Tech Safety

Jun 30, 2024

In today's digital era, parenting comes with a new set of challenges that our parents did not have to address. That means we do not have a framework or example from our own parents to navigate this new world and are starting from scratch. As technology evolves rapidly, it's becoming increasingly important for parents to stay informed about the potential risks and benefits associated with their children's screen time. From setting limits on devices to understanding the impact of social media on mental health, there's a lot to consider when it comes to ensuring your child's safety in the online world.

Before you give a device to your child that has access to the internet, you as a parent should have already discussed the following topics: pornography, sex, cyberbullying, online predators, internet safety, and how much of what they see on the internet is not real. Does this sound overwhelming? We get it, it is overwhelming! But we are breaking it down for you to make this journey easier!

Here is our goal: to equip and empower our children BEFORE any of these situations occur. Technology can be incredibly fun, but also needs to be safe. When we have regular, open communication with our kids about these topics, we can help them use technology responsibly.

Do kids need supervision related to online interactions?

YES. When your child has access to the internet, it is like a doorway from the outside world directly into the room with your child. While that statement may seem a little dramatic, research shows the potential and real dangers our kids face when given internet access too early. Research has also shown us that in addition to our children being exposed to inappropriate content and inappropriate interactions with others, they may not tell us as parents what happened (we will address this in the action steps below!). In a study, 71% of teens shared they had done something to hide their online behavior from their parents. Even with cyberbullying, only 1 in 10 children tell an adult if this is happening to them, according to

Are kids really seeing sexual/inappropriate content online?

Unfortunately, yes. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article describing how after creating a brand-new teen account, sexual videos were in their feed within an average of 3 minutes. This is why we need to teach our children about their body parts, consent, and sex so they can learn accurate information from us as parents rather than incorrect information from online sources. We also want to communicate openly so they can ask us questions about anything related to their body. When we have open communication, our children will also be more likely to let us know if someone makes them uncomfortable or attempts to take advantage of them.

  • The average age of first exposure to pornography is 11. Research reflects that the earlier a child was exposed led to greater mental health difficulties later in life.
  • The estimates of prevalence rates have varied, but nationally representative surveys of adolescents in the USA have found that 68.4% of adolescents reported exposure to online pornography.
  • Another study in the USA found 42% of youth between the ages of 10 and 17 reported viewing online pornography.
  • A majority of teens who indicated they have viewed pornography have been exposed to aggressive and/or violent forms of pornography
  • Some social media platforms show live depictions of self-harm acts like partial asphyxiation, leading to seizures, and cutting, leading to significant bleeding.
  • According to many researchers, early exposure to pornography is connected to negative developmental outcomes, including a greater acceptance of sexual harassmentsexual activity at an early age,acceptance of negative attitudes to womenunrealistic expectationsskewed attitudes of gender rolesgreater levels of body dissatisfactionrape myths(responsibility for sexual assault to a female victim), and sexual aggression.
  • The University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center reports that kids are more likely to pressure each other to send or post sexual content than an adult. (So, even with parental controls, it may be kids your child goes to school with that is pressuring them)

What about Cyberbullying?

Bullying has extended into the digital realm through cyberbullying, which can have profound emotional and psychological effects on children. It includes harassment, spreading rumors, or sharing embarrassing information online. The reason why this is so important is that before technology, kids were able to escape bullying once they left school. Now, kids are feeling as if they are perpetually being targeted and are unable to ever escape from the judgment and ridicule of others.

  • One in five (20.9%) tweens (9 to 12 years old) has been cyberbullied, cyberbullied others, or seen cyberbullying.
  • Cyberbullies and victims tend to be heavy internet users (2+ hours per day).
  • 40 to 50% of cyberbullying victims report knowing their bully personally.
  • Statistics range greatly, but across studies 9% to 57% of children reported they would tell a parent.
  • Participants in a study who experienced cyberbullying were more than 4 times as likely to report thoughts of suicide and attempts as those who didn’t. This association diminished but remained significant when the researchers adjusted for other factors known to affect thoughts of suicide and attempts (family conflict, racial discrimination, parental monitoring, and being supported at school).

Do I really have to be worried about Online Predators?

Yes. One of the most concerning risks is the presence of online predators who exploit children's trust for malicious purposes. These individuals may use social media, gaming platforms, or chat rooms to groom and manipulate children.

  • According to the FBI, over 50% of victims online are between the ages of 12 to 15.
  • From October 2021 to March 2023, the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations received over 13,000 reports of online financial sextortion of minors. The sextortion involved at least 12,600 victims—primarily boys—and led to at least 20 suicides.
  • Sextortion is the practice of extorting money or sexual favors from someone by threatening to reveal evidence of their sexual activity. So if your child sends a nude photo, that person will demand money or threaten to share the photo with others.
  • In fiscal year 2023, the FBI opened more than 5,200 ‘crimes against children’ cases, arrested more than 2,800 individuals involved in the sexual exploitation of children, and located and identified more than 5,200 child victims.
  • 89% of sexual advances directed at children occur in chatrooms or instant/direct messaging.
  • In 2018, Facebook Messenger was responsible for nearly 12 million of the 18.4 million worldwide reports of Child Sexual Abuse Material.
  • According to the New England Journal of Public Policy, contact with online predators happens mostly in chat rooms, on social media, or in the chat feature of a multiplayer game (RobloxMinecraftClash of ClansWorld of Warcraft, and so on).

What does this look like? Some online predators will immediately start discussing sexual acts or ask for an inappropriate photo. This should be discussed with your child so they know to immediately inform you so that you can help block those individuals and report them.  During this discussion, tell your children that they will never be in trouble for seeking out your help.

