This is the final post in our three-part series providing parents and caregivers with valuable tips and resources on raising their child in the digital age. Part 1 was directed towards parents of children aged 0-8 and Part 2 towards parents of tweens aged 9-12. This last installment winds up with advice for parents of teens online.
A word of caution and comfort: Parents of teens aged 13-17 are in the forefront of digital parenting challenges as they live with young people who have grown up in a digital world, who seem fearless as they navigate the digital highway, and who display mindboggling ease with swiping, tapping and switching screens.
My experience with teens and digital parenting highlights the difficulty of supporting this age group because parents cannot just add parental control software and consider the problem solved.
Parents have to talk, engage, negotiate and get creative with a group of young people who are adorably hovering on the brink of adulthood and who for centuries have challenged parents the world over – and this was prior to the Internet, Facebook, Instant Messaging, Skype, YouTube and so forth.
What are teens up to online?
Right at the start, I urge all parents of teens to read the results of the 2015 Teens, Social Media and Technology survey taken by the Pew Research Center. It is fascinating, and gives an indication of what teens are really up to online. Some examples:
- 92% of teens go online daily
- 24% of teens are online almost constantly (thanks to smartphones)
- 71% of teens use more than one social network site
- 71% of teens use Facebook (despite the media claims that “teens are no longer on Facebook” because their parents are on it)
- 11% use anonymous apps, such as Whisper, Yik Yak and Ask.fm (again despite reports of bullying gone wild with these apps)
The survey also contains interesting stats on socioeconomic use as well, but I’ll stop now.
There is good news, and parents of teens should take heart:
“… for the vast majority of children, the online world is no more risky – and perhaps even less risky – than the offline world. Reliable evidence suggests that the incidence of risk of harm for most internet-using children is relatively low—in Europe and the US—for instance, between 5% and 25% of adolescents have encountered online bullying, pornography, sexting or self-harm sites.” Sonia Livingstone
I think this is a crucial point made by Sonia Livingstone of the London School of Economics, Department of Media and Education, which should reduce some of parents anxieties and fears about their teen’s online use.
Okay, feeling a bit better? Good, let’s do this.
Best Practices for Digital Parents of Youngsters Aged 13-17
- Sexting is sending and receiving sexually explicit messages, (words, photos, images, etc.) usually via cellphone.
- In some countries, teens that have sent photos of themselves have been charged with distributing child pornography. Sorting out if children can be charged with a crime has become a legal quagmire.
- If you caught your teen sexting and have no clue what to do, the first step: breathe, and say the mantra: “Parent. Don’t panic.” This is a great opportunity to talk to your child about sex, share your views and values and help your teen make good decisions. Still feeling weak-kneed? Check out this advice from clinical psychologist, Rachel Busman.
- If you need more specific details on what to do, this UK eSafety organization has great advice.
- For a legal perspective, read this Illinois Bar Journal article which lays out “Sexting: it’s no joke. It’s a crime.”
- Some stats on teens and porn from the Annual Report 2015 of Covenant Eyes: Internet Accountability and Filtering.
- 9 out of 10 boys are exposed to pornography before the age of 18
- 6 out of 10 girls are exposed to pornography before the age of 18
- 28% of 16-17 year olds have been unintentionally exposed to porn online
- 15% of boys and 9% of girls have seen child pornography
- 83% of boys and 57% of girls have seen group sex online
- After reading those stats, same mantra applies: “Parent. Don’t panic.”
- A “Father-son talk in the Internet age” from The Atlantic illustrates a father’s concerns when he finds his 9 year-old watching porn.
- As other parents deal with this issue and usually learn that having that “safe tech” talk as well as “safe sex” is the way to go.
- Teens may be susceptible to online trends that go viral; and, as a parent of a teen, communication is your best play here. Otherwise how else will you know about viral campaigns like the drinking game Neknomination, Am I pretty Youtube phenomenon, or websites promoting anorexia with tips and Thinspiration?
- Websites promoting eating disorders are on the rise, as they appear to be a “cool lifestyle” for teens. The Telegraph wrote an in-depth article called Secretly Starving on the phenomenon, which provides insight for parents.
- Cyberbullying is unwanted, aggressive bullying behaviour where there is a power imbalance via technology.
- In the US, one in three teens reported being bullied during the school year. In the UK, there are no actual bullying statistics, but we do know that 16,000 school children were absent due to bullying and that 26,000 school children had counselling sessions related to bullying.
- Cyberbullying has been linked to depression and a comprehensive overview on bullying can be found here.
- Discuss cyberbullying with your teen and explain the importance of privacy and keeping personal information private. And again, make sure that your teen knows that you (or a trusted third party) are available for support if something does happen.
- Clean up those social media accounts and have your teen create the digital identity of the person he or she wants to be (and really is – without the peer pressure.)
- Helping your child present their best social media face by including their volunteer activities and good deeds can give your teen a boost, both psychically and on social media.
- You can delete some of those accounts by using Just Delete Me, a directory of websites indicating their difficulty for deletion and providing steps on how to delete.
- Then remind your teen to check their settings and make sure that everything is private. And then, another reminder that NOTHING is private on the web. Today’s friend can become tomorrow’s social media enemy, so keep it as clean as possible.
- Set a Google alert on your teen’s name so that you (and your teen) can see every instance where their name is mentioned on the web. Anything flattering can be removed by asking the person who posted it. And if that doesn’t work, try going to the website directly.
There are so many more issues that touch parents of teens like gaming, addictions, selfies, stranger danger, identify theft, trolling and so forth. I plan on writing about each of these for INSPIRELLE but for now, you can refer to my go-to quick list of good reads for parents of teens:
- A review of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, by Danah Boyd
- Screen Smart Parenting, by Dr. Jodi Gold
- A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens: Talking to Your Kids About Sexting, Drinking, Drugs and Other Things That Freak You Out, by Joani Geltman
- To the Well-Intentioned But Ignorant Parents of Teenagers blogpost by Kayla Nicole.
And bookmark these websites:
- Common Sense Media: Parent Concerns
- Family Online Safety Institute: Digital Parenting
- Yoursphere Parents
- Internet Matters: Teens
Well there you have it, a non-exhaustive list of tips and resources to give you a hand in parenting a teen in the digital age. If you are feeling a little less freaked out and a lot more informed, well folks, then I’ve done my job.
IN CASE YOU MISSED THE PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS: