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Last Updated on February 5, 2018 by Diane Hoffmaster
Keeping my kids safe online when they were young was pretty easy. The computer is in the living room and they had no cell phones or other electronic devices. They also had no idea what the term 'search history' meant and had even less of a clue about how to erase it. Online safety for teenagers presents unique challenges that you just don't have to deal with when your kids are little. Both of my kids now have smart phones, Kindles, way too much time alone and are more tech savvy than I am. How do I keep my teens safe online when they have so much unrestricted access to the internet and want to share their whole lives via social media? It's a challenge, but definitely one that I have to stay on top of for my children's safety.
Online safety for teenagers presents unique challenges
I have come to the realization as my teens have gotten older that I cannot just install parental controls or forbid them from using technology and expect that they will just accept those limitations. Teens are connected constantly to each other and to the internet. Expecting my teens to not be a part of that is just guaranteeing that they will go behind my back and make stupid decisions. I would rather have open discussions about proper technology usage than try to ban it and have them make mistakes that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. And yes, at this age, making mistakes like that can have devastating consequences.
The number one thing I try to teach my teens about their behavior online is privacy. When my son got his learner's permit a few months ago, he wanted to just snap a photo and share it on social media. I told him to LOOK at the image he wanted to share and see how much private info there was on it. Full name, date of birth, permit number....those should NOT be shared online. So, we came home and edited the photo and THEN shared it on social media. It was a compromise we were both happy with. I remind them to never use their last name on public sites, to make sure privacy settings are strong, and to never name the school they attend or give out their address or phone number to people they don't know. There are some crazy people online and keeping that information private is key to their safety.
This is just one area that we have discussed when it comes to online safety for teenagers. If you want to really get into a detailed conversation with your teens about online safety (and you should!) I encourage you to check out The Smart Talk from Lifelock and the National PTA.
The Smart Talk encourages parents and kids to get together for a conversation about being responsible with technology. In the fast-moving digital world, a child’s identity and well-being can be compromised by their online behavior. Today’s kids need to learn the rules of the road for navigating life online. Many parents find the idea of having the technology talk overwhelming because they don’t know what topics to even begin to cover. And those topics change whether you are discussing online safety with an 8 year old or a 16 year old. I can't tell you how many times I have told my teens to make sure that they never, EVER post pictures or send texts of any body part that should be covered by a swimsuit! The last thing they need is for a college recruiter to Google their name and find naked photos of them online! Or a potential employer!
The Smart Talk is an easy to use online tool to help you navigate this conversation with your teens. Not only do they have step by step questions for you to check off but they also have 'bonus talks' where you may want to spend more time going over certain scenarios. Basically, The Smart Talk engages both kids and parents in an interactive experience, leading them through a guided conversation about online safety and privacy; screen time; apps and downloads; texting and calling; and social media and respect. The tool creates a printable contract to hold the parent and child accountable. Once you print it out, you both sign it and now you have a written document to refer to whenever you have a refresher talk about online safety. And you should have that talk regularly! The Smart Talk can be revisited to keep the conversation going and evolving as kids age and technology changes.
Teens want to share what they are doing with their friends. We went to DragonCon a few weeks ago and they dressed up and showed off on social media. Phones can be a fun way for kids to connect with each other but they can also lead to oversharing, cyberbullying and exposure to questionable content. The key is to talk to your teen about your expectations and to let them know they can come to you with questions or concerns and that you will not judge them, yell, or go off the deep end rather than help and listen.
Head over to The Smart Talk if online safety for teenagers is a concern you want to address. Talk about your expectations for shopping online and what sort of apps they are allowed to download. Let them know what hours they are allowed to be on their phones. We have a 'no phones after lights out' rule so bedtime means actually going to sleep. We also set rules like 'no phones at the dinner table' and 'no earbuds unless you are in your bedroom' so that family communication stays a top priority in our house. Each family will set their own rules but The Smart Talk makes it easy to get the conversation rolling with your teens!
Do you discuss online safety for teenagers in your home?
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.
Diane is a professional blogger and nationally certified pharmacy technician at Good Pill Pharmacy. She has two college aged kids, one husband and more pets than she will admit to. She earned her BS in Microbiology at the University of New Hampshire but left her career in science to become a stay at home mom. Years of playing with LEGO and coloring with crayons had her craving a more grown up purpose to her life and she began blogging and freelance writing full time. You can learn more about her HERE.