By Elizabeth Milovidov, PhD.
What you need to know about keeping teens safe online
Teens know more than their parents! My fingers felt weird typing that, but there: I wrote it. And now let me qualify a bit.
Teens know more than their parents in this digital age.
Teens are online in greater percentages and appear to be tech-savvy.
Teens are seriously connected via social networking sites.
Trembling yet? Let me add some statistics.
- 43% had online contact with someone they had not met face to face
- 23% had seen sexual images online
- 20% had received sexual images online
- 17% had seen websites where people publish hate messages that attack certain groups
- 14% had met an online contact offline
- 13% had seen websites where people promote eating disorders
Now let’s head over to the US, for a look at the results of the 2015 Teens, Social Media and Technology survey taken by the Pew Research Center:
- 92% of teens go online daily
- 24% of teens are online almost constantly (thanks to smartphones)
- 71% of teens use more than one social network site
- 71% of teens use Facebook (despite the media claims that “teens are no longer on Facebook” because their parents are on it)
- 11% use anonymous apps, such as Whisper, Yik Yak and fm (again despite reports of bullying gone wild with these apps)
What is clear from the UK and the US research is that teens are online – doing and seeing far more than most parents would be comfortable with – if only the parents knew!
Parents of teens are in the forefront of digital parenting challenges as these young people have grown up in a digital world and seem fearless as they navigate the digital highway.
My experience with teens and digital parenting highlights the difficulty of supporting this age group because parents cannot just add parental control software and consider the problem solved.
Parents have to talk, engage, negotiate and get creative with a group of young people who are adorably hovering on the brink of adulthood and who for centuries have challenged parents the world over – and this was prior to the Internet, Facebook, Instant Messaging, Skype, YouTube and so forth.
But before parents can get creative in their digital parenting, they need to be aware of the hot issues facing their teens and the potential risks to be avoided.
I have selected eight current issues that parents of teens need to know about:
- A selfie is a photograph that one takes of oneself, typically to be shared over social media.
- A selfie to update your social media profile is cool, a selfie every day isn’t really necessary.
- The selfie phenomonen has taken the world by storm and there is controversy on whether it is empowering or demeaning to young women and teens.
- In 2015 more people died by taking a selfie than by shark attacks!
- Taking selfies in a bedroom or other intimate space can provide fodder for sexting.
- Sexting is sending and receiving sexually explicit messages, (words, photos, images, etc.) usually via cellphone.
- In some countries, teens that have sent photos of themselves have been charged with distributing child pornography. Sorting out if children can be charged with a crime has become a legal quagmire.
- If you caught your teen sexting and have no clue what to do, the first step: breath, and say the mantra “Parent. Don’t panic.” This is a great opportunity to talk to your child about sex, share your views and values and help your teen make good decisions. Still feeling weak-kneed? Check out this advice from clinical psychologist, Rachel Busman.
- If you need more specific details on what to do, this UK eSafety organization has great advice.
- For a legal perspective, read this Illinois Bar Journal article which lays out “Sexting: it’s no joke. It’s a crime.”
- Some stats on teens and porn from the Annual Report 2015 of Covenant Eyes: Internet Accountability and Filtering.
- 9 out of 10 boys are exposed to pornography before the age of 18
- 6 out of 10 girls are exposed to pornography before the age of 18
- 28% of 16-17 year olds have been unintentionally exposed to porn online
- 15% of boys and 9% of girls have seen child pornography
- 83% of boys and 57% of girls have seen group sex online
- After reading those stats, the same mantra applies: “Parent. Don’t panic.”
- A “Father-son talk in the Internet age” from The Atlantic illustrates a father’s concerns when he finds his 9 YEAR OLD watching porn.
- As other parents deal with this issue, they usually learn that having that “safe tech” talk as well as “safe sex” is the way to go.
- This term has surfaced in the past couple of years to describe sexually explicit media that is publicly shared without the consent of the pictured individual. In other words, 2 people are dating, they take pictures when then are going great and then things go horribly wrong. They break up and the other posts those not so innocent pictures.
