Teen Internet Safety, Part 1: Guiding Principles
Teen internet safety is a very valid and healthy concern for parents. After all, the internet can both be a wondrous and a dangerous place all at once.
We want to allow our teens the freedom to express themselves and explore the internet, but how much freedom is too much? How much control over what they look at is necessary? Is any of it necessary? Where does the buck stop when it comes to our teen’s safety online?
There are two things we want to keep our teens away from:
- Harmful media and content – pornography, violent images or videos, or disturbing news stories. Things that we feel will have a negative impact on our teen’s development.
- Harmful people – sexual predators, identity thieves, “catfish” (A catfish is someone who creates fake profiles online and pretends to be someone they’re not).
There is no unifying gold standard of teen internet safety. Your definitions and mine on what is harmful are probably going to be slightly different… Yet the end result is that we want our teens kept away from harmful influences on the internet.
Is this a reasonable goal?
When your kids first start using the internet, you probably laid down rules: only when you were home, or were in the living room, one hour a day, or only on websites that you had pre-approved. Rules like that are training wheels for the day when you can’t look over their shoulder. Along with this supervision you might have given them basic information on how and why to stay away from harmful media and people.
If you want to protect yourself from the internet, all you have to do is turn it off. Shut off the computer, get rid of the tablets, buy a phone that isn’t smart. It’s a tool that can only give you what you put into it.
Yet… that’s not realistic, is it? And you want to set your child up to be both safe, and with the ability to be as successful in life as possible. The internet is growing to be more and more of an integral part of society, having a job, connecting with friends, and so much more!
You can give your teen supervision, you can give them information, and you can give them tools to keep themselves safe, but you can’t protect them from everything, all the time. Eventually their internet safety, like everything else you currently provide for them, will become 100% their personal responsibility. They will grow up, move out, and live their own lives and make decisions and make mistakes. That isn’t something you can stop, but it is something you can prepare them for.
When your teen is living with you and using your internet, their safety should be a shared responsibility between the two of you. As they grow and get older, and if you’ve raised a bright, happy, and responsible child, your share should get progressively smaller and smaller, until you’re both comfortable taking away the training wheels entirely.
Essentially, you want to harbor a trusting relationship with your teen. By not being reactive or looking over their shoulder all the time, you are giving them a chance to make mistakes and learn from them. You are also allowing them the ability to breath easy and feel like they can come to you if they need help or feel unsafe or unsure.
Even with training wheels, it’s entirely possible that your teens will make mistakes. They’ll find themselves on websites you find objectionable. Maybe they’ll interact with people who aren’t what they appear to be, and maybe have not-so-good intentions.
Teen internet safety is just like any other kind of responsibility. You’re not going to be sitting in the passenger seat of every car your child drives for the rest of their lives.
Mistakes happen, that’s life. When they do, make sure you listen, really listen without judging, to what your teen has to say about those mistakes.
Work together to come up with good boundaries and solutions. Express an interest in what they are learning and exploring. Be prepared to collaborate, and listen to their side of the story.
In my next article I’ll be talking about teen internet safety on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, & Pinterest.
Need to talk to someone about your teen? Take a moment to speak with me personally on a 100% FREE Personal Discovery Session. I’ve spent over 20 years mentoring parents and teens, so take this opportunity to join me today!
Debra Beck is a devoted mother, sought-after presenter, author, and has spent over 20 years working with teens and their parents. She’s helped thousands of teen girls develop their self-esteem through her blog, one-on-one mentoring sessions, and mother-daughter retreats.
Her award-winning book My Feet Aren’t Ugly: A Girl’s Guide to Loving Herself was revised and updated for re-release in September 2011 with Beaufort Books.