How to Reconnect With Teens on Internet Safety

Posted September 16th, 2016 at 10:58 am (UTC-4)
1 comment

(VOA/ B. Williamson)

(VOA/ B. Williamson)

Several campaigns are underway in the U.S. and other countries to raise awareness about internet safety, particularly among teenagers for whom parental rules are hard to follow in the age of social media. But while rules are still needed, one advocate argues it is time for parents to change the conversation about internet safety.

Online abuse continues to be a challenge both for social media services and their young users, some of whom are increasingly worried about internet shaming and sexual threats. In one survey, more than one-third of youth who encountered sextortion, for example, said it happened nearly every time they went online, according to Microsoft’s blog.

Sextortion employs non-physical coercion, such as releasing sexual images and information, to extort sexual favors. And it is only one form of abuse that kids might run into online. Others include bullying, public shaming and harming an individual’s online reputation, and cybercrime.

The study – “Civility, Safety and Interaction Online – 2016 – is part of research being done in the U.S. and internationally about internet behavior and online interaction and safety. The full results will be made available on February 7 to mark international Safer Internet Day 2017.

Keep Kids Safe Online

  • Explain to your kids that whatever they post on the internet cannot be deleted
  • Help them lean how to deal with online abuse and uncomfortable situations
  • Tell them not to share passwords
  • Set rules and parental controls
  • Place computers where you can see them and out of the bedroom
  • Keep an eye on history and visited websites
  • Step into their world, spend time together online
  • Teach them about security – email attachments and links from people they don’t know
  • Teach kids to think critically about the content they see
  • Check social media settings for unknown ‘friends’

In India, mobile network operator Telenor India will launch a campaign at the end of September to encourage safe internet practices and raise awareness about online bullying. And in the U.S., the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and Microsoft partnered to poll 13-17-year-old teens and parents about online safety, ahead of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month in October.

The survey – Keeping Up With Generation App – showed that up to 60 percent of teens created online accounts without their parents’ knowledge to access apps they wanted to use. Thirty-nine percent of teens encountered mean or cruel behavior online or when using apps.

And while 67 percent of parents said their kids were supposed to report any uncomfortable online incidents, only 32 percent of teens said they were asked to do so. “A lot of parents are reporting that they have rules and then the teens are reporting that there are no rules,” said Michael Kaiser, Executive Director National Cyber Security Alliance.

“For a long time,” he added, “the idea of teens and online safety has been a lot about making rules in the household, people taking pledges or making rules about the kinds of things that kids can or can’t do online. And [there] seems to be – and we see this in other research as well … a disconnect now on a lot of these issues.”

Clear communication – or lack of – might be part of the problem. But Kaiser suspects that the “rule-making environment” does not work well with teenagers and might not be the way to go, given that teens have “fully integrated technology into their lives,” while parents have not.

“So I think that is part of the disconnect,” he added. “And that’s also part of the reason that we want people to maybe think about how they talk to teens a little differently and what we should be working with teens on as opposed to writing rules. … Rules are still playing a role, but we think there are other things that should be going on.”

More resources

What Kaiser suggests is a reframing of the idea of keeping kids safe online. Instead of trying to figure out what apps their children are using, he said parents should focus on teaching them how to use the technology safely and securely from the start.

Up to 40 percent of teens are more likely to ask peers for help when encountering online abuse than their parents. This provides an opening “for a whole new set of discussions,” said Kaiser.

“Trust is developed around those kinds of discussions,” he said. “… What would you do if someone came to you and said there was a problem or what would you do if there’s a problem? How would you handle it? And hearing your child talk to you about how they would do that, I think people might be surprised how much their teens already know about how to do that because it’s happening in their lives already.”

The answers to these questions can teach teenagers how to help one another and develop social resilience, although they should also learn where to draw the line when they are unable to solve a problem on their own online.

Rules can still be set, ventured Kaiser, but only if they are critical and can be enforced. “And I think that the thing that sometimes gets forgotten is that rules should be made together. They shouldn’t just be dictated.”

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

One response to “How to Reconnect With Teens on Internet Safety”

  1. Chi phat says:

    Vietnamese have a saying : ” im lang la vang ” , which means the best rule is out of rules.

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