The Biggest Threat to Your Teens’ Online Safety…. Themselves!
by Sarah Booth-Henry of www.ForrestallConsulting.com
The Internet is wonderful. Without it you’d not be reading this – that is unless one of your awesome friends has shared it with you. Most of us however, worry about our children’s safety online, not least about the many social media sites that they visit every day.
This increasing presence in their lives led the the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to issue a clinical report to increase parental awareness of the sites being visited and how they work 1.
It studied the impact of social media on families and found that 22 – 24% of teens log onto their favorite sites over ten times a day (some online almost constantly), with 75% owning cell phones. Peer pressure to own a smartphone is huge. We can forget that they are powerful devices offering access to every inch of the internet, the ability to upload videos and photos, and are an easy way to connect with anyone. They also do have a great potential to enrich lives.
According to a recent Influence Central report, Kids & Tech: The Evolution of Today's Digital Natives 2 the average age for a child to get their first devices is 10.3 years. Dr. Pamela Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Research Center believes that while there’s no age that all children should have a cell phone “it has to do with the maturity of the child.” She adds that “it has to do with how the cell phone is being used, and the parent’s ability to understand how the child is using the phone.”
I believe the biggest threat to a teens' online safety is themselves... simply put, the temptation to upload something 'stupid.' Think of the world wide web as a spider’s web. Once it catches something, there’s no knowing how long it will be there. So it pays to be smart about what is posted online. I recently came across the story of a guy who thought it was clever to post a photo of his feet standing in two trays of lettuce while at work. The photo was traced back to his phone and he was sacked. Not just that, Burger King (other fast food chains are available) corporate fired the entire crew he worked with. Bet he’s popular now!
In days before the online world was so consuming and youngsters ‘played out’ with their friends, parents would warn against talking to strangers. Now however, there’s a need for teens to protect against online predators. Unless they are 100% certain of who they are talking to or buying from, they ought to avoid the temptation to give their information.
It’s not all scary though, there’s benefits to using social media. The University of California-Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, found it can improve mental health by boosting self-esteem and providing a source of emotional support - benefits which all too often attract little attention. Those who viewed their own Facebook profile were found to feel an immediate boost to their self-confidence, and as curators of their own content, they could reflect their best traits. Amy Gonzales, an assistant professor who studies social media and health at Indiana University’s Media School said, "it’s like the way you might feel good about yourself when you check yourself out in the mirror before a date."