk to your child about what should and should not be posted online. No one should post private information, such as addresses and phone numbers, because of the risk of identity theft and other personal dangers.”
Varner said social networking has significantly changed whom your child is speaking to online and what they are saying. Facebook and Twitter have decreased face-to-face contact and altered the landscape of social interaction. While such sites can be a great way to connect with others who share similar interests, these sites can also pose a danger.
“Installing software on your home computer, as well as on your child’s other electronic devices, may help your child stay safe online. Monitoring software allows you to view activity on the Internet,” she said. “By using such software, you will have a better understanding of what your child is doing online.”
Various monitoring software packages are available, catering to different needs or concerns.
Varner said Net Nanny is one option designed to filter out websites and help parents see their children’s Internet activity. Net Nanny has an annual fee and is available for Android smartphones and tablets. This monitoring software allows parents to monitor Facebook activity, including new friends. Parents are alerted by e-mail if an instant message contains inappropriate language.
“SocialShield has an annual fee, too, and it is available on the iPad, iPhone and iTouch,” Varner said. “This monitoring software will flag fake profiles and provide a summary of social network activity. It will alert parents to risks, including cyber-bullying and talk of drugs, alcohol and violence that could put them in danger or hurt the child’s reputation.”
For more information on computer safety issues, contact the county Extension office or to view Extension Publication P2587.