Before you hand your teen a phone, you need to have a talk with them. Just like the conversation about the birds and the bees, this kind of talk is of paramount importance in your teen’s life.
This talk is about stranger danger…on the internet.
As a parent, you have a responsibility to keep your teen safe. Just like you’ve taught them, since they were young, to always look two ways before crossing the street, and never to take candy from a stranger or get into their car, you have to talk to them about not talking to strangers in the place they’re most familiar with: online.
Here are the points you need to cover in this conversation:
The internet is a dangerous place.
While you don’t want to scare them unnecessarily, we at Evolve believe that it is necessary to educate teens about the dangers one can be exposed to on the web. Talk to them about some of the things going on on various social media platforms like Kik, Snapchat, or Tik Tok. A predator can pose as a friendly person to talk to you, get your personal information, and then hurt you. Give them a basic overview of sex trafficking, which is becoming more and more common. Traffickers can start courting teens, only to drag them into a dark pit of physical and emotional manipulation. Share a little about the dark web and all the unsavory, stomach-churning things that go on over there. And lastly, tell them that even their own peers can be dangerous. Friends can share pornographic material, which is illegal. Classmates can be very mean online, and use social media to publicly hurt others – including you. Of course, adjust the details to match their age and maturity level.
Ways to stay safe
After explaining some of the dangers on the Internet, explain to them that it is important to take measures to stay safe. For one, instruct them never to share personal information – including pictures — with strangers online. Always be cautious of people you’ve never met in real life. Never, ever give your full name or address. Ingrain in them the idea that nothing shared on the internet is ever private. Instruct them to make their social media accounts private, instead of public. Having private Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media accounts will prevent many of the horrific crises that happen to teens online.
What to do if you encounter something uncomfortable
In the same vein as the above, tell your adolescents that they should always come to you if something online made them uncomfortable. Did they see something inappropriate, whether it was on YouTube or just on a friend’s social media page? Let’s talk about it. Is someone online asking them to send racy photos? That person needs to be reported to the police. Is someone cyberbullying them on social media? Tell us. Even if this person is a friend, it doesn’t matter. Whenever anyone asks you to do something that makes you uncomfortable, causes you to hesitate, or gives you an icky feeling inside, do not do it. Of course, this applies in real life as well.
Monitoring Your Teen’s Devices
In addition to having the conversation above, we also encourage parents to monitor their teen’s devices – phone and laptop/computer included. There are numerous reasons why. First, teens may not even realize a specific site includes mature content. They could be searching for something else entirely, and the search engine’s algorithm is bringing up adult-themed sites. Secondly, teens are teens. Even if you tell them multiple times not to go on a specific site, it’s often safer to simply block the page to begin with. This is also why many parents install controls on their teen’s phone to prevent them from downloading new apps without the parent’s permission.
Monitoring our teens online is just another way we are doing our job as parents to protect our teens in life. That means installing the filters and/or parental controls. Blocking inappropriate sites. And telling your teen you’ll be checking their devices on a regular basis.
Of course, this kind of monitoring may not make your teen happy. But at the end of the day, you’ll know you did your best to prevent your teen from getting into risky, life-altering, and at times life-threatening situations online.