Do you follow your teen on Instagram or tumblr? Do you monitor his or her online behavior? It’s easier said than done, but there’s certainly reason for concern about online activity. An inappropriate “selfie” on Facebook or profanity-filled trash talk on Twitter can have severe long-term consequences that teens can’t yet appreciate.
These days, potential employers routinely do a quick (or thorough) online search when vetting candidates for an available position. The last thing Jake or Sarah will want to happen, in a few years, is for a would-be boss to come across anything awkward or regrettable. Far too many people have learned the hard way that what goes on the internet stays on the internet. Even if your teen deletes an image impulsively posted on Facebook, that doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t already shared it—over and over again.
As the Canadian Paediatric Society points out, “Friends, enemies, parents, teachers, coaches, police, strangers, sexual predators and potential employers may receive or find past postings.” That’s why one particular all-too-common teen practice—sexting—is particularly dangerous. Sexting means sending sexually suggestive or explicit messages, images or videos.
Naïve young people sometimes perceive this to be a private, flirtatious exchange. But time and again the consequences are devastating. Besides the obvious shame and potential bullying, alienation and objectification that can happen if explicit images are shared publicly, there can be trouble with the law too. When the pictures or videos involve minors, they’re considered child pornography, so youth who send or receive sexts can be charged and convicted of a crime.
In an article entitled Sexting: Keeping teens safe and responsible in a technologically savvy world and published at cps.ca, DK Katzman notes parents should realize many teens are sexting and they should also start a conversation about it. “Regardless of age or developmental stage, it is important to listen to the teen’s understanding of the issues, and then provide accurate and developmentally appropriate information.”
It’s okay to tell your teens you will be monitoring their online activity; it’s also okay to talk about safe, smart social media activity and to set rules for online engagement. In fact, more than a few Ottawa organizations involving teens have social media policies. Youth are given clear expectations, their activity is monitored and if they break the rules, their organization membership can be revoked.
Top 5 Rules
1. If you wouldn’t say it or show it to your parent or teacher, don’t say it or show it in cyberspace. Whether it’s Vine, Flickr, WeChat, Shazam or even Snapchat, don’t assume a new site or app means there’s no digital trail. There is. Always.
2. Never give out personal or financial information. Spam and scams are rife on the internet.
3. Beware of strangers. That new BFF from a chat room may actually be a 65-year-old pedophile with the worst of intentions.
4. Don’t let anybody photograph you and don’t photograph yourself with your clothes off. The same goes for video recording. Don’t do it.
5. Don’t bully, cheat, plagiarize or steal. When you use other people’s photographs, without permission, that’s stealing. When you cut and paste information for an essay, that’s plagiarism and cheating. When you forward, retweet or share something mean about someone, that’s bullying. Don’t do it.
Source: Canadian Paediatric Society: cps.ca