Let’s face it. This is a different world than most of us spent our teenage years in, and technology today can be intimidating, ugly and downright scary — especially for our teens. Here are some ways we can ensure that our teens feel safe when they are navigating life online.
While research suggests that face-to-face bullying is still more prevalent than cyberbullying, the reality is that cyber bullying is a big issue that sometimes leads to suicide. More and more, young people are getting messages that actually recommend they kill themselves.
And if that’s not horrifying enough, one in five U.S. teens report that they have received unwanted sex solicitation on the web. It seems like even the most savvy of parents are always one step behind predators or teens looking to hide things from their parents.
So what do experts recommend we do to keep our teens safe online?
Most importantly, talk to your teens. Show them the stories you see, let them watch the things you watch, and let them know what you’re saying is not just another earful of ‘Mom.’ Sometimes we try to hide the ugly world from our kids, and I get that…but when they don’t see risks as real, they may not be as cautious as they would otherwise. Keep dialogue open, and let them know there will be no disappointment in them if they believe they’ve fallen victim to something dangerous — they should always tell you about it.
Along these lines, ask your teen to share with you what they are in, what others are doing, and what things mean. This will mean that you too will have to get on the same social media sites they are, but you know what? You do it! I’d never let my 6-year-old walk down a street I’ve never been on or seen without me, and I’d not let my teen navigate sites that I wasn’t at least aware of. A great piece from DudeMom is well worth the read, and better yet, read it with your teens. I promise, you’ll learn things you never knew, no matter how ‘in the loop’ you are.
Another way to keep your child safe is to insist on code names and info. You read that right. Code names. Tell your children to use names other than their own when on any apps or social media sites. They can easily give family names (like a great grandmother or something) instead of their own, and insist that under no conditions does any personal information get shared without your permission. Many friends of mine have told me that for their teens, they basically invent profiles — different birthdays, different cities, etc.
Tell your teens that in this day and age, they need to keep what they share to a minimum.
On computers, use software to filter sites. Yes…they might find this a bummer, but you know what? They’ll survive. As they mature some and you develop a level of trust that lets you feel comfortable with them venturing outside of your parameters safely, they’ll learn to feel things around themselves, as you simply can’t protect them every minute of the day.
Which is another point experts bring up — allowing your child to navigate on sites that may not be your cup of tea. No, I don’t love Minecraft, but my son does, so before I let him play it on his own, we explored it together. Once he came to me and said someone wanted to know if he could play online with him (a friend from school) and he told them that I wasn’t okay with that. Teens need to be able to make some decisions themselves, knowing we are an ever-present safety net should their judgment be wrong. The thing is, though…to develop that judgment, they need to learn from their mistakes. Let them cautiously try.
It’s a world that is changing every day, and one that we need to constantly be on our toes to protect our kids. Ask your village how they protect their kids online too.
There’s strength in numbers, and we all want every child to feel safe.