What is wrong with the title of this article?
It’s simple, Instagram is not for children under the age of 13 years-old, but some parents are allowing their children to create social media accounts prior to reaching this legal age requirement.
What message does this send to your child?
Are you children above the rules online?
Just because you believe the child is ready for this social media, you can over-ride the rules?
What is the lesson that will carry into your child’s future?
Rules, guidelines and boundaries are given to us for a reason. Whether we are adults or children, safety should always be a priority.
The Internet isn’t any different; it has rules and regulations for our own good. Sometimes known as code of conduct or terms of service (TOS), these guidelines are implemented to protect their users and age restrictions are put in place for a reason. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) was enacted to protect children under the age of 13. COPPA actually makes it illegal for kids to sign-up for Instagram and other social media sites that have age restrictions.
What parents need to keep in mind is this is not about Instagram not liking little kids; it is about what is in the best interest of their children. Maybe parents don’t understand what is truly lingering on these sites — it may not be for little ones’ eyes. Remember, even with the best privacy settings, there can be mishaps in cyberspace.
Monitoring our children online is part of parenting today. Prior generations didn’t have to worry about texting, tweeting, emailing, or other digital habits. We have decisions to make today that our parent’s never had:
• When should we give our child their first computer?
• When should we give our child their first tablet?
• When should we give our child their first cell phone? Smartphone?
• When should we allow our child on social media sites?
In many families the first few questions may come down to economics, which is reasonable, combined with the responsibility of your child.
However the last question is one that has been up for debate with some parents. According to a recent study, four out of ten children give a false age to be able to create accounts on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Some parents may believe their child is ready for Instagram, but the fact remains that Instagram is not ready for them.
Facebook recently announced they are working on a patent to allow kids under 13 to join. In doing this they are working to comply with the section of COPPA’s that prohibits children under 13 from using online services that collect data without explicit “verifiable parental consent”.
Even if Facebook is able to find a way to follow COPPA and allow younger kids online, offline parenting remains your best tool for your child’s online safety. Communication is key to digital decisions for social media choices.
Unfortunately, your child can still go behind your back and create a fake email account and attempt to join any social media site they want to. It’s your job to equip them with knowledge and empower them with tools to know better than to create a fake account or, if they do, enable them to make wise choices when confronted with uncomfortable situations.
It’s not about denying them access to Instagram, it’s about helping them to understand that we are not above the rules, and the rules are put in place for our protection. Instagram is not all about fun and funny photos. As many headlines have outlined over the years, there are disturbing things that can take place on Instagram such as porn, cyberbullying, predators and more.
Give your children other age appropriate, social media options and encourage them to share them with their peers. There are some excellent social networking sites for children under 13 years old. Visit Common Sense Media for Kids for a list to choose from.
When your child comes to you and says “All the other kids are on Instagram, why can’t I sign up for it?” be prepared to have a conversation about COPPA, following the rules of the Internet, and although you may trust your child, you know Instagram is not a place for them.
At the end of the day, it’s about the best interest of your child — and being under-aged on Instagram is not in their best interest.
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Parenting in all generations has had its’ challenges, however in today’s digital society it has created a new world of parenting concerns—in addition to offline parenting. It’s back to school, and our children’s digital devices and online access is only going to increase in the coming days. How do we keep up? It is all about what happens behind the screens and offline parenting that is important.
It’s a fact, having “the talk” doesn’t only mean about the birds and the bees anymore. Before any child is handed a keypad of any kind, parents should discuss; digital citizenship, cyber-safety, how to report online abuse and above all your child needs to know that having any type of tech gadget is a privilege—not a right. If they abuse this privilege, there will be consequences. Having a family Internet safety contract in place is recommended.
Be very clear on your consequences and always follow through. It is important that your child know that as a parent you will be monitoring them. This way there are no surprises, it isn’t about not trusting them, it is about their safety and well-being.
Monitoring verses snooping
Your child’s safety is a priority. Monitoring is parenting. When safety trumps privacy, snooping is your last resort.
