Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook are just a few of the seemingly endless social media sites keeping us “connected” with friends, family, and even the world. It seems an unimaginable possibility for teens these days to even consider not being able to contact anyone they want, anytime they want. Between text messaging, cell phones, email, and social networking sites we are all “available” 24/7. While some adults or other sleep conscience people may actually leave their cell phone in another room and shut off their computer when they go to bed, many teens don’t. They sleep with their phone just “in case someone has to get a hold of them”. Not having a phone may cause them an abnormal amount of stress.
There are a number of problems that are presented by these behaviors. First is the lack of “real” interaction. Many people spend so many hours online chatting or gaming or updating information on these sites and feel like they are interacting with other people only to realize that their entire day is gone and they really haven’t “talked” to anyone. The light of day and chance for sunlight and exercise just slipped by. While this might not be a top priority on a teenagers list, they may need some help from parents to understand that it is an important part of gaining crucial interpersonal skills that are going to be needed throughout life. Interpersonal skills are crucial in school, work, interviews, and many other settings.
A second problem is what type of information these mediums are making available about your teen and who is able to access or retrieve this information. Text messaging a picture to a friend can quickly be forwarded on to any number of people, text bullying, without your knowledge or permission. This can lead to any number of teen bullying or teen violence situations. The pictures may be used to make fun of someone or used as blackmail against the person. In online social networks the dangers can be even more scary. Sending your phone number or address to a friend may seem harmless but this information again can easily be sent on to any number of people or posted in an area where many people that you don’t know can access the information without your knowledge, cyber bullying.
Having an open and honest conversation with your teen discussing the dangers that are present and the best way to safeguard him/herself and information can go a long ways. If you have a defiant teen or troubled teen that will not listen to you, you may have to find someone else or some other way of sharing the dangers presented by this type of networking to be able to provide your teen with every opportunity for safety. Some general guidelines to follow and be aware of:
- Privacy settings: know what settings are on your profile of each of your social network sites, know who can see what and what you can change and what you have no control over.
- Be Friend Conscious: Don’t add every person that sends you a friend request. Make sure it is someone you know and someone you want to be able to see everything you post. Remember it isn’t hard for someone to copy your post and repost it or send it on. Don’t say things you don’t want everyone to know.
- Think before you speak: remember that it may not just be friends or relatives that are looking at your profile. Colleges, bosses, future bosses, teachers, neighbors, really anyone can find out a lot about you. Don’t post pictures or messages that are going to harm you or someone else, either now or in the future. What happens in cyberspace stays in cyberspace and can be retrieved or misconstrued and most likely at the worst possible time. These aren’t just teen issues but something everyone should think of.
- Don’t give out personal information: Unfortunately the internet has become a prime foraging ground for predators. Teens love to post cute, sexy pictures and don’t think much about listing the time and place of the next big get together. Remember, you can’t pick and choose who is going to read and see everything you post. Think of online safety first, don’t post full names, phone numbers, addresses, or school names. Anything that could allow someone that doesn’t know you to find you.
- Last, but not least LIVE: don’t allow the cyber world to become your only world. Getting out of the house and interacting with others is a critical part of living. Staying inside and spending too much time alone can eventually lead to depression, social development issues, and many other teen problems.
The main thing to remember is to be smart. Think things through and be safe, rather than sorry! If all else fails, use a parent contract so that you and your teen know what is acceptable and safe!