Every parent wants their teen to be safe online. It’s terrifying to think that someone is “following” your teen online and they (let alone you) have no idea who this person is. We know that the internet can be a scary place.
But the internet can also be a positive place for your teen. It’s likely that your teen has a consistent group of people that they are talking to regularly online. Although this seems strange sometimes, it can be viewed as a network of people supporting your teenager. More support = more resiliency!
How do you ensure that this network is a group of people with your teen’s best interest in mind?
Parents are helpful in steering their teens in the right direction online. However, research suggests that teens who are most vulnerable to online perpetrators are the ones who are often in conflict with their parents. This means that your teen has to feel safe enough with you to actually talk with you.
In the majority of internet crimes against teens, offenders did not actively deceive the young person. They actually acknowledged that they were older but were incredibly understanding, sympathetic, took an interest in the young person’s likes and dislikes, and were complementary. Talk to your teen about how it feels good to have someone interested in you (they’re human), but also how to find this in a safe and healthy way.
Saying, “never give out personal information online” is not very helpful. In order to be an online participant on social media, there is a certain level of personal information that does go out. It would be more realistic to say, “be careful who you give your personal information to and what you share.” For example, you could say, “It’s okay to share your interests, favorite movies, bands…. but it’s never okay to share pictures of your body.”
Research is certain about one thing: Talking about sex with people you do not know substantially increases the risk of becoming a victim of an online sex crime. While that may seem like a no-brainer to you, this usually starts out as casual conversation from a follower and eventually turns into something that your teen doesn’t feel comfortable with.
Set it up so that your teen has realistic expectations for social media. This looks different for each family. However, telling your teen that they can’t have an Instagram will likely mean that they use a friend’s phone at school to log onto their Instagram. When something scary does happen online, they can’t come talk to you because they weren’t supposed to have it in the first place. Be realistic with yourself and your teen about what social media platforms they will be using.
Do your best to familiarize yourself with the internet and the apps that your teen is using. Check out this list of apps to watch out for.
If we can help you increase channels of communication between you and your teen to ensure that they stay safe online, give us a call 616-929-0248.
Finkelhor, D., Wolak, J., & Mitchell, K. (8AD, June 2). Internet. Retrieved from http://unh.edu/ccrc/internet-crimes/safety_ed.html
Marissa Wilson is a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) and a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT-200) at Lifeologie. She teaches psychotherapeutic yoga and works with adolescents to help them be themselves. Marissa believes that every person (including tweens/teens) already has what they need to heal, but sometimes our “okay-ness” gets stuck under layers of self-protection and hurt. To find out more about Marissa, check out her biography.