As I mentioned in an earlier article, many teens don’t tell their parents they are being bullied online for a variety of reasons. This can cause for emotional scarring that is unnecessary if addressed early.
You may notice behavioral changes such as:
- Secretive and withdrawn
- Change in appetite
- Changing friends
- Failing, underachieving in school
- Sadness and signs of depression
Keeping up with the latest digital trends
Kids and teens are usually ahead of their parents when it comes to apps and tech trends. An open dialogue with your kids is better than spying and snooping. This starts early with a genuine interest in their digital lives.
The truth is monitoring systems and parental controls are only useful to an extent. This is why it is imperative that your child is taught digital awareness offline so that when they are faced with difficult situations online they are better equipped to handle them. This is not to discourage parents from having monitoring programs in place, but you have to face the reality that especially teens are cyber-savvy and will find ways to escape monitoring systems. This is why it is so important they have cyber- skills to make good choices when you are not around—digitally.
New apps and social media sites
Just ask! Make it a habit to ask your kids if they have downloaded any new apps lately – or what their favorite sites are. Learn about their digital lives and where they cyber-surf. Make this a frequent conversation.
Want to find out more? Ask your child’s friends or your friends kids for the latest app or social media (networking) site they have joined or downloaded lately. Engage in a conversation of why they like it and what it offers. This will give you an idea of where other kids are hanging online. It’s amazing how much your child’s friend’s love to speak to parent’s—other than their own!
After SnapChat the big trend is the disappearing message apps that are saturating online stores and becoming increasingly popular with users of all ages.
It is not about the app, it is about having the knowledge to click-out when you know you are in a dangerous or risky area online or situation. We often hear about websites, such as CreepyPasta, only after there is a tragedy.
The fact is, although the site might not be where we want to have our kids lingering, it’s not the site that harmed the teenager. It’s the choices the teens make. It goes back to offline parenting.
Parenting our children offline is what will give our children online character and social behavioral skills online to make better choices when they are surfing cyberspace on their own. This includes decisions to download appropriate apps and use social media sensibly.
Friends, family and cyber-mentors: Share and share alike
The best tip for parents for online safety is keeping your offline communications open. Discussing digital safety, cyberbullying, online scams, password security, new apps, new sites and all things tech should be part of your family conversation same as how was your day at school or your summer camp adventures.
It’s a fact, most teens and parents are attached to their technology. I am confident there is something everyone can share at the dinner table about the Internet whether it is new website or app they learned about that day. Become each other’s cyber-mentor.
Let’s not wait for national headlines to have a conversation. Let’s not wait for another youth suicide to talk about the digital world.
Keeping up with technology is almost impossible, but keeping up with our child is not only possible – it’s necessary. It’s all about making it your priority—be sure you have several family dinners weekly and have those tech talks often, they are important to get behind the screens of your kids!
The following is the third in a three-part series on how to help safely navigate the world of social media with your kids from Sue Scheff, a mother, author, parent advocate, and expert in internet safety education.
Summer camp is not only a time to meet new friends and people, your children will have memories and experiences for a lifetime. Many will want to capture them in photos and videos – especially in today’s digital world.
Sharing your summer experiences with friends and family is expected, however when it comes to the World Wide Web, precautions need to be taken.
Over-sharing is a common mistake that many people of all ages make on social media.
Prior to posting videos, talk to your child about things they need to consider before posting each photo and video:
- Setting-up a private group for their camp group viewing only
- Double checking their privacy settings
- Thinking about who is in the photos/videos? Will they mind their picture on a social media site?
- Sharing selectively
- Creating an online photo album entitled 2014 summer camp
The Teens and Screens survey revealed that many young people are still over-sharing personal information. This is a very serious concern that parents need to discuss with their tweens and teens. For example:
- 50% posted their email address
- 30% posted their phone number
- 14% (which is 14% too many) posted their home address
Although 77% said they understand that what is posted online is public and permanent, they are still risking their keystrokes by sharing personal information.
Listen up, 80% of teens and tweens have had conversations with their parents about online safety.
So where are we losing cyber-ground?
