Increasingly, there is a wide separation between what parents think their children and teens are doing online and what they are actually doing. According to this article by The Guardian, many teenagers have little to no online supervision. They report that:
- Only 13% of teens think parents understand how much and how widely they use the internet.
- 60% of teens have social media accounts they haven’t told their parents about.
- Only 32% of teens report that their parents have a rule about reporting online activity that makes them uncomfortable.
Not only that, many teens and tweens are routinely using apps that their parents haven’t used and don’t necessarily understand. With new technology geared towards young people coming out every day, it’s almost impossible for parents to stay ahead of the curve, especially if it’s technology they won’t need to use for themselves in their daily lives. This digital disconnect is creating serious problems for many parents and their children.
Why It’s Important
There’s a lot of fear geared toward children of all ages online interactions, whether they’re taking place behind a computer screen or with a smart phone. Many parents understand the vague, faceless dangers: so-called online friends who aren’t necessarily what they seem; predators who lurk in seemingly innocent locations; children who give out too much private information and end up giving strangers the ability to find them. Increasingly, however, some children and teens’ peers and friends are becoming just as dangerous as absolute strangers–if not more so. Cyberbullying is on the rise. 43% – nearly half of all teens report that they’ve been bullied online, and a quarter of them admit that they’ve been bullied more than once. Cyberbullying can lead to depression, anxiety, feelings of isolation, and even suicidal thoughts, not to mention an increase in many teens’ willingness to engage in risky behaviors in an effort to “fit in.”
Controlling the Risk
You can’t always monitor everything your child does online. Hidden social media accounts, apps downloaded without your knowledge, and kids who are determined to sneak around the rules can all make it difficult to keep up with what’s going on with your child’s online behaviors. There are, however, several things you can do to increase your odds of keeping your child safe.
Clear Social Media Rules
Your teens and children need clear rules for how to behave online. Any time those rules are violated, they need to know that you’ll step in, even to the extent of deleting the accounts or taking away access to their favorite apps or websites! These rules include:
- Discussing how to behave if they end up in an uncomfortable situation. They should always report bullying to you, and they should never answer anyone’s online questions if they start to cross the line.
- Setting a clear code of conduct for online behavior. The consequences for catching your child bullying another should be quick and severe.
- An “open technology” policy that allows you to check your child’s social media accounts, phone, and other devices at any time. We recommend spot checks because just getting your children’s passwords or using a “monitoring” app is not always enough. Many children set up provide accounts and know how to easily hide apps.
- Technology-free hours, especially at night, when lack of sleep might make it more difficult for your child to make responsible decisions.
Parental Control Software
Also published on Medium.