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Be Safe. Be Kind.

The weather may beg to differ, but summer is winding down. You can already feel the chill in the air in the morning, and the sun is setting earlier every day.

The kids (for the most part) are all back in school, so it’s time to talk about the not-so-fun stuff — internet safety, bullying, and teaching our kids not to be jerks.

First things first, let’s catch up on internet safety. The interwebz and social media usage is pretty fluid among kids. What was popular a year ago may not be the go-to now. So let’s go over the top apps that kids use and that you should be monitoring. I’m sure you know the basics of all these apps, so I’m not going to go into detail about what each one is and does, just some general safety tips and what to look for in each.

Let’s start with the obvious — TikTok. TT is extremely popular, not just for the young-ins, but for pretty much everyone these days. I would definitely keep an eye on what your kids post themselves and who they follow. There’s not a whole lot you can do to control their algorithm (i.e., what comes up on their ‘For You Page’), but do make sure that the age control is in place. Also, one side note about TT: accounts are public by default. This means parents will need to make sure they (or you) go in and set the account to private so no one can contact your child directly.

I honestly really enjoy TT and think that it is a fun app. Just make sure you and yours are using it safely.

I would put Instagram next on my list. There are a lot of pros to this app, including being able to connect with friends, the opportunity to follow positive role models, and the potential to use their artistic side of themselves in how they produce photos.

On the flip side, searchable content is unfiltered; hashtags can lead to age-inappropriate results and, of course, the potential for stranger danger with followers and DMs.

I’ve mentioned before that Snapchat isn’t my favorite for the under-13 set. And I would ensure that you have very frank discussions about its use with the over 13 sets. The fact that everything you send ‘disappears’ (I use the word loosely) opens up tweens and teens to potential dangers that you may not even see coming. Outside of making sure that kids know the potential fallout of sketchy behavior on the app, please make sure the map feature is turned off on your kids’ accounts. No one needs to be able to know where exactly your child is snapping from.

Twitter is a cesspool of negativity, lies, and just general bad vibes; just don’t bother.

Keep an eye out for WhatsApp. It’s a text messaging app that allows you to bypass typical texting apps. Many parents aren’t aware of its existence, so they don’t think or know to monitor it.

Before we move on, I’ll add this. Follow your kids on social media. But also check those apps from their phones. Kids’ brains are still developing and don’t always make great choices. I’m not saying read all their texts, or violate their privacy, but the occasional checkup to make sure they aren’t inadvertently putting themselves in a dangerous or precarious situation is a good idea. Be safe.

Moving on…

I touched on this last week, but it bears repeating. As we send our kids back to school, please remind them that it costs nothing to be kind.

Social media ‘aesthetic’ makes it easy to forget that there are real people out there with real feelings, fighting real battles and struggling daily.

According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24 in the US. Nearly 20% of high school students report serious thoughts of suicide, and 9% have attempted to take their lives.

Teach your children that, while they don’t have to like or be friends with everyone, they also don’t have to be a-holes either. Again, those developing brains don’t always make good choices, so please help your kids understand that there is nothing to be gained from bullying others. Be kind.

On the other side of the coin, let your child know what they should do if they are being bullied. Sometimes it’s as easy as speaking up for yourself. Bullies often target people they think won’t fight (not physically) back. They often don’t know what to do and back down quickly if they see the behavior won’t be tolerated. Otherwise, they need to know who to talk to if the bullying continues —you, a teacher or guidance counselor, or other trusted adult.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, clearly, I have hijacked Jimmy’s space for the week. He’s taking the week off to finish up organizing this year’s football season. He did ask me to remind y’all that Friday Night Lights is up and running, and we will once again be bringing you the best football the West Branch Valley has to offer. We kicked off last week with Loyalsock and Montgomery, and Paul, Rich, and the crew will be back this Friday up on the hill at Williamsport when they take on Pittston. Pre-game starts at 6:45 p.m., and the game begins at 7:00 p.m. You can find the link on our Facebook page!