How to balance your teen’s privacy and internet safetyOn February 25, 2023 by Calgary's Child
By Stacie Gaetz
Parents have always worried about their teenagers’ safety.
Long before smart phones, computers, tablets and online video games, parents laid awake in their beds at night hoping their adolescents were making the right decisions.
However, technology adds another layer of “What ifs…?” and “Are theys…?” to the mix.
Just like in the real world, there is no secret button to push to make sure your child will never run into any trouble online, but there are some steps you can take to reduce the chance that your child will become victim to cyberbullying, scams or predators.
Learn the tech
Many parents want to know how to keep their kids safe online but have no idea how to turn on their child’s Xbox or think TikTok is just the sound a clock makes.
To monitor your child’s internet use and put parameters around it, you must first understand how it works.
Take the time to learn about the apps your child uses, the social media accounts they have set up, the websites they frequent and the video games they have access to.
What are the privacy settings on their social media accounts? Do they understand how to create a secure password? Is the safe search enabled on their phone and tablet? Is their gaming system connected to Wifi?
It can also be important to familiarize yourself with the texting and online lingo your kids use. Do you know what IRL or DAE mean? What about HMU and JIC?
These are all questions that you should be able to answer and know how to change the settings if necessary. YouTube is a huge help in this area.
Privacy settings & parent controls
Part of educating yourself about the technology is learning how to use the privacy settings on your teen’s devices.
You can control several things from blocking and filtering websites and content, limiting online purchases, recording activities, setting specific times to be online, and viewing their browsing history and communications.
Make sure you talk to your children about why you are limiting or blocking certain things and that they understand it is to protect their safety and not for you to “spy on them” or invade their privacy.
Talk to your children about the rules and guidelines you have around technology use. This includes how long and where they can use devices.
They may be allowed to play video games for a half hour after school and have access to the computer again for 30 minutes after dinner for homework. You can use parental controls to ensure they are using Microsoft Word and Excel rather than Netflix and games during that time.
It should always be made clear what is not allowed. Let them know that they are not allowed to sign up for any social media accounts until they are 13 and that they cannot bring their phone or tablet into their room at night if these are family rules. Have them hand their technology in to you before bed for charging as part of their nightly routine.
One way to ensure everyone is on the same page (so to speak) is to write up a technology use “contract” and have them sign it. This should include agreed upon consequences for if the rules are broken so there are no surprises.
One of the above rules should be that devices can only be used in public areas of the home or in the same room that the parents are in. This can reduce the chances that teens are searching or exposed to things they shouldn’t be.
It can be helpful to have a “home” for cell phones and tablets, such as a basket in a bookshelf or a drawer.
It should be made clear to children that the devices belong to the parent and are used by the child if (and only if) they are used appropriately.
Kids need to know that what is put on the internet is there forever. Their likes, comments, photos, and videos can never truly be deleted and can have negative consequences for years to come.
Post-secondary schools and employers often vet their applicants on social media so your teen should think twice before posting certain photos and videos. There is no way to know what the future holds for your child, but careers (and even lives) can be ruined by something posted online years before.
A good rule of thumb is to never post anything online that you wouldn’t want your parents to see. Some parents require their teens to add them as friends or followers to their social media accounts for this reason. (Just keep in mind that they can create other accounts to try and avoid this.)
Your No. 1 goal as a parent is to build your child’s autonomy in every aspect of life so they can grow up to be successful independent adults. Technology is no different.
There is no way for you to block and monitor every aspect of their online presence.
It is important that you teach them why they need to use secure passwords and remind them not to talk to anyone online that they don’t know in real life.
Using examples of instances where someone being unsafe online resulted in them having their identity or money stolen can help drive the issue home. We don’t want to frighten them, but they should know to take internet safety seriously.
Let them know that as they get older and learn to stay safe online by themselves, they can earn more cyber freedom.
Don’t forget to practice what you preach. If you are limiting their screentime but are constantly on your phone, they are not going to take your restrictions seriously and you will experience a lot more pushback.
Also don’t forget the importance of spending time together as a family and making your time offline exciting. Help them be safe when they are online but also give them a reason to want to put down the screen and enjoy their time IRL.
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