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Parents discuss social media abuse

Parents learned tactics Thursday night to identify and prevent social media abuse among their children.

Ryan Klingensmith, founder of Shape The Sky — a network of concerned parents, educators and clinicians — spoke at the Altoona Area Junior High School Auditorium.

One grandfather in the crowd of about 50 admitted: “I’m so far out of the loop, I don’t even know what I learned.”

It’s a much different world than he’s used to.

Children may look up words they don’t know on apps like Instagram instead of using a dictionary. That’s problematic because any word preceded by a hashtag (#) symbol can turn up disinformation, as well as themes and content that are dangerous.

For example, Klingensmith said a 12-year-old girl he knows through working at schools learned how to cut herself by searching #cutting.

And when children see things they didn’t mean to, they don’t usually feel they can tell their parents about it without getting in trouble or getting their phone taken away, he said.

With all the information and exposure to adult material through apps, Klingensmith gave a rule of thumb: “Wait for eighth grade before giving your children a phone. Because if you haven’t had the sex, drugs and rock and roll talk with your kids before you give them a phone, then you are doing it

backwards.”

He also showed parents how easy it is to track and find a child through the photos they post on social media. Pedophiles posing as children can get in contact with children easily through the private messaging features of apps. Teaching children to turn on privacy settings for their profiles is crucial, he said.

It is also important for parents to talk to their children about digital dating.

In the past if a jealous boyfriend called the house 400 times through the night, the father would have put an end to that, Klingensmith said. But today, a jealous boy can send 400 social media messages to a girl and her parents don’t even know because the cellphone in her room is on silent.

“If we are not talking about digital dating abuse with our children, then we are doing a disservice to them. You would not believe the disastrous relationships kids have in middle school.”

Altoona parent Brooke Sell latched onto Klingensmith’s comparison of technology to driving.

“You teach your kids to drive because you know how to use a car, but with technology, it’s a team approach. Kids know how to use it, but we have the wisdom to use it safely,” she said, reiterating information from the presentation.

“It was super informational. Technology is here to stay. After this, I feel like I have much more power as a parent to ride the wave,” she said. “The most important thing I took from this is to actively listen to kids.”

Klingensmith urged the parents in attendance to download Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

Parent and school board member Kelly Irwin Adams said she has been more inclined to prohibit her children from using apps like Instagram, but after the presentation, she said she feels a responsibility to learn how to use the apps herself so that she can allow her children to use them wisely.

“The biggest thing is to be involved with your children and learn about the apps along with them,” she said.

The presentation was free, and for adults only.

Klingensmith began his career in 1994, working for an inpatient psychiatric hospital with teens diagnosed with bipolar, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-harming and suicidal behaviors, according to his online biography.

Resources for parents to guide their children’s social media use can be found at ShapeTheSky.org. ShapeTheSky can also be found on Facebook and Instagram.

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