There’s no denying how helpful that the internet can be in terms of information, time, and money. But it’s not without problems. Where teens and kids are concerned, its largest issue is their safety.
We’ve all heard horror stories about sixteen year old girls unwittingly flirting with sixty year old men. Children parting with personal information that can be used to rob or exploit them. Lonely adolescents sharing intimate secrets that are used to bully and hound them.
But hey, this is the internet! In spite of the fact that this is supposed to be the source of all information, we’re also told that we shouldn’t be believing what we see on or hear about it. So how should we deal with Internet safety for teens?
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In particular, are there tips for dealing with teenagers and their internet use? Our teens are at an age where they want (and should be allowed) increasing independence. Research shows that 93 percent of children have spent time on the internet before they’re 12 years old.
But research has also shown that how young people are using the internet has changed dramatically. And this has created new issues for teens and their parents.
How Safe Is The Internet For Your Teen?
Internet experts say that there are four main issues affecting the safety of teenage and child internet users today:
- viewing of inappropriate materials
- sharing personal information
- online predators
In the internet’s earliest days when it wasn’t seen as much more than an information clearing house, little protection was offered to users of any age. As we all advanced along the digital highway and it became clear that it was sometimes used for dark purposes, government authorities stepped in.
In 2000, the federal government passed a law to protect underage users. The main intention of this law was to prevent children from viewing pornography on publicly funded sites (schools and libraries).
CIPA is still with us, having survived several legal challenges. But parents should understand that CIPA is a law of limited substance, as CIPA:
- only applies to public schools and libraries
- only applies to schools and libraries under certain circumstances
- does not apply to social media sites
What’s Protecting Your Teen On Social Media?
CIPA’s biggest problem is that it is protecting sites where your children no longer spend much time. And CIPA legally can’t protect kids from themselves and others on many sites where they want to go. This means the role of “parent” online has fallen to online providers.
Providers largely ignored this role until a series of child rapes resulted after youngsters visited “date oriented” social media sites. Providers dealt with this by creating separate adult and youth sites.
How can you determine ages if we’re all online and can’t see each other? These site providers decided to require users to provide credit card information. Their reasoning here was that no one under eighteen would have access to a credit card.
Clearly, these providers aren’t the parents of teenagers! But this policy has reduced underage visits to adult sites. Site developers have also created software that makes it more difficult for child predators to masquerade as kids on teen sites.
And state governments are certainly doing their part to protect young internet users as well. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich created the Arizona Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC) a decade ago. Using digital resources, its investigators stopped a major wireless child pornographer.
But while all of this is certainly helpful, the biggest front line of youth internet protection remains the adults that care for them. But where to start? Ironically, there’s lots of good, free information on the internet itself for adults willing to learn. This site offered by San Diego County is a great guide for protecting against online abuse.
But people wanting to learn more about internet safety should be aware that there is a drawback to all of this free education. The internet is evolving so quickly and continuously that it’s difficult to keep up. For adults, anyway.
Yes, you’ve finally figured out to download that funny YouTube video, but your kids are too busy on Snapchat to watch it with you. The internet is now home to hundreds of social media sites, with more emerging all the time.
Another problem with parental internet monitoring are the devices that we now use to access it. It seems like just yesterday that families had a single shared home computer that made it easy to monitor online use. Wait, it was just yesterday!
But rapid changes to digital technology have changed the home computer. Just a few decades after its introduction, it’s become far faster, smaller, and inexpensive than originally envisioned. Children are now required to have these computers for school. And for reasons of safety and convenience, parents are providing them to offspring in the form of smartphones.
Protecting My Teen’s Information Online
The government and internet providers can help, but in a limited way. New computer technology makes it easier for kids to conceal online activity. And it’s difficult to keep up with the latest trends. However, there are solutions.
It’s possible to purchase and install software on computers, devices, and phones that blocks certain kinds of content (language, images) and notifies adults if kids are accessing prohibited sites.
As of 2017, the best reviewed and selling of these products was:
- Net Nanny
Product prices range between $40 and $70.
These filters serve different functions. Net Nanny works well for content and cyberbully blocking, but can’t monitor social media. SpyAgent allows device logs to be examined for activity. It will not allow content, images, or games to be blocked. Qustodio offers blocking, reporting, physical tracking, and usage time limits. It also issues device reports. Verity offers a similar package, plus online monitoring of chat room activity.
As mentioned above, understanding internet speak is crucial to monitoring. Stay away from the FBI’s “slang diary”. Many of the acronyms they define there are used by few people on Earth. Better are sites like Urban Dictionary, but remember to check such sources frequently for updates.
3. Having The Talk
With all of that sighing and eye rolling, it’s hard to believe your teens are actually listening and looking to you for advice and help regarding the internet. But they are. Start them down that path of internet etiquette and safety by going to ConnectSafely and discussing internet use from a position of strength.
Explain to teens why it is important that adults in the family control features like settings and alerts and why it is necessary to place them on certain devices. Make sure that young users understand what identity theft is, how to recognize it, and why certain information should never be shared with people of any age.
Let teens know that they’re helping you protect the entire family by reporting any troubling electronic encounters that they may have. Encourage them to help other young users by alerting trusted adults to situations involving cyberbullying and stalking. And encourage them to seek out their own age appropriate information in order to stay safer while internet surfing.
We’ve gone too far down the digital highway to turn back now. And your teen should be allowed to be traveling on it alone. But by educating ourselves and being aware of where cracks and potholes are, we can make sure that our children’s trips on it don’t end with tragic accidents.