Youth Week: Talk off line

Social media expert gives tips about kids in the cyber world

Jessie Miller says kids can get into trouble offline before they get into trouble online.

Talk to your kids.

Parents don’t need to make themselves social media experts in order to protect their kids, but they need to have good communication with them and bring their life experience to bear in the conversation, says a social media expert who spoke in Maple Ridge this week.

The Ridge Meadows RCMP and Youth Services hosted Jesse Miller, an international presenter on social media, to talk about online pitfalls, and how parents and teens can help avoid them. The presentation was part of Youth Week.

“With social media, parents sometimes feel like they’re chasing the technology or how fast their kids are, and there’s this experience of digital divide,” said Miller. “You’re not going to be able to keep up with every app and every new trend.”

But he recommends that parents simply talk to kids about what they’re doing online, whether it’s Minecraft or  Instagram that interests them, and express their expectations and the values of the home.

“The issues are not really different than what we experienced in previous generations, just that you have an immediate form of communication now,” he told the audience.

Anxiety about social media was one of the issues identified by 300 Maple Ridge parents, teachers and community leaders who were surveyed as part of the work of the city’s Strong Kids Team.

Miller talked about cyberbullying, fears that young people are posting images and messages that could reflect poorly on them, and the danger of online predators.

He said there are often red flags that present themselves in the child’s offline behaviour, that are not communicated or dealt with, before they get into trouble with social media.

“That’s where some of these blocks turn into internet issues, because you have a child who’s not communicating about the experiences they’re having offline, and the online conduit become a problem,” he said. “Sometimes it is someone targeting a vulnerability, other times a child lashes out, and then the school and police have to get involved.”

Miller does his own research, and keeps up with that of non-profits and NGOs across Canada who study

online behaviour and its effects.

On Tuesday, the night he offered the presentation at The Act, an organization called Common Sense Media released a poll of over 1,200 teens in the U.S. who identified themselves as addicted to technology and their cell phones.

He talks to educators on a regular basis who confirm that anecdotally that students as young as Grade 5 and 6 are commonly coming to school with cellphones in hand.

What is the right age to let your child have a smart phone? He said the majority of apps and websites dictate users be 13. But again, parents have to get involved.

He’s a “huge advocate” for kids being active online if they need it for a constructive purpose.

“Our children benefit from these technologies more than they will ever face peril,” he said.

Nine-year-old Jacob Tremblay, who starred in the Oscar-winning movie Room, is a Lower Mainland kid with 400,000 followers on Instagram.

“If you’re a celebrity, obviously the rules are a bit different,” said Miller.

Social media is an issue that affects people earlier than ever, and he sees that in his work.

“This is the first year I’m doing presentations to Grade 1 and Grade 2s,” he said.

He calls Mediasmarts.ca “a great resource for parents,” and watches the work of Danah Boyd (www.danah.org) who researches “the intersection between technology and society.”

She is the author of “It’s Complicated – The Social Lives of Networked Teens.”

Miller’s work takes him around the world.

“I was in the arctic circle in december. A community just got in the internet, and issues follow wherever you get connectivity.”

He talked about digital citizenship, and warned that your children could be Googled by universities, potential employers, new relationships, the parents of the person they want to marry, and eventually their own children.

“What if we just have stuff we’re proud of online,” he asked.

Ridge Meadows RCMP Supt. Dave Fleugel said Miller has an important message.

“He’s a real leader in this area – he’s the subject matter expert on youth and their behaviours online. We know there’s bullying, and parents and kids need to know what the pitfalls are.”

“We’ve got to recognize that our youth are a little bit vulnerable right now, and we need to provide whatever resources we can as a city as a police department to give them that support,” Fleugel said. “They need to make smart decisions online – some of the decisions have real-life consequences.”

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