In today’s digital-driven age, teenagers are growing up in a world that is vastly different from that of our own adolescents. The internet and social media have become integral parts of their lives, offering opportunities for learning, connection, and self-expression.
However, this new digital world comes with its own set of risks, from online predators to cyberbullying and the potential for mental health issues.
This blog isn’t meant to discourage spending time online; the internet a powerful tool when used responsibly. We are simply here to put the knowledge in your hands rather, empower you to open the lines of communication with your teens and children about what access to the internet really means.
The Building Blocks of Tomorrow
There’s no escaping that the internet is here to stay, and it’s important for young people to develop and hone their digital skills in order to prepare them for the future.
Now, more than ever, there is an expectation in the working world that you have a basic understanding of how to navigate the internet.
Empowering teens to learn and engage online responsibly can help to build skills that will not only support their academic performance but also their career aspirations.
Tech is reaching every corner of every industry from healthcare to manufacturing, and having knowledge in this area can open up endless opportunities.
Bridging Gaps in Underserved Communities
Digital equity may not be a phrase you’ve heard before. Simply put, it’s “a condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy, and economy.”
Internet access has risen a significant amount over the past decades, moving from 52% in 2000 to 93% in 2021, but it’s important to note that a number of these individuals access the internet through a mobile device or broadband outside of the home. As of 2021, only 77% of US adults have high-speed broadband at home.
Bringing internet access, specifically, home broadband access to underprivileged communities can help to bridge the digital divide which was spotlighted during the move to online learning during the pandemic.
This disparity affects not only academia but also access to health services, employment opportunities, and financial services.
Teaching Digital Responsibility
Now that we’ve discussed some of the positive aspects of being online, it’s time to talk about safety.
Establishing your boundaries, expectations, and rules around tech use is important to help teens stay safe online. It can be difficult to have an open, honest conversation about the darker side of the internet, but it’s necessary to ensure their physical and mental safety.
The internet can be a great source for connecting with old friends and making new ones, but it’s important to remember that those connections are not always what they seem.
Don’t give away personal information.
This may seem straightforward, but you would be surprised what can be gleaned from a piece of mail in the background of a photo or selfie in front of your child’s school. Check with your teens about what types of information they are giving away, and remind them that just because they don’t mean any harm doesn’t mean the other person is harmless.
Put it on private.
Wherever possible, make sure your teens are setting their accounts to private and have two-factor authentication enabled. This will help prevent unknown people from accessing information or images that they wouldn’t want shared with the public.
Acknowledge red flags.
If a conversation online takes a concerning turn, it’s important for your teen to know when to disengage and reach out to you for help. Remind them that they have the right to say no, and most importantly, remind them that their safety should always come first.
Be wary of new friends.
It’s best practice to only communicate with verified profiles of people you know in real life. However, there is always a possibility that your child or teen may make online friends through social media or other communal platforms.
Though it can be tempting to meet up with someone they’ve been chatting with online, remind your teens that there is no way of knowing who the person on the other side might really be. Remind them to check in with you before meeting anyone new and only do so in a public place.
Turn location services off on social media.
Location services are a great tool to use when navigating new areas, but they can also give away valuable information that could be used for stalking or other malicious intent. Remind your teens to turn off location services when possible, especially if they are posting pictures online.
Mental Health Safety
Social media can be a great source of connection but can also be a source of comparison, anxiety, and depression.
Set limits on time spent online.
It’s easy for teens to become lost in the world of technology, so it’s important to talk with them about establishing boundaries early on. Helping them create a schedule that includes tech-free zones or limited screen time can help ensure they are getting the necessary breaks from the online world.
Encourage your teens to take a break when needed and remind them it’s okay to unplug from digital devices if they are feeling overwhelmed. Taking regular exercise or engaging in hobbies outside of tech can be helpful for mental health and wellbeing.
Be honest about cyberbullying.
Bullying has made its way to the internet and, unfortunately, creativity put to ill use can cause serious damage. Talk to your teens about cyberbullying, its potential effects, how to recognize it, and how to handle it if they become a target. Let them know that they should not engage with the bullies and that they should, instead, speak with a trusted adult.
We never see the full story online.
It is important for teenagers to understand that the online world and real life are two separate entities. Remind them that the opinions, likes, and attention they receive online don’t always reflect how they would be viewed in person. It’s easy to get caught up in a cycle of comparing oneself to others based on their posted content or follower count; however, this can lead to feelings of inadequacy or low self-esteem. Encourage your teens to develop healthy relationships offline and focus on themselves and their own talents.
Monitor online activity.
It’s important to check in with your teens about their online activities, as it can be a great way to pick up on signs of trolling or cyberbullying and help address any issues before they become too serious. Additionally, setting ground rules for online behavior can help ensure that your teens are engaging responsibly and respectfully.
Navigating the digital world can be both empowering and challenging for teenagers. As parents, guardians, and educators, it’s essential to guide them toward safe and responsible internet use.
By addressing physical safety concerns, promoting mental health well-being, and encouraging positive engagement with technology, we can help teens harness the full potential of the digital age while staying safe and healthy. In doing so, we equip them with the skills and knowledge needed to thrive.