Talking to Teens About Internet Safety

Digital devices, the internet and social media have become part of the teenage experience. Not only are they using it for school, much of their social lives and hobbies now revolve around the virtual world. From streaming videos to instant messenger apps, teens are living life online. Despite all of the amazing things teens can accomplish by being online, the internet and social media have wide implications on your teen’s safety, mental health and possibly their future. Follow these six recommendations for keeping your teens safe in the virtual world.

1. Talk about posting appropriate things.
Teach your teen about their “digital footprint” which means what they do on the internet will last forever. Let them know that what they post on the internet may be seen by people all over the world that they may not know. Whatever they post or share will be treated as a “permanent” record and could spread or shared without their permission. Not only will their actions potentially affect their everyday life, their future could also be impacted. Many universities and companies now screen an applicant’s digital footprint and social media accounts. Questionable and unacceptable posts could cost teens their dream jobs or college admissions.

Remind teens of the “grandparent” rule: before they hit “send” or “post”, think about a grandparent or someone they respect reading their email or seeing their post. If that email or post or photo would embarrass them, they shouldn’t put it on the internet.

2. Remind teens about “stranger danger.”
Be sure your teen understands that there are strangers in the virtual realm just as there are strangers in the physical realm. Make sure your teen knows never to share personal information with someone they do not know.

3. Talk about what to do if they think they’ve done something wrong.
Make sure your teen knows what to do if they think they have visited an inappropriate web site, or posted an image that they may regret. If your teen is ever involved in any messaging or chat that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe, they should exit immediately and tell you or a trusted adult so it can be reported if necessary:

Report to the government’s Internet Crime Complaint Center
Cybertip Line on the website for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

4. Help your teen cope with peer pressure.
Sometimes your teen will feel pressure to take part in something their friends are doing even though they may not feel it is safe or appropriate. Remind them of the “grandparent” rule. Make sure they understand that they have every right to not be included or posted in something just because their friends are doing it.

Use the “parent” rule: if a photo or post should be taken down, give your teen permission to blame you. Remind them it is always ok for your teen to blame a parent for wanting to take down or not participate in something inappropriate. Your teen’s friends will believe it.

Recent legislation against internet crimes, including cyberbullying could result in criminal and legal issues for your teen, meaning long-term consequences for their future. Teens who know this are less likely to engage in and may convince their friends not to take part in cyberbullying. Again, if your teen feels they are being pressured to participate in or they themselves are being cyberbullied, they should always come to you.

5. Continue to use technology to protect your teen.
Continue to use settings and apps on your teen’s devices to monitor their activity and maintain their safety and privacy. However, make sure your teen knows that you are using these rather than doing it behind their back. Verbal communication is key in order to maintain trust.

6. Help your teen manage their privacy settings and passwords.
Once your teen has set up their social media accounts (with your permission, of course), help them use the tools and settings to control who can access their profile. Be sure to have access to your teen’s accounts, and know their user names and passwords. While it may seem like a good idea to be able to track the location of your teen, leaving their location tracker on actually poses more of a danger, allowing potential strangers access to your child’s location. It is best to turn location settings off.

7. Revisit the family media plan.
CPCMG believes every family should have a media plan. This will help set expectations for device and internet usage as well as rules to help keep everyone safe. The AAP has an online tool to help you get started.