By Lauren Galley
Your teenager just received his first cell phone this Christmas. This is an exciting time in his social life. Let’s start the New Year by being safe in the cyber world! Access to the Internet can give teens an advantage on their schoolwork, help them discover their interests and stay linked with friends and family. The Internet can also be an unsafe “home away from home” and if not correctly managed teens can be unprotected to infinite amounts of information and even turn out to be prey of online predators. Nevertheless, with good defenses and regulation your entire household can take advantage of the many positive aspects of the Internet. I remember when I was younger, and my parents finally allowed me to have a MySpace account. I felt as though I was invincible, and the thought of the Internet being a dangerous place never crossed my mind. This seems to be the mindset of many young teens these days, so I am very grateful that my parents monitored my online activity. Although, at the time, I thought they were being overprotective, but by setting realistic boundaries I didn’t make any big social media mistakes. Today’s Generation Z world is cyber related 24/7, and uneducated teens and parents are making mistakes that are costing them future jobs, and even their safety.
Here’s my top tips for keeping safe, especially when the cyber world is new explored territory.
Place PCs with Internet access in a main place in your home. When computers are in a share spot, such as a living room, they can be watched with no trouble, but if put in secluded spaces such as bedrooms, teens can rapidly close unsuitable websites when they hear their parents approaching. This was always the rule in my house until the day came that I became the proud owner of a laptop. Since most teens have laptops these days, the best way to monitor this without being a “helicopter parent” is to make it a rule that you know the password to their laptop. This way, you can look at what they are doing, but only do this if you have a reason to suspect that something is wrong. By using the knowledge of their password as a safety precaution and not a tool to be a nosey parent, you will gain your teen’s trust very quickly. I was pretty wary the first time my mom asked me for my password. I have nothing to hide, but teens just want their privacy. When I realized she wasn’t snooping for the fun of it, I grew to respect and understand her reasoning. Human trafficking is extremely high in Texas; therefore I am a huge advocate for teens being educated on Internet safety. When my parents explained to me they really weren’t there to snoop but should a situation arise, password protect information could save my life, I understood and appreciated their protective concerns.
Get rid of the webcam. Webcams can be a great way to connect with your family and friends, but sending off a teen unsupervised with a webcam can lead to a teen’s pressure to participate in appropriate behavior (which is something NO ONE wants). Unfortunately, this is also a hard tip to follow as nowadays every teen with a smart phone has access to a camera. Snapchat is an app that is really fun, and I love… However, it is oftentimes used for sexting or sending inappropriate videos. There really is no way to monitor this besides education and ensuring that your teens have high self-esteem. The main reason teens, specifically girls, will send photos or videos of themselves is because they feel as though they need to in order to be liked or accepted. By monitoring what types of boys and friends your child associates with, you can ensure this is not an issue. One of the biggest lessons for teens to understand is that nothing is private when sent online, even on Snapchat. As a teen, we never think someone is going to use this against us, so being educated on the possibilities is sooooo important!
Agree on which websites should be considered age appropriate. Chat rooms, Facebook and websites such as YouTube, Twitter and even Yahoo can be mainly unsafe for anybody below the age of 16. Any website where your teen can communicate privately with strangers is a possible prowling ground for predators. Nevertheless, Facebook and Twitter have developed into a primary source of communication for teens. A reasonable compromise may be to allow your teen to Facebook or Tweet only people that they know in real life and not new Internet friends. Instead of asking for every password because this can get a bit excessive, a great way to monitor your teen’s behavior is to make a social media account yourself. The rule can be that your teen has to “friend” you online. This way, you have access to everything they are posting and you can watch out for any changes in behavior. For example, if your teen starts posting a lot of sad quotes, but insists she is happy, there may be something going on at school that you don’t know about!
Balancing the fine line between “helicopter parents” and keeping your teens safe can be tough, but by being honest and not simply being nosey, you can develop an understanding and a trust. If you are one of the many parents giving your teen their first cell phone this Christmas, don’t worry! Education is key, and it is important to remind your teen that cell phones are a privilege, not a right. I remember my parents telling me this. It’s easy to forget that there are lots of children and teens in the world that are asking for a toothbrush and clean sheets this Christmas. This really puts things into perspective for me.
Make one of your New Year’s Resolutions that you will ensure your child is safe online, and you won’t be afraid to have those tough conversations about how much information is okay to share. The definition of “friend” is becoming increasingly vague, so it is a parents job to remind their children who we really know. Have a safe and Happy New Year, and remember… always be safe in the cyber world!