We have to lead by example.
Studies have revealed that parents are the number one influence on their children. You may think they aren’t listening to you; they are and more importantly they are watching you.
Many parents are over-sharing.
As parents monitor their children online, kids are snooping on their parents – virtually. Have you thought before posting your pictures and comments?
What some parents share online:
- Party pictures that you would caution your kid’s not to post
- Swimsuit pictures that may not be appropriate for public viewing
- Personal family conflicts that could be embarrassing to your child
- Online contention with a friend (when threads turn ugly, and a parent engages in it)
- Mixed messages or quotes such as, “If Box Tops for Education were on wine labels, my kid’s school would be rich!”
- Sexual innuendos, profanity and content that simply is not what parents should be modeling as digital behavior
- Dating escapades of single parents
Using the excuse that you are an adult is not good enough. First and foremost, you are a parent. Your keystrokes matter. Your actions speak louder than words. Watch this important video:
Raising smart cyber-citizens start with parents. As I’ve said before, digital citizenship is a priority in today’s cyber-world. It will determine your child’s future, from their college to their employment and possibly their relationships.
For a final thought, keep in mind, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
- Clean-up your friends list on your social networking sites
- Keep an open digital dialogue open with your child
- Less is more. If a photo seems questionable, don’t risk it. The 15-minutes of views is not worth years of humiliation – convey this to your child and remember it for yourself
- Think about how your children will view what you post before you post it
The following is the second in a three-part series on how to help safely navigate the world of social media with your kids from Sue Scheff, a mother, author, parent advocate, and expert in internet safety education.
Cyberbullying is a concern for all parents. We can’t be with our children 24/7 and the fact is our kids spend more time in cyberspace than they do with us. The most common form of cyberbullying among tweens and teens happens with cell phones. We need to equip them with the knowledge to handle cyberbullies and prevent them from becoming victims.
Since your child either just came home or will be coming home from camp soon, let’s be sure they are well-prepared to know how report online abuse and, most importantly, know they can come to you if they witness it or are a victim of cyberbullying.
Going back to the study of Teens and Screens that I referenced in my last post, in 2014 cyberbullying tripled. 24% of tweens and teens lack knowledge on what to do in the event they witness online abuse or are a victim of it.
According to Cyberbullying Statistics for 2014, 52% of teens report having been a victim of cyberbullying. Sadly, only 33% of those victims have reported bullying to parents or another adult. A recent European study showed that over half of teens view some level of cyberbullying as a normal part of online life. By having open and frequent face-to-face chats with your child about digital citizenship, hopefully we can eliminate this opinion of cyberbullying.
First we need to understand why tweens and teens don’t tell their parents.
1) Fear of consequences: Your child’s online existence is a critical part of their social life. With all their friends online, being excluded would be devastating them. They don’t want to risk you banning them from their friends and their digital lives.
2) Humiliation and embarrassment: Our kids are human and have feelings. Although some kids portray a tough persona and believe they are invincible, deep down everyone feels hurt by cruel keystrokes. Your child may fear looking stupid or weak. If the incident gets reported to their school or camp, will they be able to face their classmates and campers? Imagine the horror of a child hearing from peers after being bullied that they somehow deserved it, brought it on themselves or should have just toughened it out rather than be a snitch.
3) Fear of making it worse: We have taught our children well so they understand that bullies are looking for attention. By reporting the incident of cyberbullying to a parent, your child may fear it could anger the bully and make matters worse for them online. In some cases bullies will enlist more online trolls to cyber-mob your child. Of course the child’s dreaded fear is his or her parent reporting it to their school or camp and more people knowing whereby they become a possible target in the future.
