CyberSafeIreland reveals their top tips for digital wellbeing and keeping your teens safe online.
Many teenagers sail through those ‘difficult years’ when everything seems in a constant state of change, and others react more like Harry Enfield’s infamous Kevin. The significant difference that today’s teens face compared to Kevin and his peers is that they now live in a digital, interconnected world: a world unimaginable in the days of Nintendo’s Gameboy and CD Walkmans, when you had to write down phone numbers and ask your parents to borrow their phone to make a call.
The online world is here to stay, so as parents it’s better to avoid tabloid scaremongering or harking back to the good old days when things were so much simpler (were they really that simple..?). It's better instead to accept the changes and learn ways to better navigate this world that seems so new and daunting to many parents.
It seems an obvious point to make but talk to your children about their online life. Many teens don’t see our distinction between their ‘online’ world and ‘real’ world: for many, it’s one and the same.
Draw analogies with the physical world to develop empathy and resilience in relation to their behaviour and experiences online: would you say that thing to someone’s face?
Encourage them to challenge what they see or read online and look at examples of Photoshopping or Deepfakes to show how content is constantly manipulated to make us feel or think in a certain way. For older teens, draw attention to the longer-term effects of posting too much or too quickly online.
A Career Builder study found that 40% of job candidates were rejected after an internet search by prospective employers found that they had found posted provocative or inappropriate photographs, videos or information. Posting is easy, getting rid of posts is much, much more difficult.
Settings are important.
Agree on how social media accounts will be set either to ‘Public’ or ‘Private’, Explain that setting to ‘Private’ is as much about really controlling your image and data online - what you share and with whom - as it is about safety.
Social media companies only want our data to sell us things! CyberSafeIreland found that 43% of 8-13 year olds are talking to strangers online (Annual Report 2018), arguably an age group where there is more parental control than with teens.
Don’t shy away from conversations about the danger of predators and grooming, many of whom do not want to meet your teens; rather they want images and videos, and increasingly the majority of child abuse material is now self-generated.
Many apps targeting teens such as Monkey, Tellonym and Yubo to name but a few, are designed specifically to chat or video chat anonymously with strangers. We prepare our teens for the dangers of the world outside the home: why wouldn’t we do the same for the vastness of the online world?
In her presentation at the Digital Families Conference in 2019, researcher Amanda Third said that the overwhelming comment she got from working with teens was that “adults judge what we do online”.
Every generation judges the younger one whether it’s hairstyles, music, fashion, celebrities… What kids like to do online mightn’t be your thing, but if it isn’t harmful to themselves or anyone else, why get annoyed?
Less judgement will encourage your teens to share more of what they see and do online, and this open channel of communication might just prevent a lot of problems happening!
You can also praise and highlight the positives of online life and social media, of which there are many: job opportunities and careers, creative platforms and ready-made audiences, collaborative and communicative tools and the participatory potential of global movements such as the climate crisis protests.
Beware of bans.
It can be tempting (and understandable) in anger or fear to ban devices or confiscate them completely, but ask yourself: does that really solve the problem? Often it will simply drive the issue underground, encourage secrecy and can result in much more serious issues that might arise when you are even less aware of what your teen is doing online.
Model the behaviour.
Don’t end up like Will Ferrell’s dad from hell...it’s a lot easier to establish norms in the home and take away the power of that phrase so familiar to parents of children of all ages - “Well that’s not what you do!” - when you are following the same rules around the use of devices and time spent online.
Compare your usage and quality vs. quantity of screen time using a dedicated app or the built in feature on Apple devices. Think about making a Family Agreement together and have everyone sign up to it to decide what the family etiquette and rules are!
Use available resources.
Encourage your teen to access the resources that exist online, and sites which produce fantastic video resources on issues facing teens. We recommend SpunOut for all the areas in which young people might need advice, as well as Webwise and Childnet.
This content has been checked and certified by Cyber Safe Ireland whose mission is to empower children, parents and teachers to navigate the online world in a stronger, smarter and safer way.