When I was seventeen years old, my ex-boyfriend tried pressuring me into sending nude photos of myself to him. I was appalled. The sensation of vulnerability and alarm was heightened as I discussed the matter with my peers and they expressed their belief that exchanging explicit photos with their significant other, or maybe even a stranger, was totally “normal.”
It took months for me to consider telling my parents the real reason why this boy and I broke up. It took much longer for me to obtain enough courage to make a difference in the way Internet safety and sexting are regarded by our education system. Since then, I have developed an Internet safety campaign named “Text 2 Regret.”
Text 2 Regret is laser-focused on advocacy and awareness for youth Internet safety. I am fundraising for Cyber Civics Internet safety curriculum middle schools and am donating it in Alabama. I am proud to say that I am establishing Text 2 Regret as a 501(c)3 organization and have raised enough funds for the curriculum to be donated to 24 schools!
Presenting the Cyber Civics curriculum to young people has led me to understand what they really need to know about online safety! As a young person myself, I know exactly what Gen Z is missing about online safety and what parents should understand about it. There are three main takeaways every Gen Z parent should know about having a child online.
1) Your Children Will Participate Online No Matter What
When I visit classrooms to speak about Internet safety, I ask the students if they have social media accounts. Almost all of them raise their hands.
According to The Journal, 95% of classrooms are using technology. If students are not using technology at home, they probably are at school. Plus, during the pandemic, technology was also being used as a primary way to socialize. FaceTime, online games, and social networking sites catered to fill this need when in-person communication was limited.
You can set as many parental controls as you want, but it will not stop them from being digital citizens, for better or worse. The focus should be on making them good digital citizens rather than not digital citizens at all. A good question to ask is whether your children have the maturity to interact appropriately offline. If they do, then they are ready to be online.
2) Let Them Teach YOU
Talking to so many young people about online safety has led me to understand there is a stigma about what parents think about Internet activity. Unfortunately, a lot of young people do not think their parents are “okay” with them being online. Most parents ARE okay with their children being online, but struggle to get that across to them.
There is nothing wrong with being interested in your child’s online safety. The goal is to come across as interested rather than invasive. Showing genuine interest in a child’s online activity comes across as more natural and relaxed. This could include letting your child show you an app or teach you how it works. Most kids JUMP at the chance to turn the table and teach their parents something.
3) Peer Pressure Looks Different Online
Everyone has heard the age-old question “if your friend jumped off a cliff, would you?” Thankfully, there are no cliffs online but there are friends. Some of these friends are not the kind we like to have.
There are many ways peer pressure can exist online but one of the most emotionally and legally dangerous is sexting. I heard a disturbing story from a female middle school student recently that was eerily similar to my own.
The student told me that her boyfriend broke up with her because she would not send him nude photos. You can see how this situation may have been different for a student who was feeling pressured to be in a relationship or behave a certain way in their social circle.
It is SO important to remind young adults that no amount of online peer pressure is worth compromising their morals.
I hope that these three takeaways make a difference in the way Internet safety is approached in your family. There is no way to completely avoid the dangers of online activity but there are ways to prepare. As always, the goal is to encourage digital citizenship and prevent our youth from sending a “Text 2 Regret.”