- This issue has taken on such magnitude, that UK Safer Internet Centre recently created a Revenge Porn Helpline to support victims.
- In September 2015, a 21-year old male was the first person convicted of revenge porn under UK law.
- Yes parents, brace yourself – there are apps out there that will tell your teen if there is somebody nearby interested in hooking up.
- Tinder, Grindr, Blendr, Pure, Down and a host of other one-night stand apps are out there. You need only Google ‘hook-up apps’ and your teen has a variety of ‘dates’ to choose from.
- Tendr itself estimates that 7% of its users are teens 13-17.
- Anonymous app KiK was allegedly used earlier this year to set-up a date between 13 year old and an 18 year old, which led to her murder.
- Teens may be susceptible to online trends that go viral and as a parent of a teen, communication is your best play here. Otherwise how else will you know about viral campaigns like the drinking game Neknomination, Am I pretty Youtube phenomenon, or websites promoting anorexia with tips and thinspiration?
- Websites promoting eating disorders are on the rise, as they appear to be a “cool lifestyle” for teens. The Telegraph wrote an in-depth article called Secretly Starving on the phenomenon, which provides insight for parents.
- This website notes 8 scary ways that teens are using social media, which includes dating apps, anonymous apps and thinspiration apps.
- Cyberbullying is unwanted, aggressive bullying behaviour where there is a power imbalance via technology.
- In the US, 1 in 3 teens reported being bullied during the school year. In the UK, there are no actual bullying statistics, but we do know that 16,000 school children were absent due to bullying and that 26,000 school children had counselling sessions related to bullying.
- Cyberbullying has been linked to depression and a comprehensive overview on bullying can be found here.
- Discuss cyberbullying with your teen and explain the importance of privacy and keeping personal information private. And again, make sure that your teen knows that you (or a trusted third party) are available for support if something does happen.
- Clean up those social media accounts and have your teen create the digital identity of the person he or she wants to be (and really is – without the peer pressure.)
- Helping your child present their best social media face by including their volunteer activities and good deeds can give your teen a boost, both psychically and on social media.
- You can delete some of those accounts by using Just Delete Me, a directory of websites indicating their difficulty for deletion and providing steps on how to delete.
- Then remind your teen to check their settings and make sure that everything is private. And then another reminder that NOTHING is private on the web. Today’s friend can become tomorrow’s social media enemy, so keep it as clean as possible.
- Set a Google alert on your teen’s name so that you (and your teen) can see every instance where their name is mentioned on the web. Anything unflattering can be removed by asking the person who posted it, and if that doesn’t work, by going to the website directly.
There are so many more issues that touch parents of teens like gaming, addictions, stranger danger, identify theft, trolling and so forth. Although I can’t cover it all, here is my go-to quick-list of good reads for parents of teens:
- A review of It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens, by Danah Boyd
- Screen Smart Parenting, by Dr. Jodi Gold
- A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens: Talking to Your Kids About Sexting, Drinking, Drugs and Other Things That Freak You Out, by Joani Geltman
- To the Well-Intentioned But Ignorant Parents of Teenagers blogpost by Kayla Nicole.
And bookmark these websites:
- Common Sense Media: Parent Concerns
- EU Kids Online
- Pew Research Center Yoursphere Parents
- Internet Matters: Teens
It’s a lot to process isn’t it? But this is one area where ignorance is most certainly not bliss. The more you know, the better prepared you can be. And the more you can help your child.
Dr Elizabeth Milovidov is an eSafety Consultant at European Schoolnet, a European consortium of 30 Education Ministries. She provides support on the ENABLE project (European Network Against Bullying in Learning and Leisure Environments) and other projects aimed at protecting children online. She is a lawyer and law professor, and regularly intervenes as an independent expert on Children’s Rights and the Internet for the Council of Europe.
Click the image below to get Elizabeth’s fabulous free ebook The Ultimate Guide to Parenting in the Digital Age and other great free resources.