I recently read an article that said kids (ages 8-18) spend an average of more than 7 hours a day looking at screens. Although the statistics aren't out yet, I would guess that amount has increased significantly with COVID-19 lockdowns. One of the things that comes to mind when I think of kids on a screen is the use of social media.
Sure, as parents we all know there are "risks" to using social media. We've seen the news articles where the young girl was contacted by the old man. We've heard stories about the "creepy" things that can happen with kids on social media.
But something that maybe only lawyer-Moms think about are the legal problems for our kids that can come from social media use.
First, let me just get something out of the way. Snapchat: it doesn't disappear. That is a ginormous lie that we have all been led to believe. Just like anything else on the internet, it's forever. Just because you aren't able to see the snap anymore, doesn't mean it hasn't stored somewhere for others to access (ie. law enforcement). If you're going to let your kid use Snapchat, have this conversation with them. If you know me personally, I'll prove it to them if they don't believe you. Snapchat is forever.
Second, let's talk about online bullying. Sure, we hear about bullying a lot these days. We've all been to the orientation where the school basically tells you that if your kid is bullying, they will be ousted. But something that is rarely discussed is online bullying, also known as cyber bullying. Cyber bullying could get your kid in some major trouble legally. Montana Code Annotated 45-5-221 covers Harassment, and Montana Code Annotated 45-8-213 covers Privacy in Communications. These laws could be used to charge your kid criminally if their bullying fits into the law. If you’re worried about what the school will do with bullies, imagine your kid getting charged criminally for their online talk. Also important to note, there have been cases where kids are criminally charged for encouragement of suicide via text or social media. The consequences are real, and parents should be aware.
Third, let's talk about sex. Remember the days when a boy might ask a girl at a high school bonfire to "flash" him? Yeah...those days are long gone. If that's all your kid is exposed to, you're doing great. You may already know all about the sexting that goes on with kids. If you don't think it's happening in your kid's school, think again. And sure, maybe some of it is harmless. But understand: asking for, sending, or receiving nude pictures of kids can get your kid in real trouble. Montana Code Annotated 45-5-625 covers this issue, and most of the time, kids (and parents) have no idea this is a crime. Not only does this expose your kid to a serious criminal charge, the charge is generally considered a "sex offense."
So, what can we do as parents to protect our kids from legal trouble with their phones, iPads, or social media? While I would love to tell you to keep it simple and prohibit all access to anything with access to the internet, we all know that is next to impossible (especially if you are partaking in "distance-learning"). Here are some tips that I hope you will be able to use and share with your kids:
I hope this is helpful to parents navigating the online world with kids, especially when they are faced with more screen time than ever. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact our office.