Building a strong digital relationship with your child:
1) Speak openly about cyberbullying: Communication is key to helping your child understand that you are their advocate not only offline, but online too. Talk to them about cyberbullying prevention and remind them of the basics such as:
- Never engage with online bullies
- Never give out passwords
- Never try to seek revenge on a cyberbully
- How to block bullies
- Save evidence of cyber-bullying, especially if you have to report the bully to a school or camp
2) It is not their fault: Being a victim of a cyberbully is not their fault. Remind them you are not going to judge them or blame them. Assure them that you will not revoke their Internet privileges or take away their phone if they are cyberbullied. As I mentioned earlier, the Internet is an important part of their life so if they feel threatened that it will be removed, they may believe it is easier to be bullied and emotionally tormented. We don’t want them to be feel this way, it is not healthy for anyone to have to tolerate.
3) Listen: Communication is also a two-way street. Be sure you hear what your child is saying. Many victims say what helps most is to be heard — really listened to, either by a friend or an adult who cares. Hopefully that is their parent. Cyberbullying may not be physical, however the emotion scars can be deep. Listening to your child respectfully can start the healing process. Never diminish their feelings and let them know you are their advocate.
The following is the first in a three-part series on how to help safely navigate the world of social media with your kids from Sue Scheff, a mother, author, parent advocate, and expert in internet safety education.
Do you consider yourself a savvy digital parent? While your kids are away at camp during the summer, it can be a great time to get caught up on learning about the cyber-lives of youth today. The more you know, the more you can better communicate with your kids regarding their digital lives.
The results of a recent 2014 study by McAfee titled, Teens and Screens, should be a wake-up call for parents. Some of the staggering findings include:
- 59% of tweens and teens engage with strangers online
- Cyberbullying has tripled, yet 24% of the respondents admitted they don’t know what to do in the event of online abuse
- Tweens and teens are still over-sharing their personal information, with 14% admitting posting their home address
Exactly what do you know about your child’s online life? Most know about cyber-safety 101:
- Limiting screen time
- Telling kids to never give out passwords
- Parental settings/controls and monitoring kids’ and teens’ social media activity
- Being kind online – explaining to your kids to think before they post
- and other common cyber-security issues
This is all very important, but let’s look at some issues you may not have considered.
Some virtual friends are actually strangers.
At camp your child is meeting many new friends and people. They will be expanding their social networking circles and it is fun learning about new people and their lives.
What your child needs to understand is that there are restrictions. When they come home from camp and jump on their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social networking sites to add their new friends—that it should be limited only their real friends from camp.
What does this mean?
Many kids can get distracted into friending or adding people that are friends of friends—and before they know it they are connected to hundreds of people they don’t really know and have never met. Why is this not a good idea?
The main reason: your child’s future is at-risk.
Your child’s digital image is their future. His or her online reputation will be what determines their college and employment future. 98% of employers now say they will run an Internet search on an applicant and 77% of those with a negative online presence are not invited for an interview. College recruiters are reporting the nearly the same statistics—they are putting your child’s name through an Internet wash-cycle, and how it spins out will determine if your child secures a spot at a college of their choice.
What does this have to do with a virtual friend that is actually a stranger?
Adding people to your friends list that you don’t know in real life is not a smart idea for anyone, especially kids. Since you really don’t know them well or their online behavior, you risk them lifting photos, manipulating them and re-posting them on sites you may not approve of. They may use your comments out of context, or worse—you may upset them and they might create a slime campaign with your name.
What to do? An action plan for parents.
When your child arrives home from camp this summer and starts chatting about his or her new friends, it is a great opportunity for you to put your digital parenting hat on. Your child will probably keep in touch with these new friends through social networking, which is a benefit of our social media, however let’s discuss friending—now.
This is a perfect opportunity to also have your child clean out their friends list of others they possibly don’t really know. Especially if you have a teenager that will be applying to college soon— explain the reasons for this. This is not about you not wanting them to have friends, but in reality these aren’t friends—they are virtual strangers.
It is hard for children to understand this, as adults we learn with maturity that our friends are a reflection of who we are. We have to start instilling this into our children. Explaining to them that they don’t want friends that are making them feel uncomfortable because of what they post or if they don’t contribute positive content.
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are full of people that they probably won’t miss. Unfriending is really painless. Visit www.JustUnfollow.com which will will let you know who isn’t following you back —or even inactive followers – on Twitter. That is a great start.
