Point of View: Get involved and stay involved in children’s online lives

Parenting these days is no easy task … as if it ever really was.

With the inclusion of social media and digital devices steeped in our lives, do we ever stop and ask ourselves if we know who our kids are talking to, what they’re talking about and who is influencing our children?

For those of us born before the mid-’80s, our influences and those who shaped our lives were pretty much limited to our family, friends, church, teammates, neighborhood kids and where we could ride our bikes.

Today, our kids have worldwide influences and “friends” at the push of a button and connections in the blink of an eye. Do you know who or what is influencing your child? Do you know what is communicated and shared behind closed doors and screens? I’ll bet you don’t know as much as you think you do and I don’t say that condescendingly.

It is absolutely imperative that we parents, guardians and people who care, get involved and stay involved in our children’s online lives.

This can’t be a one-time conversation about stranger-danger and sending inappropriate photos when we give them a device. This has to be a continual, open, and honest two-way conversation. We have to start those uncomfortable talks with our kids about responsible and safe online behaviors.

We have to take those deep breaths, sit down next to them and start communicating. The risks right now are too great.

According to the Alaska Risk Youth Survey in 2019, almost half of our high-school aged girls self-report they felt so sad or hopeless every day for two weeks or longer that they’ve stopped doing usual activities. One in three seriously considered attempting suicide and one in four contemplated and made an actual plan to kill themselves. Let those number resonate for a few moments. That is not OK.

No one wants to talk about depression and suicide, those are not easy discussions. They are very uncomfortable, very real and very raw. Our children are telling us they are hurting. Are we listening?

It is time we step up and open this dialogue. Our kids need to know they are not alone, that at times we have all felt the heavy breaths of despair and that it is a normal part of humanity. They need to know that they can come to you. They need to hear the words from your mouth that you love them, that you are here for them and that you will be there for them no matter what. They have to hear it.

We live in a world that constantly tells us to be someone else rather than love who we are. We are bombarded by “influencers,” fake lives and unattainable standards, all to sell a product. Superficial beauty garners likes and shares, whereas being yourself and inner beauty goes unnoticed and is unremarkable. If you don’t believe me, scroll through your kid’s Instagram and Snapchat accounts to see for yourselves.

The state has rolled out *988, a dialed number to divert those needing help or intervention to non-law enforcement entities. Anyone can call. If your child doesn’t feel like they can talk to you, let them know about this critical resource. There is help out there.

As a father and a servant to this community that I love so much, please reach out to your children. One child going through depression alone is one too many.

If you’d like to learn more about what your kids are experiencing, I urge you to attend one of our “Parenting in the Digital Age” presentations. Our children need us now more than ever.

You can find the schedule on our Facebook page or the City of Homer website.

Ryan Browning is a lieutenant with the Homer Police Department.