Kids will make stupid decisions. It’s just part of growing up. But there’s a difference between bad decisions and life-threatening decisions — and with technology being a core pillar in most children’s lives these days, those bad decisions become dangerous ones much more easily.
One alarming example is the story told by Dr. Laura Berman, a renowned relationship therapist, about how her son was poisoned. 16-year-old Sammy died due to a dangerous decision he made on Snapchat — a decision many other teenagers make without fully grasping the possible consequences.
Understanding how such incidents can happen is crucial in developing strategies to prevent our kids from making choices that could endanger their lives.
In an episode of YourTango podcast Open Relationships: Transforming Together, Dr. Berman says, “All kids make dumb decisions, their prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed, they can’t weigh the consequences of their actions. Their impulsivity [peaks]…and they desperately want to connect.”
In her case, her son purchased drugs through Snapchat, and probably assumed they were simple prescription medications, like one would get from a pharmacist. They were not.
Whatever it was he thought he was buying, the pill turned out to contain so much Fentanyl he died in his room while his family was making hamburgers in the kitchen, and was unable to be revived when his parents found him.
Sammy’s story illustrates how seemingly low-risk online interactions can lead to life-threatening consequences, and Dr. Laura wants all parents to learn from her loss.
5 ways to prevent your kids from making bad decisions
1. Preach and practice open communication
The foundation of any strategy to protect our children is open communication. Establishing a non-judgmental and trusting relationship with our kids encourages them to share their experiences, concerns, and challenges.
Regularly check in with them about their online activities, friends, and any potential encounters that may have made them uncomfortable. Talking regularly helps us understand what’s happening in their lives and shows we care about how they’re doing. While there are no guarantees that being an engaged parent will help prevent tragedies, asking questions about kids’ emotional experiences shows them we care not just about their exernal success, but also about how they’re feeling — even when those feelings are uncomfortable or even painful.
It makes it easier for them to come to us for advice or help when they need it, especially when dealing with things that might be tricky or risky online.
2. Take time for digital literacy education.
Educating our children about the potential risks of online interactions is essential. Teach them how to identify and avoid dangerous situations, including the perils of buying substances online. Remind them that there’s no such thing a a “safe” drug bought anywhere other than a pharmacy, from a pill that has your ownname on it.
Emphasize the importance of verifying the credibility of information and sources before making any decisions, even if it’s simply about buying merchandise online. The practice of verifying that you’re buying your headphones, designer shoes or anything else important from a reputable and authentic source is useful when it comes to much bigger decisions like whom to believe online when it comes to poliitcs, health information and, yes, even medications.
This education should cover the significance of fact-checking and corroborating information before making any decisions. By instilling these habits early on, we empower our children to navigate the vast digital landscape responsibly.
As parents or guardians, taking a class ourselves on digital literacy and online safety can enhance our ability to guide and support our children effectively. Many educational institutions and online platforms offer courses specifically designed for parents to stay informed about this exact stuff.
3. Set strict boundaries.
Establish clear guidelines for the use of social media and technology. Monitor the apps and websites your children have access to, and set age-appropriate restrictions.
Implementing age-appropriate restrictions helps create a digital environment that aligns with our children’s maturity levels. By establishing these boundaries, we provide a framework that guides their online behavior and protects them from potentially harmful content or interactions.
Making them aware of the potential consequences of breaking these rules reinforces the significance of responsible online conduct.
Encourage them to report any suspicious activities or interactions and make them aware of the potential consequences of breaking these rules. This proactive approach not only helps prevent undesirable situations but also empowers our children to be vigilant and discerning users of technology.
4. Be aware of the apps
Remaining well-informed about the constantly changing landscape of social media is crucial for parents seeking to ensure their children’s online safety. By staying up-to-date with the latest apps and trends, parents can gain a comprehensive understanding of the platforms their children are engaging with.
This knowledge is essential in recognizing potential dangers and assessing the risks associated with specific online spaces.
Dr. Berman reveals, “It never occurred to me that drug dealers would find our kids, which they do through Snapchat. [The drug dealer] sent [Sammy] a color menu, name the drug it was on the menu that [the drug dealer] would deliver to our house.”
The tragic incident involving Laura Berman’s son serves as a stark reminder of the need for continuous vigilance. In her case, Snapchat played a role in facilitating a harmful transaction, shedding light on the importance of parents being aware of evolving online landscapes.
We can better navigate the complexities of the digital world and proactively address any potential risks or challenges that may arise if we are constantly learning about the platforms and apps.
5. Foster critical thinking — and practice it often
Empower your kids to think critically about the information they encounter online. Teach them to question the legitimacy of offers, messages, and advertisements.
By fostering a skeptical mindset, you equip them with the tools needed to make informed decisions and avoid falling victim to online risks.
The tragedy Dr. Laura Berman and her family experienced serves as a sobering reminder that we must be proactive in safeguarding our children from the perils of online interactions. We can empower our kids to make safe choices and protect them from the potentially life-threatening consequences of poor decision-making.
Deauna Roane is a writer and the Editorial Project Manager for YourTango. She’s had bylines in Emerson College’s literary magazine, Generic, and MSN.