To the editor,
As we begin a new school year, many parents are focused on school drop-off/pick-up times, teachers' names, academic schedules, and extra-curricular school activities. But I would suggest that parents get up to speed on the world of social media and increasingly social/dating apps.
A young person's online world is at least as important as their real world and their online world impacts their real world in a myriad of ways. Social and dating apps are not "officially" intended for young people but are very easy for young people to access. For example, most age verification systems on these apps are nothing more than typing in any birthday and nothing else. There is no cost to joining these apps and the fact they are "location based", meaning they are designed to set up users with others in their immediate vicinity, allows for the added illusory thrill of consequence free interactions.
For example, in one survey, 7 percent of 13 year olds surveyed admitted to using Tinder. And if 13 year olds using dating apps isn't disturbing enough, there is an app called "Yello" which specializes in dating for those 12-15 years old. And much like its adult counterparts, it is location-based which encourages "meet ups" and it has a laughable age verification process which means adults can easily pose as children to communicate with them.
And with the proliferation of dating apps has come a proliferation of sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S. For example, a record 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were reported in 2017 which surpassed 2016 levels by 200,000. Dr. Gail Bolden, Director at the division of STD prevention at the CDC said, "We have seen steep and sustained increases over the last five years. Usually there are ebbs and flows but this sustained increase is very concerning." Finally, the CDC reported that 21 percent of all new HIV cases in 2017 were for young people aged between 13-24.
Our young people now live in two worlds; an online world and a real world, and they interconnect on a daily basis. Parents (with the help of educators, the faith community, etc) need to be cognizant about what their children/teens are doing online and who they are doing it with; because it is a given in the modern life of a young person their online world will blend into their real world. The historical saying of "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty" can also best sum up the requirements for parents in the 21st century and the daily vigilance required to protect our young people in the online and real world.