by Dr. Deborah Gilboa
When our kids were small, we had a long list of worries: stranger danger, running into the street, wandering off and so on. While we worried, our toddlers skipped through the playground, blissfully unaware of any potential danger. Our teens have grown into a new world of threats—cyberbullying, identity theft, online predators. Yet, for many teenagers, they remain similarly oblivious to any potential danger. How do we help our teens balance the threat of danger with the gift of technology? Here are 10 suggestions that can start a meaningful conversation with your teens.
1. Which apps do you use most? Asking your teen about his favorite apps will help you understand what he is encountering most often.
2. How can you tell if someone you “know” online is an imposter? Your teenager thinks she is more tech savvy than you, and she might be right! So ask her about her process for determining the truth about the people she meets online. Encourage a little skepticism about people on the other side of the screen.
3. What’s the nastiest thing you’ve seen on social media? Ask about bullying and how people handle it when it happens. Ask about the pressure to “like” or favorite or share gossip or hurtful comments. Do your best to really listen to her answers. Our kids benefit when they know we have empathy for their struggles.
4. Do your friends “subtweet?” Subtweets are insulting tweets that obviously refer to one person but never mention their name. Other social media likely has its own version of subliminal meanness.
5. Talk to me about Ask.fm. Anonymity is the key to this platform; you can ask any question to whomever you’d like. This can be exciting and empowering, but also very tempting for bad behavior. Get involved, and give your teen a chance to take you on a tour of this experience.
6. Let’s google your name and see what comes up. Search your teen’s digital footprint. Once both of you recognize the ease of finding this information—for you and for everyone else—then you can talk about whether she is comfortable with the public nature of her pictures, videos, homework assignments, tweets, texts, Facebook updates.
7. How do you choose the amount information to share about yourself online? Does your teen have a litmus test? Or a list of information he will not post, like address, birthdate, pictures of siblings or friends? Start a dialogue to help him (and you) decide.
8. Why do you think your parents need your passwords? Until our kids are at or close to the end of high school, we need their passwords – all of them. We are responsible, ethically and legally, for their behavior online. Of course our teens feel they deserve their privacy and that we ought to be able to trust them. We can trust them about one thing – they will have the judgment of teenagers. That means sometimes they will behave admirably and sometimes they will mess up. We need to know about both, in order to give them feedback and guide them.
9. What should we be doing to protect your younger sibling online? Often people will do for others what they don’t bother to do for their own wellbeing. Kids may disregard their own safety, but will usually jump in to put guidelines in place to shelter someone just a year or two younger. Use that instinct to help your family talk about the important issues and put guidelines in place that offer true protection.
10. What is the greatest thing you’ve learned on social media? Focus on the positive as well. Social media platforms can also be used for good. Information sharing, consciousness-raising, rallying support for worthy causes—encourage your teen to find things to admire and join online.
For more advice about online safety for teens, check out the final episode of iQ:smartparent: Like, Follow, Share with experts Kelly Koshamba from the FBI, Rick Wallace, cyberintelligence expert from Tiversa, Caroline Knorr, parenting editor from Common Sense Media and host Angela Santomero, creator of Nickelodeon Blue’s Clues.