I recently had a dad tell me he was blown away by what he found his daughter posting on facebook. He couldn’t believe the language, pictures, subject matter, etc. He didn’t know how bets to handle the situation. I am finding many parents are asking lots of questions about the internet and their kids. I wish I had more answers, but here are a few tips I have discovered that may help.
1. Understand that they know more than you do about the internet. Teenagers and kids know how to hide their tracks online. They know how to cover where they’ve been online. They also know how to fool parents into believing they are model citizens online. Parents never want to believe their kids are involved in something they shouldn’t be. However, statistically, most kids are getting into trouble online (posting inappropriate pics, searching for inappropriate websites, posting information about themselves, etc) If they know more than we do, we can only rely on honesty. The best thing we can do is sit down and ask them to be honest with us. Find out what they are up to online. Ask if they are involved in anything that they shouldn’t be, if they need help with anything.
2. Help your teenager understand that the internet is permanent. Explain to them that anything they say, write, email, record, etc is paermanent once it is online. If you have a daughter I would encourage you to be upfront and honest and explain to her that many boys will ask her to text or email pics of herself. The same is also true for boys many times these days. Teenagers don’t have a grasp on how permanent and destructive one post can be. I would encourage you to read some of the many news stories about the dangers of texting and teens facing felony charges for inappropriate text messages.
3. Tell your teenager that typing it is no different than saying it. If you don’t allow foul language from your teen, you won’t allow foul texts, emails, posts, etc. Let them know this includes WTF, OMG, LMAO, and every other short form of curse words. If it’s wrong to say it, it’s wrong to abbreviate it so everyone still thinks it. Let them know the puinishment for typing it will be the same as if they said it.
4. Make sure your teenager has boundaries. I hope we aren’t foolish enough to assume teens can have 24/7 access to the internet without getting into trouble. I hope we also undertsand that kids will find ways to get online. I know a family with no tv, internet, or even a computer in their home, but they have cell phones. Their son told me he is struggling because every night he looks up pornography on his cell phone. I know a similar story where a boy used his friends ipod touch to get on his neighbor’s wifi every night to view pornography. His parents had gotten rid of the computer and assumed that would fix the problem. To help our kids we have to do more then rid them of opportunity (you will never get rid of every temptation). We have to help them set boundaries for themselves. Explain the dangers of addiction, the dangers of online predators, and help them understand that they can live within boundaries.
5. Make sure your teenager knows they can always come to you for help. If your teenager doesn’t know you love them, you will lose them. We have to make it clear that everything we dop to and for them is because we love them. We want what’s best for them now and in the future. I know too many kids whose lives had a huge scar before they even got out of high school because no one cared to help them understand the dangers online.
These are just a few quick tips. They won’t fix every situation, but hopefully they will allow you to open the lines of communication- which is key.