THE ROLE OF THE PEDIATRICIAN
In the 21st century, Internet use and online communication are becoming as universal as television viewing was becoming 50 years ago. A pediatrician who counsels families about appropriate television "screen time" and programming can also incorporate Internet use and electronic communication into that discussion. Below are some key points, adapted from recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, that might be discussed with adolescents and their parents:
|•||Parents should purchase and install parental control software on their home computers. The computer should be in a public area of the house so that they can personally monitor what transpires online.|
|•||Encourage parents to experience these technologies themselves. Parents should create a Facebook or MySpace page (and "friend" their teen), and they should understand how "texting" and "tweeting" work. In addition, they should network with other parents in their teen's peer group to help keep tabs on the group's online activities.|
|•||Remind your adolescent patients and their parents that privacy is a fragile thing in the online arena and that any personal text message, e-mail, photo, blog, or social media post can be—whether accidentally or intentionally—broadcast to the entire online world with a simple keystroke. A good rule of thumb is this: "Do not blog, post, text, or e-mail anything that you wouldn't want your friends, teachers, or employers to read or see."|
|•||Empower parents to exercise some control when it comes to their teen's online "private life." Parents should strategize ahead of time with their teen regarding ways in which they will be monitoring online blogs, texts, and e-mails. Many families find that an effective monitoring strategy includes random checks of computer records, cell phone messages, blogs, and social networking pages.|
|•||Remind teens who drive of the dangers of texting—or even talking on a cell phone—while driving. Underscore the importance of refraining from all use of electronic devices while behind the wheel. You might also want to gently remind parents of the importance of their setting a good example in this area.|
E-mail: E-mail is one of the oldest modes of electronic communications still used today. Although its overall popularity with adolescents has declined over the past decade, most teenagers have at least 1 e-mail address, accessed through a personal computer, mobile phone, or smartphone (ie, mobile phone that also functions as a wireless Internet device).
Chat rooms: Chat rooms allow teens to communicate with peers in real time. After adopting a "screen name" (akin to an online pseudonym) they enter an online virtual "room" to "talk" about interests and concerns. The anonymity of chat rooms may help teens discuss concerns or feelings that they would not feel comfortable discussing with known peers. Unfortunately, chat rooms are usually unmonitored and may provide opportunities for sexual predators, who can infiltrate a group chat and get to know the youths in the chat room intimately.
Instant messaging (IMing): Similar to using a chat room, IMing involves a private, real-time "conversation" between 2 persons. Depending, on the situation, the real identities of the 2 parties may or may not be known. IMing can be used to trade photos, data files, or music, as well as for text-based communication.
Blogs: A blog is an online journal that a teen can use to write about his or her thoughts, opinions, experiences, life events, or news. A blog might be publically accessed via the World Wide Web, or viewings may be restricted to persons who have the blogger's permission to access the blog. Many blogs offer viewers the opportunity to post written responses to the author's entries. Approximately 28% of online teens frequently use blogs to write about personal experiences or feelings and almost 20% of online boys use blogs to post photos and videos.4
Social networking sites: Social networking sites (eg, Facebook and MySpace) combine e-mail, IMing, chat rooms, and blogs into one comprehensive Web page. As of 2009, social networking sites are the venues that adolescents most commonly use for online communication. An estimated 55% of online teenagers frequent these sites from a personal computer, mobile phone, or smartphone.5 "Friending" refers to the act of letting someone new into your online social network and, in turn, being granted access to that person's network.
Texting: Using a mobile phone or smartphone, teens (or adults) send short (usually less than 160 characters) text messages to each other. Photos and videos may be attached to these messages. Over the past 5 years, this mode of communication has increased in popularity, and an estimated 76% of teenaged mobile phone users send text messages daily. In fact, a 2009 Nielson report indicated that teenagers send an average of 2899 text messages per month (which equals about 95 texts per day)!6
Twitter: This application, frequently used on a handheld device, allows users to broadcast a text message to a large number of other Twitter users. Teens often send "tweets"—which are akin to mini blog entries—providing updates on what they are doing or thinking.