Protecting Teens in an Online World

We are a globally connected society. We have the ability to send and receive information almost instantly and can keep up with friends and family across the world. Social media sites, blogs, and other websites open hundreds of doors each day and offer the ability to meet new people. Of course, if we have the ability to do it, so do our teenagers; and, the reality is, they do it much better and more often than we do. Teens dominate the internet. Marketing is geared towards them; social media is designed for them. They will use computers and access the online world often and we have a responsibility to ensure their safety.

Do Not Hide from Technology

From the time they are in kindergarten, children are being taught how to use computers and the internet. It is an integrated part of their lives. They are referred to as digital natives while we, the adults and supposed protectors for them, are only considered to be immigrants into the digital world. We will never truly be able to grasp the hold technology has on their lives. Because of this, we cannot hide from it. We cannot assume they will not access cell phones, the internet, or social media sites simply because we do not use them often at home. Instead, we need to embrace the technology they are using so we are familiar with it and we can teach them to use it responsibly.

Respect their Privacy

As difficult as it is, your teen wants to know you feel their privacy is important. This is a necessary step into encouraging their independence as they grow into successful adults. This does not mean you allow your teen to do whatever they want in the name of their private time. It simply means you encourage their ability to make reasonable decisions, knowing they have you as a safety net to fall back on. In fact, one of the best ways to encourage privacy for your teen is by creating a safe haven where they know they can come to you with any problem they are facing. The online world is no different; your teen wants to feel they have their own online profile that is free from prying eyes. Be honest with your teen and let them know you set the boundaries of how and when they may access the internet, and what types of sites they may go to. Allow the opportunity to make their own friend lists and text their own contacts. However, remind them you can, and will, check any instant messaging conversation, social media profile, texting logs, etc if you feel the need ever arises. Offer them your trust and honor that as long as they do.

Teach Them Safety

If you are going to allow your child or teen any access at all to the online world, you have a responsibility to teach them to access it safely. There are several elements of online safety you should remind your teens of on a regular basis:

  • Change passwords regularly.
  • Keep social media profiles private.
  • Only friend and chat with people you know.
  • Turn the location ‘off’ on pictures to avoid establishing a pattern of locations they are at.
  • Never post private information.
  • Never arrange to meet someone in person they have chatted with online.
  • Set guidelines for what can be downloaded.
  • Discuss the importance of never downloading pirated software, music, or movies.
  • Remind them that once something is posted, it can never be deleted. The internet is public and even if they have something marked private or share it with only one other person, it has the ability to be digitally transferred to thousands of people with a simple click.

Use a Good Filter

One of the most important things parents can do to protect their children and teens is to regularly use an internet filter. These will help you limit the types of images, websites, and options your teen can use when they are online. Filters can block images, peer to peer downloading, the amount of time they can spend online, and the places they can visit while they are there. There are a variety of excellent filters and each should be researched before being used. No matter which specific filter is used, children should not be allowed online without one. Once an image has been seen or a site visited, even unintentionally, that knowledge cannot be erased.

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