It’s not surprising that teenagers have taken so well to social media sites. In an age group that longs to be included and accepted, social networking sites (SNS) are a way for them to connect to their peers. SNS allow for much needed self-expression in our teens, especially at a time when they’re trying to “find themselves.” Online communication opens doors to others with similar interests and helps teens to “fit” in with a similar group of kids.
Many schools and teachers have honed in on these points as well; more and more teachers are allowing students the ability to communicate and complete homework assignments online. Online sites such as blogs can be used to develop proper grammar and communication skills. And, though parents often don’t think about it this way — social networking sites can help you connect to your teen as well.
As with anything, there risks and dangers. Cyber bullying and online harassing are examples of some of these risks. Cyber bullying by definition is “deliberately using or distributing information through digital media with the intent to cause harm.” Online harassing is similar, defined as “using digital media to cause harm to a person such as anxiety, distress, or psychological distress.”
In this age of technology, it’s important to protect our teenagers from all types of harm, including those that can happen online and out of parents’ sight.
Here are a few tips that will help keep them safe:
PUT THE COMPUTER IN A COMMON AREA
If you have the ability to see what they’re doing, the chances of them doing something “dangerous” is diminished.
TALK TO THEM ABOUT PRIVACY & PRIVACY SETTINGS
Remind them not to post their address, phone number, or current location online. Caution them about talking with “strangers” online, including a warning that strangers may not be who, or how old, they say they are.
BE THEIR “FRIEND”
Friend them on Facebook. Follow them on Twitter. Connect with them on any social media or networking site they use.
“Have you been online today?” “Has anyone said something that upset you today?” “What did you do online today?”
SET A GOOD EXAMPLE
Act wisely and appropriately whenever you’re posting or talking online.
Most importantly, for all of these tips, is to keep the lines of communication open. Talk to your children about their social media and networking experiences.
CELL PHONES & TEXTING
Another source to consider is cell phones and texting. The rate of “sexting” is increasing rapidly. Sexting is defined as any nude, semi-nude, or sexually suggestive material sent through text. You can help your teen avoid these behaviors by discussing the dangers. Discussions can be open ended — “Have you ever heard of sexting?” “Do you know anyone who has sexted?” Help them realized there is a chance that any electronic photo they send or receive can be shared with the whole world very easily. As much as we know that teens have a hard time thinking long term, they need to understand that compromising pictures can prevent them from progressing in life (college admission, job searches, etc.) Sexting is illegal in some jurisdictions, especially if one teen (either sending or receiving) is 18 or over and the other is not.
These points are just grazing the tip of the iceberg. The Center for Missing and Exploited Children has a very useful web site for teens, tweens, and parents that discusses much more in depth the prevention of online dangers, and focuses on age-appropriate discussions.
Stacey Stratton, a Kids Plus Provider, is a certified Physician Assistant.