I had breakfast this morning with a friend of mine who has a child on the cusp of the teen years. We discussed how the role of the parent has to change during those years because the child will try to separate to grow into adulthood, and the parent must allow that to happen. The parent-child relationship changes at that point, and that’s usually somewhat of a shock to the parent, who has been all powerful until now. So far, it was a typical conversation with the parent of an adolescent, reassuring the mom that everything was all good.
And then we talked about social media. My friend had given her child, who I’m going to call Joe, access to an Instagram account, and she was monitoring his cell phone and his other social media accounts.
So far, so good. My granddaughter has had a Snapchat account since she was twelve, and I have monitored it, since I spend so much time on social media anyway and her parents can’t. (And the posts vanish.)
Several times I caught her confessing that she was upset about some friend or another who used to be her best friend and now wasn’t talking to her. I also watched her become disgusted with Facebook and delete her account several times — always over some negative feedback from a peer. I saw her get bullied.
With kids her age, being best friends one day and enemies the next isn’t unusual. Especially with girls, who become brutal from about twelve on. There’s plenty of bullying with young girls. So I passed my information on to her dad, who had the requisite discussions with her.
My friend found out that her child had an account on Sarahah, an anonymous app where people can secretly post opinions and suggestions about someone else. I had never heard of Sarahah, which was founded by a Saudi Arabian developer who says he started it for companies who wanted to find an anonymous way for employees to give feedback and make improvement suggestions to colleagues. Apparently, it is all the rage among young people, and it is being used for everything from bullying to marketing porn.
Really now? On her son’s account, my friend found a “suggestion” containing a link to Porn Hub, a site advertising “free porn sex videos and pussy movies” in its Google listing. Following that link, she found material about pornographic things one can do with a fidget spinner, obviously aimed at marketing to children her son’s age.
This stunned her — and me, too — because she then had to explain to her son that he had a link to child pornography on his device, and that possession of same could potentially bring their entire family grief.
She was livid at the very thought that perverts are sitting on Porn Hub drawing in young kids. But her son would never have gone there if the link hadn’t been sent to him on Sarahah, where he would not have even known where it came from.
Okay, I grew up in an easier time without the internet. Okay, I may have been pretty liberal bringing up my own children. But as a parent in the 70s I never had to confront these kinds of dangers and develop a proper response. If you are parenting now, I am full of compassion for how difficult it must be to raise a child in the era of online anonymity, even if you are educated and media literate. And God help you if you are not.