Safety is always a priority. Be an educated digital parent.
My life is as a voyeur. In fact, social media has turned us all into complete voyeurs. We follow blogs of people we have never met, are cheerleaders for Team Ethan, and wait for the next post from Superman Sam’s mom. Who hasn’t clicked on the Facebook page of the first person that broke their heart way back when? Not to mention trying to keep up with the Instagram pages of our kids and their 617 friends. Oh and all those beautiful “how to get beachy waves” tutorials—I keep watching, and it ain’t working. And, it is about to get much worse…
I am about to become the biggest voyeur of them all. It’s time for camp pictures. Every year I promise myself that I am not going to be tied to my CampMinder, the pictures can wait until morning. Yet once my kids leave, every night as it nears 10pm, I find myself reaching for my phone, the iPad, or fighting my husband for the computer to catch a glimpse of my smiling girls at camp. Or at least a pic of a kid in a t-shirt that I think could possibly belong to one of my kids (that means they have friends, right?), or a corner of one of their towels as they zip by the background of the picture (if they are wrapped in a towel, they aren’t lost on the lake), or a lost flip-flop that found its way into a picture (inevitably, things won’t make it home).
I am a pro at this. I preach it: camp is the best thing to happen to kids since, well, ever. I know they are having the time of their lives and there is no greater gift I could give them. I also know the camp sifts through the pictures before posting them so even if there was one of someone having a questionable moment, I would never know it from the 548+ images posted each night. Yet, I just need to see one picture.
I’ve made some progress though. The first year my daughter was at camp, I would wake up at 2am and look at the pictures through very sleepy eyes if they weren’t posted before I fell asleep.
So, here are some promises I made to myself that I can keep this summer: I won’t call the camp freaking that they lost my children if they aren’t in pictures for a few days. And I won’t laugh at you that you did call the camp (and we will all know that you did when the first 7 pictures the next day are like a Bar Mitzvah montage of your kid)—I get it. I won’t give my kid a signal—it is really annoying to every other parent.
And I will apologize in advance for my behavior. If we happen to be out for dinner and I am in the bathroom for a few minutes too long, and slip my phone into my husband’s hands when I return to the table, sorry. Maybe by next year I’ll be able to wait for morning. But for now, my kids “live 10 for 2,” and I live for 10pm.
by Rabbi Jason Miller
New Brunswick, NJ – As Jewish camp leaders once again convened at Leaders Assembly, the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s biennial conference here in New Brunswick, there was a lot of networking taking place – both in person and via social media. The dozens of ad hoc camp reunions taking place in the hallways of the hotel also materialized into an exchange of best practices for these Jewish camp professionals. The hot topic this year was the use of technology, both in the back office of the camp operations and front and center for campers, their parents and alumni.
What role all of this new technology plays for the Jewish summer camp industry was hashed out in breakout sessions at the camp confab in what were termed “Hot Topics” and also discussed in the “Shuk” where the companies that provide this new technology were camped out. “Do you keep your camper registrations and medical forms in the cloud?”, “Who manages your alumni Facebook page?”, “Have you started Instagram or Pinterest accounts,” and “Which online service do you use for staff background checks” were just some of the questions overheard at the conference.
While many don’t typically associate high tech with the camp world, which for generations was thought of as a low tech industry, there’s no question that camps have come to depend on the latest support applications in the technology world to run their camps efficiently, effectively and safely in the 21st century. After all, while one of the core missions of the overnight summer camp experience may continue to be allowing our youth to unplug from their electronic gadgets for several weeks each summer, the camps charged with that mission must be run like businesses. And that means using the best technology to manage everything from security, registration, financials and medical information to social network engagement, summertime communication and alumni relations.
