For teenagers today, the Internet and smartphones are a way of life. From their homework to hanging out, everything happens online. Keeping teenagers safe online and on their phones is an increasing concern for schools and parents. In this article we’ll look at some important steps you can take to keep your teenagers safe and give you better peace of mind.
In our previous posts, we’ve covered ways to keep your kids safe online. We’ll mention a few of those examples here as well as some specific steps you can take to keep older kids and teenagers safe online. Of course, many of the steps we mention are good safe surfing tips for us parents too!
Let’s take a look at some of the most important ways you can keep your teenagers safe online, at home, and on their smartphone when they’re out with friends.
#1 - Talk to Your Teenager
The most important step you can take to keeping your teenager safe online is to talk with them about safe surfing and keep the dialog open. Parents should take this responsibility seriously, the Internet is a dangerous place. Those same frank and stern discussions your parents had about “playing in the bad part of town,” or “in the old mill,” apply now to going online. Be honest and open with your teenagers and you’ve got the best chance of receiving the same in return. Let them know that you will be setting limits to prevent them from being harmed by malicious peers or worse.
#2 - Install a Firewall or Monitoring Service at Home
On the home-front, you’ve got a lot more control over the content that your teenagers can access online. We’ve mentioned before how you can use NetNanny, OpenDNS, and CyberPatrol to limit screen time and keep your kids safe online. These firewall controls and apps limit which sites your teenagers can visit on your home network, and for how long.
#3 - Say No to Cyberbullying
Let your teenagers know that making a joke or taunting someone online is the same as doing it in person. Whether they are directly involved or not, they should not participate in discussions or groups that are intended to ridicule other kids. If they become the victim of cyberbullying or witness it themselves, they should report it through the appropriate site and to the appropriate authority in extreme cases. Which brings us to our next point.
#4 - Use Anonymous Reporting, Posting and Comment Tools
Recommend your teenagers use anonymous tools for reporting cyberbullying and other dangers they see online. This will protect their identity and prevent them from becoming a target. The same applies when they are asking or posting comments about sensitive personal matters. Peer support is vital for teenagers so you don’t want to cut off and important lifeline to vent their frustrations or ask for help, however you do want them to do so in a way that won’t cause additional repercussions or harm.
#5 - Use Parental Controls
No, this isn’t some sort of militaristic approach to parenting, “Parental Controls” is the name for the built-in set of controls you can use on Apple devices including iPhones and iPads, as well as Apple computers including MacBooks, iMacs, and for the rare teenager a Mac Pro. Windows computers have a set of controls under the User Settings in “Family Safety.” For Android phones and tablets, it’s a bit trickier, you’ll need to setup a User Profile and create a “Restricted User.”
It’s worth taking the time to checkout the built-in parental controls on all your teenager’s devices and computers. You can limit data usage, and importantly, limit which apps are installed, which brings us to our final recommendation.
#6 - Use Known Good Apps
Let’s be honest, most teenagers are ahead of their parents when it comes to tech, and that’s a good thing, we want our kids to be ready for the future, where technology is likely to play an even greater role in their lives, whether they are farmers or financial analysts. However, we want to keep them safe now, and we can stay one step ahead by preventing them from downloading “the latest chat app.” New and unproven social apps are a place where malicious behavior is often given a chance to spread before it’s reported. Newer apps may also not be as easy to monitor with software. By restricting which apps your teenagers can install. You’re staying a step ahead of trouble.
By keeping an open dialog with your teenager, and being honest about the dangers of the Internet and how you plan to take steps to protect them, you can start on the right foot. Follow through by installing a firewall to limit access to certain sites at certain times while your teenager is at home, and restrict the apps they can install and the amount of data they can use when they are out using their phone or tablet. Be sure to check out the built-in controls and settings on desktops, laptops, tablets and phones which can help you keep things under control and keep your teenager safe online.