Other predators engage in a process called grooming, in which they slowly blur the lines of what is appropriate and attempt to establish some sort of relationship. People sometimes refer to this as “bunny hunting” online. In this process, the predator will explore your child’s page to learn about them (this is also why every account should be private), interact with them frequently, ask to have conversations in private chats, and attempt to slowly build trust with your child.

Some good news: recent reports show the solicitation by online predators has decreased over the last decade. However, it is still happening and we still need to talk about safety.

Does Social Media really impact mental health?

Yes. We are seeing this more and more in our private practices. Social media can exert significant pressure on children to conform to unrealistic standards and may expose them to inappropriate content or interactions. Excessive use can also contribute to feelings of anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem. Up to 95% of young people aged 13-17 report using a social media platform. Nearly two thirds of teenagers report using social media every day and one third report using social media “almost constantly.” According to a survey of 8th and 10th graders, the average time spent on social media is 3.5 hours per day, 1-in-4 spend 5+ hours per day and 1-in-7 spend 7+ hours per day on social media.

  • When asked about the impact of social media on their body image, 46% of adolescents aged 13-17 said social media makes them feel worse
  • A synthesis of 20 studies demonstrated a significant relationship between social media use and body image concerns and eating disorders. This means the more time your child spends on social media, the more likely they are to be exposed to this type of content. There are hashtags and entire accounts dedicated to “Thinspo,” or what they deem inspirational content to remain thin, how to judge your own body, and how to lose weight in unhealthy ways.
  • When asked about the impact of social media on their body image, nearly half (46%) of adolescents aged 13–17 said social media makes them feel worse.
  • The introduction of the social media platform may have contributed to more than 300,000 new cases of depression.
  • Adolescents who spent more than 3 hours per day on social media faced double the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes including symptoms of depression and anxiety. (In 2020, students in 8th grade and up were on social media for an average of 3.5 hours per day)
  •  Over a 2-year follow-up, high-frequency use of digital media, with social media as one of the most common activities, was associated with a modest yet statistically significant increased odds of developing ADHD symptoms.

What can I do as a parent?

1. View all technology as a privilege, not a right. Your Child can have an amazing childhood without a smart phone and social media.

2. Consider delaying technology until your child is ready. This will vary between families and vary based on the type of technology. Thinking about it beforehand helps you feel empowered, and your child will maybe bug you a little less. For example, our kids know that we will not even consider allowing them to have a social media account until they start high school. So at this point, there is no reason for them to ask because they know the answer is ‘no’ for now.

  • Have you heard of the Wait Until 8th challenge? Find out more here: Wait Until 8th

3. DELAY social media. A good general tip is that we don’t want kids going through puberty while being influenced by social media, so wait until age 16 or after. Before this time, their brains are truly not developed enough to wade through what is real, what is fake, and how content impacts their self-esteem and mental health. With the introduction of AI, this is only getting harder and harder

4. Beware! Kids can access social media content on YouTube! So, even if your child does not have a true social media account, they are likely still seeing many of those videos.

5. Keep all screens in central locations (NOT bedrooms) so you can be more aware! This allows you to see what they are doing and who they are interacting with so that you can respond or intervene as needed. This will change over time and with your child’s age. But a 7-year-old should not have the same privileges as a 17-year-old.

6. Explicitly teach your children about pornography, online predators, cyberbullying, and the impact social media has on mental health.

7. Limit screen time. The current recommendation is to limit screens to 2 hours per day. Technology can be fun, but our kids need MANY things in order to grow such as playing outside, reading, spending time with friends and family, and even experiencing boredom. Have you noticed that the more you scroll the more your mood is impacted? Its even more so for kids.

  • A small, randomized controlled trial in college-aged youth found that limiting social media use to 30 minutes daily over three weeks led to significant improvements in depression severity.
  • Greater social media use predicted poor sleep, online harassment, poor body image, low self-esteem, and higher depressive symptom scores with a larger association for girls than boys.

8. Consider making a family policy about screen usage. We love using technology contracts! Check out our free technology contract here!

9. Check the ratings on video games. Many of them are very different from when we were kids! Graphics are incredibly realistic, not only about violence but also sexual content. When our kids ask for a new game, we watch reviews as a family and then discuss whether we think this aligns with our family values.

10. When you do allow your child to have a social media account, they need to keep these private and only accept “friends” with people they actually know in real life.

  • Explicitly teach them to NEVER give out their real name, phone number, school, or address.
  • Instruct them that anything they post will be online FOREVER. If they don’t want their parents, teachers, coaches, or future bosses to see it, they shouldn’t post it.

11. Depending on your child’s age, turn off the chat room function on video games or create rules where they can only chat with people you know. Make an effort to be in the room every once and a while to hear how kids are talking to each other. We have found this provides many opportunities for follow-up discussions about online behavior. Important – chat rooms also include talking online through a microphone!

12. Look at your child’s social media account – all of them and regularly. We hear varying opinions on this as some parents feel this is violating their child’s privacy. But with the risk factors impacting our children, we need to ensure they are safe. This should be an aspect included in your technology contact! And, again, this will look different depending on your child’s age and what you feel is appropriate for them.

We know many of these statistics are alarming. While we hope tech-based companies can start to be held more accountable for some content, you as a parent need to know what your child may be exposed to. We can find a way to use these tools safely, but we need to be aware and make a plan!

 ~Dr. Jordana & Dr. Erin




Cyberbullying linked with suicidal thoughts and attempts in young adolescents | National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Social Media and Youth Mental Health |

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