In any era, being a parent is one of the most rewarding yet challenging jobs out there. But in today’s milieu, the difficulties of parenting can often seem vexing and amplified with the advent of social media and new technologies.

“As a middle school guidance counselor, I spend a lot of time creating lesson plans focused on digital safety and consciousness,” says Kristen Wayle of Pikesville’s Krieger Schechter Day School. “There is always someone posting about a party that others weren’t invited to, and as a staff we handle those issues as they come up. There is a lot I’m involved in that has to do with technology, in some way or another.”

To help better inform students, staff and parents. KSDS has launched a series called “Parenting in the Digital World.”

“We need parents to partner with us so we can help our children develop the correct skills,” Wavle says. “Right now, parents feel disconnected because they don’t understand all the different kinds of technology children are using.”

As part of the series, Richard Guerry, founder and executive director of the Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communication, recently spoke to more than 100 KSDS parents about digital safety. Based in the Philadelphia suburb of Mount Laurel, N.J., IROC2 is a nonprofit striving to “promote responsible use of technology.”

Jmore recently spoke about digital safety with Guerry, a former corporate interactive marketing executive and author of “Public and Permanent: The Golden Rule of the 21st Century, Straight Talk about Digital Safety” (Balboa Press).

Jmore: How can we help youngsters navigate through this complex digital world?

Guerry: Before we give our children devices that can connect them to billions of people all over the world, we must be confident they understand that what they post can become public and permanent. Social privacy is an oxymoron. What we’re really doing with privacy settings is limiting visibility. We should think of them as visibility settings, not privacy settings. It’s like pulling down a shade; there is some privacy but there is also always a way to peek into that window. In a world created for communication purposes, hiding information is when problems occur.

You call the digital world “the 21st-century flame.”

Fire can create positive outcomes but can also have negative consequences. If you harness the power of the flame, you can do amazing things. But if you abuse it, there could be catastrophic damages.

The digital world is similar. Using these tools for communication purposes can create awesome outcomes, like faster and easier ways to connect with people. But if you post inappropriate content, you will run into problems.

How does one know what to post and what to pass over?

It all comes down to the level of risk you are willing to take on. The more you put out, the more risk you are taking on. There is no right or wrong in terms of posting, there are just posts that will increase your risk of having a negative outcome.

If you post a scenic picture or family photo, you are incurring little risk. Posting that you are on vacation or your home address is increasing to that risk.

When it comes to risk, we are all willing to take some on. For example, we all know there is risk in getting in a car, but we still do it because it gets us from point A to point B. We know we can’t control those around us, but we do our part by driving defensively. Technology is like any other tool on the planet; it’s how you use it that will determine the outcome. All kids should put their social media profiles on applications. By doing so, you are showing the world you know how to use technology and how to use it responsibly, which is a double plus in our world.

It’s when kids start trying to hide their social media profiles, because they know the content could get them into trouble or cause challenges, that you know there is a problem.

What do parents need to do?

Parents need to teach digital mindfulness. People are going to make mistakes, and unfortunately we are at a point where this generation of kids may experience some pitfalls for others to learn from. But the hope is that kids are making informed decisions when using technology.

So if your child does make a mistake when using technology, even if it’s a catastrophic one, it’s your responsibility to let them know life isn’t over. However, it will be vital for them to learn from that mistake and start making responsible decisions from that moment to begin establishing a more positive footprint. By doing so, they will illustrate they have learned and be counted on as a beneficial digital citizen moving forward.

That being said, if you don’t trust your child will come to you when they are in trouble, they may not be ready for a phone or tablet that will connect them to the digital world.

How should we react when a child posts a questionable photo? Or if that picture is flagged as inappropriate?

Context and interpretation mean a lot. There can be lots of people at a party doing nothing wrong, among a few that may be drinking or using drugs. But the interpretation of the photo could lead to everyone facing a challenge if it is perceived that the actions of the few applied to the many, due to misinterpretation of the picture.

If you are under 18 and post something that is deemed adult in nature, it’s considered child pornography and the person who posts or sends it can be charged with creation and distribution. Additionally, anyone else who is in possession of the picture can also be charged. Even if the picture is of yourself, it’s consider child pornography if you are under 18 years of age.

Can the digital world impact a child’s mental health?

As a parent and advocate, I try and encourage parents to communicate with their kids about their social media posts and behavior. As the poster, post genuine content, not something that isn’t ‘you.’ Posting only for ‘likes’ or followers or tying self-worth to ‘likes’ can cause some sadness or depression. Also, seeking out followers, especially complete strangers, to boost those numbers for popularity can increase a user’s risk of being hacked, scammed, etc.

There is no way to protect our children from having their feelings hurt if they see they weren’t invited to an event that many of their friends attended. Parents should set expectations before they permit their children to use social media that they will be exposed to a lot of content, and seeing content like pictures that don’t include them or cruel comments can create feelings of sadness, anger or fear of missing out. Parents should encourage their children to come to them for assistance or advice if something like this occurs, as opposed to absorbing and dealing with their hurt feelings by themselves.

Your overall feeling about today’s technology?

Technology can be a powerful tool to help people accomplish great things. Not everything a person does will be public and permanent, but you have to understand that everything could be.

Just remember, every kid is different, so as the parent it’s your responsibility to determine if you trust your child and feel he/she are ready to use social media and technology.

For information, visit iroc2.org.

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