In one “Hot Topic” session, Sacha Litman, the founder of Measuring Success, demonstrated the importance of using “Big Data” to help camps with their year-round engagement efforts. Big corporations, he explained, have been using “Big Data” for many years and in 2014 summer camps need to utilize the same data tools to acquire new campers and maintain existing relationships with both current staff and the valuable alumni who are now positioned to donate and send their children or grandchildren to the camp. These data measuring tools have been available to camps for years, but most didn’t know how to put that data to good use for philanthropic or camper recruitment and retainment purposes. Litman’s plea that camps focus on engaging their campers twelve months a year rather than in the traditional camp recruitment season was a theme echoed throughout the 3-day conference, which ended Tuesday afternoon.
Read the rest of this article on eJewish Philanthropy.
Nostalgia about summer traditions notwithstanding, Jewish camps have changed dramatically from a generation ago.
Camp’s value for Jewish education and identity-building is now a major focus of communal attention. Major Jewish foundations, federations and organizations are investing heavily in the sector.
Many camps have become more intentional about incorporating Jewish learning, Shabbat and Israel into their programming. They’ve also evolved to meet families’ changing expectations and demands: offering a wider range of choices of all kinds (from food to activity to session length); providing more frequent updates and communications to parents; accommodating numerous medical requirements and allergies;and placing greater emphasis on safety and security.
At the same time, the Jewish camping field is becoming more professionalized. The job of camp director has been shifting from a seasonal gig to year-round career, and counselors are receiving more intensive training.
With all this change in the Jewish camp world, here are 10 specific trends we have noticed:
1) Shorter sessions: Once upon a time, summer camp meant the entire summer, with the majority of campers attending for seven, eight or even 10 weeks. Now it is the rare child or teen who spends the full summer at camp (or at one camp), and most programs offer multiple sessions, ranging in length from just six days to seven weeks. “Our three-week session has always sold out more quickly than the four-week, and our new two-week session has been a quick hit as well,” said Vivian Stadlin, co-director of Eden Village Camp in Putnam Valley, N.Y.
2) Specialized programs: Whether a child’s passion is sports, the environment, outdoor adventure or science and technology, there’s a Jewish camp for that. An incubator under the auspices of the Foundation for Jewish Camp spurred the creation of five specialty camps in 2010 (including Eden Village, which is focused on the environment) and another four that will open this summer. The idea is to attract kids who might not otherwise consider a Jewish camp and to show them they can combine their passion with Judaism. Increasingly, established general-interest Jewish camps are adding specialty tracks and electives. For example, the New Jersey Y camps offer a science program and various sports programs, while Ramah in the Poconos has run basketball clinics and a tennis academy.
3) Healthier food: Serving healthy, locally sourced food is a part of the mission of some specialty camps like the new health-and-wellness-focused Camp Zeke and was a component of Ramah Outdoor Adventure from its beginnings in 2010. In addition, many established Jewish camps have been redoing their menus to make them more nutritious and environmentally friendly: adding salad bars, replacing “bug juice” with water, offering more vegetarian fare and even planting their own organic vegetable gardens.
4) More affordable options: The Foundation for Jewish Camp recently introduced a new program called BunkConnect that enables first-time campers from middle- and lower-income families to search for a variety of discounted Jewish summer camp options. While BunkConnect is currently only available in the Northeast, New England and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States, the foundation hopes to expand it in future years. In addition, most Jewish overnight camps offer financial aid and the One Happy Camper Program, initiated in 2006, offers grants for all first-time campers regardless of need. So far 50,000 children have received One Happy Camper grants.
5) Broadening definition of camp: While rural settings and rustic accommodations are still the norm, two specialty camps — the Union for Reform Judaism’s Six Points Sports Academy and Six Points Science & Technology — are located on boarding school campuses, and another, the 92nd Street Y’s Passport NYC, is in the middle of Manhattan. Passport NYC, in which participants do internships and live in air-conditioned dorms, and Six Points Science blur the boundary between “camp” and “summer program,” while programs like USY on Wheels and Adamah Adventures, which operate under the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s umbrella, blur the boundary between “camp” and “teen travel.”
Read the rest of this feature on JTA.
