Technology is available to our teenagers 24/7. How can parents teach their teens about internet safety and keep them protected when they are online? Read one digital parenting expert’s advice for teens and Internet safety.
By Hilary DeCesare
As I was driving my son home from tennis practice the other day, I called ahead to see what my two girls would like for dinner. I dialed the house, but no one picked up. I called several more times; still no response. Once I arrived home, I found them both in the kitchen doing their homework, right next to the landline phone. I asked why they didn’t pick up the phone. My teenaged daughter said that she figured if I really needed to reach her, I would call her cell phone or, better yet, text her. It got me thinking: with my teens having their smartphones with them 24/7, do they know enough about Internet safety?
I am amazed by how the advancement of technology has changed the way my kids communicate. Smartphones, iPads and laptops provide a platform that puts an entire social world at their fingertips; it’s a world that I can’t possibly monitor at all times. The Internet is accessible to my kids 24/7, and that means I must keep them safe even when they’re not within arm’s reach.
I know that keeping kids safe online is challenging. But the first step toward responsible parenting in our digital era requires understanding the basics of social media. Once I understood Facebook, for example, then I could establish meaningful guidelines. But ultimately, I find that the most effective way to keep my kids safe online is to practice what generations did before–setting basic rules.
One thing that has remained consistent over the years is that teens value their privacy. Trust is a big part of maintaining the balance between being a responsible parent concerned about child safety and an overbearing spy. I find that the key to maintaining this delicate balance is to establish basic guidelines for what is permissible online. I do this in the same way I set rules for anything else.
If I can trust that they are following my Internet rules, then they can trust that I will respect their privacy. If the rules are broken, then the consequences are that I’ll be checking their phones and social media profiles.
Every parent develops their own set of rules; in my house, the Internet and social media are a privilege, not a right. A little while back, my oldest daughter kept waking up exhausted and I couldn’t figure out why. I knew she was going to bed on time. What I didn’t realize is that she was taking her phone to bed with her and keeping it by her pillow. The constant buzzing of texts and Facebook messages were waking her up. Once awake, she could spend hours checking all of her social media sites. After learning this, I established that she was no longer allowed to bring her phone to bed.
Of course, if my kids thought that I weren’t Internet savvy, they might not take my rules and repercussions as seriously. This is why it is so important for all parents to become familiar with the Internet and social media. Social media has become an essential part of our teens’ lives. I make it a point to familiarize myself specifically with my children’s favorite social media networks by being an active member on them. In doing this, I can better understand the typical interaction on each, which allows me to establish ample guidelines to ensure Internet safety.
No matter what cyber safety rules I set for my kids, I make sure to always emphasize that they can talk to me about anything. I want them to know that if something is new or even a little uncomfortable, they can come to me. And I know that my kids are going to make some poor decisions, but that is part of growing up. I want them to know that I will be there for them no matter what the circumstance.
And you know what, they really do come to me. It all circles back to that mutual trust.
Hilary DeCesare is a nationally acclaimed digital parenting expert. She is the CEO of Everloop.com, a leading safe social media platform for kids. Hilary is a mother of three and is based in California.