With countless risks online for children and teens, you know just how important it is to take steps to protect them as best you can. You can block their access to certain apps and limit their screen time. There are many solutions that parents can consider. There are even specific laws in many states that work to limit access to adult content on mobile devices.
The problem is that many teens are much more tech-savvy than their parents are. This means that they can often find workarounds for even the most secure of solutions. How, then, can you protect your teen from being exposed to materials and people that pose a potential risk to them?
It may seem like a cliché, but communication truly is key, particularly when it comes to the relationship that you have with your teen. Many teenagers are often reluctant to have even a casual conversation with their parents, so keeping those lines of communication open will take work.
You can bring up online risks in a conversation, ask them what they know about online safety, and see how they direct the conversation. Your teen may be tech-savvy and smart, but may not know how to spot potential risks while navigating the internet and the multitude of texting apps that they have.
Above all, remind your teen that you will never judge them for anything that they say or do. You want your teen to feel safe coming to you when in need.
Sharing safety tips with your teen
There’s no way around it. We live in a connected world. It’s important for you to be able to keep in touch with your teen when he’s at football practice, when he needs to be picked up, or when he’s out with friends. His phone and other devices are quite likely an important part of his academic and social life.
You have a few options to consider. Do you completely remove them from his life for the time being? Do you continue trying to find monitoring or blocker apps to keep him from potentially concerning content? Or do you work with your teen to discuss online safety tips that he can put into practice?
Safety tip discussions may be the better option to consider, particularly with a teen who is tech-savvy and has the smarts to understand what you’re sharing with him. Some of these safety tips could include the following:
- Avoid joining chat-enabled games, groups, or message boards without first running it past a parent.
- Don’t share personal details with people online, particularly if they are online-only acquaintances or friends. This should include real names, birthdates, home or school addresses, or any type of information that could be used to track a person down.
- Don’t share personal pictures, particularly of an intimate nature, with anyone. This should extend to not sharing pictures of the family or even harmless pictures. They can be manipulated or used to track people down.
- Don’t click on links or open apps that are sent over, even if you think that you know the person. Many scams and hacking attempts start this way.
Look for an online cybersecurity course that you can take with your teen. This may make him roll his eyes at the idea, but he may also be surprised at the helpful information that he learns. Simple things like not storing credit card information online, not falling for scams or manipulative tactics, or knowing how to recognize whether a link or a conversation may be leading to potentially harmful material he doesn’t need to see.
Are there any safe messaging apps?
You may wonder if there truly are any safe text messaging apps for kids and teens. After all, it seems like everyone can access just about anything or bypass security on any system or device. A quick search will come up with dozens of apps, each promising to offer the security and safety that parents are looking for. Many also come with add-in fees that can quickly add up and don’t necessarily do anything to further protect teens.
Before installing and relying on an app, consider the following steps:
- Read reviews about the apps, keeping in mind that some of the reviews may be paid for and, therefore, not entirely trustworthy.
- Consider apps that your teen’s school uses to allow classmates to interact with one another. The activity on these apps is often monitored, and it should be rare for anyone not authorized will gain access to them. That said, parents may not have full oversight of the activities on these apps, due to those same privacy settings.
- Look for apps that allow for private messaging between only approved users. You can set up groups for family and select friends so that you know who your teen is speaking with.
- Think about whether you want to monitor the texts and other messages that your teen is getting and sending. If your teen has already been getting into a bit of hot water online, it will make sense to keep an eye on his online activities. There is also the issue of trust and privacy, which can be hot-button topics for angry teenagers. It’s certainly possible to monitor the texts your teen is sending and getting if you want to go down that route. Simply have an agreement with him that you will be doing this or use an app that gives you access to his communications.
Protecting your teen from unsuitable content
What if all of the steps that you take to protect your teen from texting apps and unsuitable content online aren’t enough? It’s possible that even your best efforts aren’t enough to keep a tech-savvy teen from getting in touch with people who send or ask for inappropriate content. Remember that it’s not necessarily the case that your teen is seeking this content out but more that there are so many people and operations online that are determined to get pornography and other inappropriate content in front of anyone who can benefit them. Whether it’s to harass or blackmail an innocent victim or to get someone to sign up for a subscription service, your teen may just become an unwitting victim caught up in the whirlwind of chaos on the internet.
- Have those important conversations with your teenager.
- Remind him of the dangers that are lurking on the internet.
- Reinforce that you’re in his corner and on his side.
- Limit screen time if it comes to it or find a good way to monitor his online activities.
- Keep incoming and outgoing communications between known family and friends only.
Your teen is not going to necessarily enjoy restrictions on his online activities. But, as trust is earned back, you’ll be able to loosen things up again. Be sure to let him know that trust is earned but can also be easily broken.
If your teen’s behavior has been changing and he’s been spending a lot of time online, reach out to HelpYourTeenNow to find out more about the resources that we can offer teens and families in crisis.