The internet was once a novel invention for us, but our kids don’t know life without it. For them, imagining a world without Google is almost impossible, and living without a smartphone or PC seems archaic. Technology moves fast, and these days, it can be hard for you to even keep up with what they are doing online. Social media in particular is one of the most enigmatic and intimidating aspects of the internet that parents worry about. You may have heard about Finstas, secret Instagram profiles to share content with their friends they may not want their parents to see. This isn’t something every child does, but it’s just one of many phenomena you need to know about if you want to keep your teen safe online.
Keeping your teen safe now will also help protect them when they’re in college. You can still be a part of their ongoing safety by staying actively involved in their life. You’ll have a role when it comes to covering the costs of college, especially if the family plans to take out private student loans. You can be a cosigner that helps them get enough funds to buy a good laptop and antivirus program that protects their private data. But before they leave the nest and go off on their own, follow these tips to instill the basics of online safety.
Start a Conversation
So many parents approach teenagers with an accusatory tone before they even know what’s going on. Rather than simply asking what they like to do online, many parents will demand to know what their social media accounts are, who they’re talking to and what they’re looking at. While these are all extremely important details, you are not likely to get an honest answer if you seem critical.
Teens are more likely to keep things from parents who they will disapprove or punish them. Discipline is important, but it has to be warranted. For many adolescents, the internet is a place that connects them with others and makes them feel understood. But the knowledge they learn can also be harmful to their psychological development, especially if they’re wrestling with body image and identity issues. As a parent, it’s your place to sit down and openly talk about the dangers of the internet, the value of it and how to use it responsibly. Your child may even reveal seeing things that upset you, but it’s important to stay focused on their wellbeing rather than getting reactive.
Use Parental Controls
You can download and install a parental control app that monitors their activity online. This may seem like a violation of privacy, but there are settings that enable you to receive alerts without compromising your teenager’s independence. These apps should be connected to all home computers, your teen’s laptop or desktop PC and their smartphone. Don’t lie to your teenager; going back to the first point, if you have a conversation with them about the importance of online safety, they’ll understand why you want to use these apps. And if they know they’re already being monitored to a degree, they’re more likely to avoid websites or content that you deem inappropriate. The biggest safety concerns to watch out for are:
- Chat sites like Omegle, MeetMe and Monkey
- Apps like Tinder, Whisper, Live.me and Spoon, where content is often sexual in nature and teens are often interacting with adults
- Online romances or friendships that prompt oversharing and could result in abduction or abuse
Check Social Media Together
Add your teen on your own social media. If they refuse, then tell them they are not permitted to have an account. They should not have a problem with you friending or following them anywhere, especially since you won’t be seeing anything that they don’t post to the public anyway. Beyond that, you can use this simple act to see who else follows your teen, who comments on their photos or videos and who they interact with. Lay down some guidelines for content, too. There should be clear boundaries in place about what type of photos your teen is allowed to post, whether they can show their face, etc.
Teach Your Teen How to Protect Their Identity
Teens are so caught up on the internet that they often don’t realize so much information can be taken from just a few minutes on their profiles. Sex traffickers, child predators and scam artists can all use your child’s social media accounts to acquire sensitive information. Make sure that your teen knows these safety tips:
- Do not list your school or town
- Do not upload photos with street names or easily identifiable landmarks in them
- Do not use your real name
- Do not give out your phone number or upload photos that show your license plate number
- Avoid tagging yourself in locations that you frequent