INDIANAPOLIS – Raising teenagers isn’t always easy. As social media and artificial intelligence continue to evolve, new challenges are presented before some parents can keep up. One parent and a licensed counselor weighed in on how to protect your kids from encountering danger online.
You’ve probably heard of Snapchat. But do you know how it works? What your teens are using it for? Or the new features that are added with every update?
“My son is going into seventh grade this year and there were kids on Snapchat as young as fifth grade. It honestly blew my mind,” Indianapolis Moms website owner Kait Baumgartner said.
Snapchat is completely off-limits for Baumgartner’s 13-year-old son.
“My son has asked for Snapchat and we say: ‘That’s not an option in this house right now. You are too young for it,'” she said.
She says it’s just too hard for parents to monitor. Some messages disappear after 24 hours. Users can show their locations in real-time with a map feature. And, the company added an experimental artificial intelligence bot they say “can be tricked into saying just about anything.”
“It’s so dangerous when we aren’t looking at things like that AI feature that can really impact our children’s future,” Baumgartner said.
Kimble Richardson, a licensed counselor for Community Health Network, says he’s worried about kids encountering misinformation online when interacting with AI bots.
“And that might be hearing information that’s influencing them to engage in behaviors that are inappropriate or illegal,” Richardson added.
But, the technology is only becoming more accessible – and realistic.
“It’s difficult for adults to even sometimes know – when am I chatting with a real person versus a bot?” Richardson said.
That’s why he says it’s important to stay updated and give children the tools to discern what’s real and appropriate online. Plus, he says concerns about bullying over social media have skyrocketed over the years – even blackmail.
“If a teen, youth, would post a photograph, someone else could take it and use it against them,” Richardson said. “We’ve certainly seen it happen with detrimental outcomes.”
Baumgartner recalls a recent conversation with a friend whose teenage son fell victim to what’s known as a “catfish” over Snapchat.
“They got a request from somebody and they thought it was a girl they were interested in and it turned out to be not that at all,” she said.
To avoid the trouble altogether, both Baumgartner and Richardson stress the importance of trust among family members and school communities.
“Know your child’s friends and their parents. All work together to make sure that our kids are safe,” Richardson said.
Richardson says only you can decide when it’s appropriate to prevent or allow your child to access apps like Snapchat. But he is optimistic about the future and the benefits of using social media for positive things like peer support.