How parents can keep teens safe in the online world

a girl in red sweater holding her phone while talking to her friend

Parents and teenagers are always learning from each other, and this generation is no different. But parents of teenagers today have a very unique and interesting set of experiences when it comes to the online world.

We are bringing up our kids in a completely different world than the one we grew up in. Parents today simply can’t carry on parenting the way they were parented. While our experiences and knowledge of how our parents raised us is extremely valuable, things have changed immensely.

If you have a teenager right now, chances are there was no internet when you were a child. There’s also a good chance you didn’t have a phone until you were a teenager yourself. (I didn’t get one until I was in my 20s!) And those early phones were basic, and literally only phones.

Now, we all carry palm-sized computers in our pockets, purses and backpacks. The world of technology is amazing, but it can also be scary. We adults are very aware that it’s far from perfect out there. Danger lurks around every cyber-corner, and there are plenty of people and content that we hope our kids will never come across.

Keeping kids and teens safe online while giving them some freedom and privacy can be tricky. Here are some things to consider to give you a hand:

Have a heart to heart

It might be an awkward conversation to have with your growing kids, but the “birds and bees” chat is something that everyone needs to have. While communication has changed a lot since you were a teen, the overall message is still the same.

Related: How to talk to your daughter about puberty

Make sure your teens have an understanding of their bodies and personal safety, and let them know that they can come to you or another trusted adult with any questions or concerns. Teach them how to spot red flags when it comes to their romantic lives, and what to watch out for and avoid. Remind them that not everything they see online is accurate or safe. Encourage them to question information, verify sources, and be wary of sharing personal details. If they’re ever unsure about something, make sure they know they can come to you without fear of judgment.

Set up ground rules together

The best way to make rules that will stick is to involve your teens in their creation. This includes setting guidelines for online activities.

Ask them about their favourite apps and the people they interact with, and discuss any online challenges they are currently facing. Ground rules can involve not using certain apps or sites that are known for being risky for teens due to the wrong kinds of content or people involved. This might mean allowing social media, but having all privacy filters set to high and having both parents as “friends” so you can see and monitor their activity.

mother unhappy with teen daughter using gadget
Photo by Karolina Grabowska.

Look into digital control tools

Parental control apps and tools can allow you to monitor and manage your teen’s activities without invading their privacy. These can include content filters and programs that track screen time. You can even look into how to change IP address on iPhone or Android.

Changing your IP address can help you evade hackers and other surveillance anyone could stumble over on the world wide web. Because you’re hiding both who you are and where you’re located (essentially your online identity), you and your teen will have many security advantages.

By changing your IP address, you can reduce the chances of being easily traced or identified while browsing the internet and provides another level of security. 

Related: Teach your kids these easy tips to stay safe on public Wi-Fi

Stay “in the know

Staying up to date with technology can help you to keep tabs on things, for your own security as well as your teens’.

Apps and tech change all the time, and new risks present themselves often. When you have some knowledge and awareness of the way different apps and programs work, you can stay “in the know”, even if you don’t use the apps yourself. Even online kids’ games that parents would likely never suspect have been shown to be a catalyst for predators, so be aware.

Make sure your home and family is a supportive environment

Let your teens know that they can always come to you if they encounter any online troubles. Having a supportive environment overall at home can avoid all kinds of issues, both online and in real life.

A supportive home is linked with better mental health in teens, less teen pregnancy, and better outcomes overall, so do what you can here. Teenagers are not always the easiest to communicate with, but things like regular family dinners, spending quality time together, and keeping in contact as much as they’ll tolerate or allow will go a long way toward keeping a comfortable and supportive family environment.

family preparing food in the kitchen
Photo by August de Richelieu.

Parents of teens have so much more to worry about now than their parents did. Cyberbullying, inappropriate content and online predators are real concerns for us in the modern world and it can be extremely stressful for parents of teenagers. Try out some of these ways to help your teenager stay safe online, and do your best to create an environment where your teens feel comfortable discussing any issues without the fear of punishment.

How do you support your teens with their online safety? What would you add to the information above? Join the conversation and leave your comments below:

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