What is online safety and what can you teach your teen about it?
By Mariana S. Mata Ruiz
Let’s be honest, teenagers now probably know more about technology than most of us, as they have grown up with it their whole lives. Around one in three internet users is a child(1), and the pandemic increased teenagers’ time spent in front of a screen to an average of almost eight hours every day, outside of online learning(2). The constant use of digital technologies has raised parents’ concerns on what this means for their children. In a previous blog, we discussed how to help your teen develop a healthy and safe relationship with technology, but we will focus more on safety and why it’s important this time around.
While parental concerns about the internet are rising, parents are becoming less likely to monitor their child’s activities(3), and as they get older, 8 out of 10 teens will spend most of their time online chatting to friends, on social media or in games(4).
- Have free and frank discussions; ask them about what they do and what sites they visit when they are online, remember that it’s not an interrogation, be genuinely interested and talk to them about the type of things they might come across. Don’t be scared to talk about cyberbullying, sexting and pornography, as these are all things they are likely to run into. Teach them how to be critical of what they see and why they should avoid certain content.
- Agree on boundaries, decide when and where they can use their digital devices, as well as the type of accounts they can have. Are they allowed to be on social media for example? Most of us are familiar with sites like Facebook or Twitter, but those are only social networking sites, there are image and video sharing sites, community blogs and discussion sites as well. We don’t mean to overwhelm you! Just be aware that there are a number of social media platforms that are available and that your child or teen will want to be a part of, discuss and set boundaries with them before they join each one.
- Make use of parental control tools according to your child or teen’s age. Safe settings can be activated on most search engines, as well as any internet-enabled devices. As always, this is another opportunity to have a conversation about online safety, set up the parental controls together and explain to them why they are being used to protect them.
- Discuss social networking. Children are starting to join sites younger and younger every day, and they should know that anything they do online, will stay there forever. There are plenty of examples that you can give them on how people are affected by things they have posted in the past, using these will make it easier for them to understand why it’s better to be cautious.
- Private information is private for a reason! Some things might seem obvious, but they aren’t for everyone. Ask them if they know how to block people and abusive comments, report content and how to set strict privacy settings, make sure they do and show them if they don’t. Stress to them the importance of not sharing personal information like phone number or address, and to be wary of people they meet online, you don’t want them to be scared all the time, but explain the dangers of not knowing who is behind the other screen.
- Check age ratings. Everything has them, games, apps, films, even social media. Did you know that 13 is the age limit on Facebook and Instagram?
This might all seem overwhelming, but remember, you don’t have to know everything, one of the positives aspects of the internet is that you can always look up information. There are lots of websites where you can learn how to help your children be safe online and maybe learn a thing or two that will help you be safe as well. We’ll share a few that we hope will help you below:
- Google safety tools for families (https://safety.google/families/)
- Internet Matters (https://www.internetmatters.org/)
- Childnet (https://www.childnet.com/)
- Reviews for age-appropriate media (https://www.commonsensemedia.org/)
1 European Commission (2022, June 7). Creating a better Internet for kids. https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/policies/better-internet-kids
2 Nagata, J.M., Cortez, C.A., Cattle, C.J., et al. (2022). Screen Time Use Among US Adolescents During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Findings From the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study. JAMA Pediatr, 176(1):94–96. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.4334
3 Ofcom (2019). Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report 2018. https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0024/134907/children-and-parents-media-use-and-attitudes-2018.pdf
4 The Cybersurvey (2019). In their own words. The Digital Lives of Schoolchildren. Youthworks. https://www.internetmatters.org/about-us/in-their-own-words-2019-cybersurvey-research-report/
5 Internet Matters (2022, August 31). Online safety advice by age. https://www.internetmatters.org/advice/