We live in a digital age, where the “world wide web” no longer consists of simple computer lab research, but rather a living extension of nearly all forms of communication, education and recreation. Teens today have never lived in a world which did not rely heavily on digital demands and resources. With the advancement of technology and its conveniences, comes a number of growing dangers and hazards. Parents today are called to the important task of monitoring and mentoring adolescents in responsible behavior both on and off-line.
With the right tools and habits, teens can feel free to enjoy the collective creative space of sharing and studying online. Laying down initial guidelines, while consistently monitoring their activity, helps them navigate the world of being a responsible cybercitizen.
Talk to your kids regularly about the risks that come with having things said and done in front of an invisible audience. Not only do adolescents subconsciously start to live under a self-focus and idea of performance, but they also struggle to think out the long term consequence of their online behavior. Increasingly on a global level, the actions and activities surrounding a person online can have negative effects on resumes, work and school careers. Many things published can never fully be erased. Because teenagers do not have mature impulse control, it is easy for them to say or do things on the internet that they would never in real life. And it can come back to haunt them in a major way. Photos, comments and videos shared can, in many cases, actually remain online permanently, long after reactionary nerves or impulsive mistakes settle down.
Whether the harassment is stemming from your teen or targeted at them, it is vital to keep communication and accountability open in regards to cyber bullying. Teach your child that while it is easy to feel anonymous online, there are real people behind the screens. Monitoring your child’s behavior online will taper many issues before they become harmful or even fatal mistakes. National attention covers an increasing number of suicide cases involving unhealthy online relationships and interactions. Even if you don’t think your child could ever cause or fall victim to cyberbullying, being an adult monitor over their online activity also helps to ensure that their circle of friends are not promoting a culture of cyber abuse and/or harassment.
It may seem obvious, but we often forget that especially online, not everyone is who they say they are. Teenagers should always first assume that anyone they “meet” or engage with online, even if they never plan to meet in real life, is not who they say they are. This may seem as though it is breeding an unhealthy attitude of suspicion for your child, but on the contrary, this will keep a healthy protection, albeit not fool-proof measure, against internet predators, identity thieves, scam artists, hackers and more. In addition to suspecting the identity of others and whoever else is sharing the screen with the person on the other end, instruct your child in the identity dangers of creating their own false sense of self or fantasy identity online. These habits are a gateway to various types of depression and anxiety disorders, along with self-esteem issues.
It is not an exaggeration to say that some things, once seen, cannot be unseen. What starts as innocent curiosity or daring games for teens can quickly turn to a virtual world of dark, explicit images and activities. Pornography is not healthy for anyone to be engrossed with, especially vulnerable teenagers. Protect your kids from viewing, creating, engaging or falling victim to unsafe material online. Keeping a regular monitor on their activities will help. If they do fall into seeing things they shouldn’t, talk immediately and openly with them about the consequences without shaming them. Explain to them the dangers of sex-image culture and help them form and maintain healthy online habits.
No matter the screen drawing your teen’s attention, whether it’s texting, handheld video games, smart phones, kindles, laptop or desktop, make sure you discuss at length with your teenagers the importance of social etiquette. Teens today think they are master multi-taskers, engaging simultaneously in multiple devices and in-person attention. Science proves true multi-tasking of brain attention is impossible, and good manners proves attempting so is downright rude. Eye contact still matters in society, and understanding where the boundaries and proper role of technology rests will help them succeed in many areas of life. From relationships to doctor visits, teaching them to use tech with tact will go a long way.
It must be true, it was on the Internet!
False sources and unreliable information run rampant online. Meanwhile, habitual fact checking and content discernment seem to fly by the wayside when it comes to the instant-share-now culture of the digital age. News feeds are soaring on to the next big story, video, link, pin or gram before most teens can say what-for. Not believing everything you read is too often an afterthought in the media that drives today’s world. Along with the responsibility for time and content, guide your children in responsible content consumption. Consistent communication using concrete examples is the best way to keep them thinking on their feet, discerning reliable information from the outrageous, and engaging with the information superhighway in a productive manner. Helping them consume media in an intelligent way is the best building block you can give them to being responsible cybercitizens.