Teen safety in the digital age

Today, parents strive to mitigate the risk their children are exposed to while using digital technologies such as the Internet, cell-phones, and digital cameras.  They review cell-phone bills, limit the amount of time the cell-phone and computer is accessible to their child; or place the family computer in a public area of the home.  All these measures can be effective protection, but unfortunately we cannot monitor a child’s behavior 24/7, nor can we monitor how their friends and others are effecting them using digital technology. We must also rely on their own good judgment to keep themselves safe. Unfortunately, there is overwhelming evidence that many, especially our youth, are unaware of the short and long term consequences of utilizing rapidly evolving digital technologies irresponsibly.  According to a recently published national survey of teens and young adults, conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 39% of teens and 59% of young adults are posting sexually explicit messages online, and 20% of all teens, some as young as 13, have posted sexually explicit videos and pictures of themselves online. 

Digital technology offers no pity, no remorse, and no flexibility, nor does it offer any apologies or prejudices. Anyone can get burned by poor digital judgment  — rich or poor, young or old, of any race, creed, sex.  Therefore, it is essential that everyone using digital technologies understand that the consequences of irresponsible “digital” behavior are often far more public, immediate, and severe than most mistakes made “offline.” 

Here’s one example.  A “private” digital image is sent to another individual.  Once the image is “gone,” so is any control over that image. The image is now in the public domain and may be seen and saved by millions of people (some with bad intent).  This often leads to immediate and severe consequences like disciplinary action by an employer or school, and/or cyber-stalking or bullying.  Depending on the circumstances, law enforcement may also become involved and criminal charges could be filed.  

The Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communications aims to debunk the myths associated with online activities, and educate the digital community about the often unintended consequences of irresponsible, dangerous, and malicious digital behavior.  Here are some popular and wide spread myths:  

MYTH Deleting a picture or video from your web page deletes it forever.
MYTH Deleting a picture or video from your digital camera or phone deletes it forever.
MYTH Deleting a picture or video from your computer deletes it forever.

MYTH Nobody else can ever gain access to your private webpage.
MYTH Broadcasting from your webcam is always private and is not recorded.

The fact is most digital users are not aware that their activities using digital technologies and devices are public and permanent. The continuous rapid evolution of digital technologies has created a new way of working, learning, socializing, and communicating.  However, in the rapid adaptation to these new devices there was not a creation of a uniform and proactive concept of responsible use of these technologies. Also missing is the knowledge that irresponsible use will result in negative, and often catastrophic consequences.  

Here are the facts:

FACT The devastating and sometimes life altering unintended consequences that can occur when using digital technologies are most often a result of YOUR (or your child’s) bad judgment and irresponsible online behavior.
FACT Practicing digital responsibility when using any form of digital technology is the only way to eliminate the risk of facing these same devastating and sometimes life altering unintended consequences.

For more information on the importance of digital safety, awareness, and responsibility, and to educate you and your community, visit www.iroc2.org