The majority of parents understand that the internet is a valuable, yet dangerous place for teenagers. But because cyberspace wasn’t around when we were growing up (wow, our parents had it easy!) it’s often difficult for parents to know how to navigate what their teens are doing online, how to monitor it, how much to monitor it, and how to help their teens generally to make smart decisions on the internet. The good news is that there are several basic things parents can do to keep their teens safe online. Here are a few for starters, feel free to add some of your own ideas!

  1. Embrace the internet. As foreign as it is for some parents, bring yourself up to speed about what teens are doing online. Post on Facebook every now and then to remind your teens you are there (good way of connecting too!). Get comfortable with texting and texting abbreviations that teens use. Be aware of social media websites and apps (ie. ask.fm, snapchat) that could put your teens at risk.
  2. Teach the difference between PUBLIC and PRIVATE. The internet is a public space, and our bodies, sexuality and most personal thoughts and information are private…the two don’t go together. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable with the whole world (even Grandma!) seeing/reading what you are posting, don’t do it. Don’t say things online you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying to someone’s face. Represent yourself online just as you would in real life.
  3. Teach good habits early. Computers (including smart phones) belong in public spaces of the house, not the bedroom. Devices should be in a designated area charging by a certain time at night…in my house it’s 10pm. Change passwords often. Remember the value of a face to face conversation…texting and social media is a supplement, not a replacement. And, gasp, don’t be afraid to turn the phones off from time to time!
  4. Some parents may disagree with this one, but teach that internet use for social reasons is a privilege, not a right. If a parent pays for a teen’s cell phone, then it is the parent’s phone…they are simply lending it to their teen. For this reason, parents must reserve the right to have a presence in their teen’s online life. They need to know passwords, and may monitor Facebook pages and texts if needed. There is no privacy from parents on the internet. Having access to the internet is a reward for making responsible decisions online.
  5. Rally the troops. Ask friends and family to help send these positive messages to your teen about the internet. Recruit parents of your teen’s friends to present a united front (ie. Sarah’s mom and I have decided that we don’t want you girls on ask.fm). Invite speakers on the topic to visit your teen’s school to reinforce what you’ve taught in a slightly different way. Hearing it from an “expert” is very powerful! Discuss stories in the media, cut out newspaper articles to have a general discussion about what you are teaching is important..sadly, there are countless stories to refer to).

In a perfect world we would be able to control everything our teens say and do online…but that’s not how it works. What we can do as parents though, is to empower our teens (with some guidance) to act responsibly and respectfully in a cyberworld in which we as adults will always be one step behind. Or at least it feels that way!