By Rabbi Jason Miller
Ask any Jewish family that sends their children to both a private Jewish day school and a Jewish summer camp about the affordability of such endeavors and they’ll use words such as “sacrifice,” “hardship” and “priorities.” With the cost of Jewish day school tuition for one child varying from $10,000 all the way up to $40,000 per year, more Jewish families who desire a day-school Jewish education for their children are finding it cost prohibitive even with financial aid.
Add to those rising costs, the additional expense of a month or two at a Jewish summer camp and families are having to just say “no” to their kids. In the new economy, the Jewish middle class has virtually vanished. Many families who once would be considered upper middle class are forking over their tax returns hoping for subsidies to make day school and camp tuition affordable. New organizations like the Affordable Jewish Education Project (AJEP) are sprouting up seeking to imagine alternative solutions to the economic crisis. Plain and simple it’s becoming cost prohibitive to raise a Jewish family according to the values of day school and summer camp.
While Jewish day schools continue to solicit large endowment gifts to offset the tuition costs, the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) has announced a new affordability initiative. In an effort to put a Jewish summer camp experience in financial reach for most families, FJC has launched BunkConnect, a new program that matches eligible families with high-quality nonprofit Jewish summer camps at a more affordable price. This philanthropic business venture has been developed in collaboration with forward-thinking business executives and leading philanthropists.
Read the rest of this article on HuffPost Religion
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (and whatever comes next) aren’t the culprit. At least not by themselves. Like any situation, parents and guardians are responsible to monitor the playground their children are in: in this case the virtual world of social media. The interaction between counselor and camper doesn’t need to vary based on the medium. Parents need to be engaged in their kids’ activities and kids need to know that parents will be observing. If campers and counselors are friends on Facebook, that in of itself isn’t bad. We shouldn’t worry excessively over one connection versus another without reason. The relationship and bond forged between camper and counselor is unique and important – platforms like Facebook are new meeting grounds and we have to learn how to live with them, adapt them to our rules, and monitor them.
Some camper-counselor bunk relationships are important and influential. The camper-counselor bond is important and can be akin to a big brother or a mentor when one doesn’t exist for the camper. Personally, I’m proud of the decades-long interaction which has grown between campers of mine and me, augmented by the use of technology including Facebook.
As a counselor I had some bunks, and was a camper in some bunks, that were legendary. Why should a connection like that be forced to end simply because of the fear of Facebook? Both the camper and the counselor choosing to connect through social media should know and accept that their interactions may, and will be, monitored by responsible adults. If a parent reads or sees postings that give cause for alarm or suspicion (inappropriate material, suggestive pictures, language) then it should be cause to react. As a parent you will know when the relationship is inappropriate. But to forbid it simply because “bad stuff happens in Facebook” is just naive. It’s akin to worrying about all the bad men on the sex offender registry but ignoring the fact that 90% of abuse is caused by someone the child knows – the fear is displaced. Rather than run from it, embrace the technology and take ownership of it.
It’s also possible that having campers “following” them will cause counselors to behave better online as well knowing that kids are watching. Imagine if the fact that a counselor has camper friends results in the counselor not posting pictures of her drunken spring break theatrics or profanity ladened posts about his friends?
So when should the Facebook/Instagram/Twitter relationship be pulled? If either the counselor or camper starts to demand too much; if one side, especially the counselor, begins to act inappropriate or suggest age inappropriate activities and relationships; if one starts to act as a jealous or envious girl/boyfriend. You will know it when you see it. And when you see it, you need to do something about it. That’s when parents should be notifying camp directors, peers should be telling each other it’s not appropriate and ultimately when directors make the tough decision to not rehire because that staffer just doesn’t have good judgment.
We use a good rule of thumb in our work at Baltimore Child Abuse Center: if the other adult likes your kid more than you like your own kid, that could be cause for alarm. Embrace the new technologies that exist and recognize your campers want to use social media to keep camp going year round. By participating and monitoring the conversation, you become a part of the experience.
Concerned how kids and technology interact? Want to know more about how to talk with your kids and family about being safe, visit our safety pages at www.baltimorechildabusecenter.org/prevent_abuse to learn more.
Adam Rosenberg is the Executive Director at the Baltimore Child Abuse Center.