Teens spend a lot of time on social networks. We have all heard of Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook; but have you also heard of Whisper, Vine, and Yik Yak? It is difficult to keep up in the digital world when it is changing daily and our children are purposefully trying to find networks parents do not know about. It can seem daunting and scary. For this reason, it is more important than ever to keep informed and teach your children how to stay safe online.
According to the experts on social media and teens, the major concerns remain the same as always. First of all, there is a very real chance that teens will use the sites to bully others. It is so easy to “say” something online when it is not so obvious how much the words hurt another person. I personally have witnessed anxiety and depression that relates to online aggression. An additional concern is that kids are exposed to images, videos, and vulgar language on most of these sites. A quick search on a site will reveal how likely it is to find inappropriate content. A third concern is that adolescents measure their self-worth by how many of their friends and friends of friends “like” what they post. Their posts become more and more outrageous to get the attention of others. Additionally, people tend to post the good things that happen to them, which gives the impression they have a perfect life. When your child experiences normal failures and rough spots in life, she may become depressed that her life isn’t like everyone else’s. Finally, privacy remains a concern. If your son posts personal information online, predators can more easily find him. Organizations like Commonsense Media can help. Their article on 15 sites and apps that teens often use is helpful and presents the pros and cons of the sites.
Children need to learn how to protect themselves and others when online. It is not possible to watch what your child does at all times. Firewalls and parental control software at school and home provide a level of protection; but, they are far from perfect. Parents need to stress to their children that their online safety depends on them making good decisions. Personal information they give online is not necessarily private, even when they think they are only telling their friends. Pictures and videos they post now will be online forever. Colleges and prospective employers routinely search a person’s online presence when vetting a potential student or employee. How a person behaves online also affects their relationships with peers when in person. There can be unintended consequences to something posted even when there was no intent to hurt others. Sri Sathya Sai Baba, an Indian spiritual leader, once said, “Before you speak, think—Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence?” I tell kids that everything they post online needs to pass this test. You can protect your child best by becoming an informed parent and teaching your child about online safety.
There are many organizations that provide cyber safety information for parents and students. Some of my favorites are the FBI, Commonsense Media, and Netsmartz. Pick one of these sites or a similar one to inform yourself. Your child needs your help to stay safe when online.