Do you practice safe technology? If you think you do, think twice. There is no such thing.

No matter what the privacy settings, whenever you use social media you are leaving a digital footprint of something. It can be as little as your location; who you are connected to; what you have just been shopping for; what you have just been viewing.

With just that, you can receive targeted ads, links to websites and other content based on the analysis of those little data-bits left behind.

Consider this, you just looked at a porn site or something less concerning like swimsuits and even if you deleted it from your computer, the digital footprint can still create the conditions for you to receive targeted ads on your social media pertaining to what you have been surfing. Next, your 6-year-old saunters up to the keyboard. They are attracted to the link. Need I say more?

Consider for a moment, your 10-year-old child is at school. Smart phones are everywhere and at an undesirable moment, your child is caught picking their nose on video. It’s uploaded to YouTube and before you know it, your child is publicly shamed for that moment’s itch.

Children today will be exposed to content we would never choose. Children will have material (photos/videos) taken and posted of them without your knowledge or control. Children will come across pornographic material inadvertently. This is no longer a question of if, but when.

Want to hold back that smart phone. Good luck with that too. Just because your child may not have one, all of their friends do and they share. These days, if your child doesn’t have a smart phone, they are actually at a social disadvantage. Long gone are the days of telephone contact. Everything is texting and social media. Want friends? Have a smart phone. Have a smart phone, then watch out for addiction.

To add, given the advent of smart phones, as much as we are technologically connected, we are increasingly socially disconnected. Even if in physical proximity to each other, the distraction of the smart phone interrupts relationships and dialogue. There you are bathing your three-year-old, phone tucked in under your chin or sitting on the counter as you are catching up with someone else. Eye contact? Forget it.

Prior to the distraction of the smart phone, at that moment of bathing, you may have just been coochy-cooing your child or talking generally about good touch – bad touch. You could have been using the time and interaction to teach about boundaries and body privacy. A lesson now missed.

Prior to the smart phone interrupting conversation at dinner, you may have discussed what to do in case of an emergency; individual news of the day, your views on how to get along with others and have respectful relationships.

The kind of conversations, dialogues or even just musings meant to inform and pass on values are no longer had in favor of checking out one more like, one more purchase, one more work related issue.

Given our addiction to the devices and needing to see that one more like, comment, post, message, our children (and us) are tired to the degree that learning is compromised. Who can go to bed without checking their device just one… more… time.

It used to be we were concerned for those kids who went without eating. The new concern is fatigue and with that we see increased instances of aggression, bullying, and attention deficit symptoms. That is how fatigue emerges in children. They don’t sit there and say, I’m tired. They just lose it!

Our kids are at risk from technology and social media like never before. It occurs at a time when we are less available as parents even when physically present.

Want to manage the risk better? Consider these strategies:

Upon arriving home, turn off your device and announce it to the kids;
Hunt down your kids in the house, look them in the eye and ask how they are doing. Have a snack together;
Turn off the device at mealtimes. Yours too!
Restrict your children from using their devices an hour before bedtime and do not allow the device in the bedroom at bedtime. If the device serves as an alarm clock, then buy a real one;
Teach your little ones about good touch – bad touch and privacy. Use the bathing suit analogy – no touching wherever a bathing suit would cover;
Demonstrate respectful behavior in the home. Listen, listen and then listen again before talking. When your kids talk, you learn;
Have discussions about hypothetical situations like having a picture of yourself posted picking your nose. Develop empathy by talking about how a friend would feel;
Discuss the fact that images and videos of people undressed are likely actors and their behavior may not represent what real or respectful people do;
Let your child know that if they come across something they think would be naughty on their device to come and talk to you so you can explain what they saw.

My colleague, Perry Mason and I discussed all that and more last night at a workshop for parents at Buchanan PS, invited by these 3rd year nursing students from McMaster University.

Author's Bio: 

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.