Young people may be more technologically savvy than ever before, but Internet safety for teens is still a topic worth discussing with your children.
Teens on the Internet
While teenagers do use the Internet for research, sending e-mail to friends and family, and playing online games, their Internet usage patterns are much different than a typical adult.
Social networking is a hugely popular pastime for teens. In fact, one recent study revealed that 61 percent of teens age 13-17 have a profile on a social networking site such as MySpace, Friendster or Xanga. Of these teens, half have also posted pictures of themselves online.
Instant messaging is another online activity that is more common among teens than adults. Teens use instant messaging in the way that previous generations used the phone to communicate. However, instant messaging has a unique lingo with abbreviations that can often be difficult for watchful parents to interpret. For example, one recent study revealed that 95 percent of parents failed to identify POS (Parent Over Shoulder) and P911 (Parent Alert) as chat room lingo used to warn people a teen is chatting in the presence of a parent.
Internet Safety for Teens: Feeling Invincible Online
As in other areas of life, teens often feel invincible on the Internet. Even if they've heard about the bad things that can happen online, they simply think these risks don't apply to them. For example:
- Sharing personal information on a blog or social networking site is considered to be safe by 20 percent of teens.
- When asked about the potential for someone to use their personal information in a way they don't want, 37 percent of teens age 13-17 said they were not concerned about the risk.
While experts have encouraged parents concerned about Internet safety for teens to monitor their child's online activity, it appears that supervision is still lacking in many homes. Among teens age 13-17, 33 percent say their parents know "very little" or "nothing" about what they do on the Internet. Among teens age 16-17, 48 percent said their parents know "very little" or "nothing" about their online activities.
Cyberbullying is a huge problem for teens online, since many young people lack the empathy necessary to treat others with respect. Additionally, since the Internet feels like an anonymous place, teens who would be too timid to bully a classmate in real life often feel empowered when they're online.
Cyberbullying among teens can take on many different forms. It could be something as simple as one teen sending hurtful e-mails to another. However, more elaborate cases of cyberbullying have involved teens creating false online profiles to spread malicious rumors or impersonate the bullying victim.
According to experts, teens can reduce the risk of cyberbullying by remembering the following tips:
- Always treat others how you would like to be treated.
- Don't say things online that you're not willing to say to someone in person.
- If someone says something you don't like online, step away from the computer. Don't try to retaliate-this will only escalate the confrontation.
- If you are feeling physically threatened by someone online, report the incident to your parents. They can help you contact your Internet Service Provider or local law enforcement agency.
Since teens are understandably curious about dating and sexual relationships, it should come as no surprise that sexual predators often choose teen Internet users for their crimes. In fact, MySpace has recently come under fire for having profiles of several registered sex offenders on its site.When discussing online sexual predators with your teen, use the following safety tips as a starting point:
- Remember that people on the Internet aren't always who they seem. You have no way of knowing if the 15-year-old boy from California is really a 45-year-old ex-con from Kentucky.
- Don't post provocative photos, suggestive messages or anything else you'd be embarrassed to have a parent, teacher, coach or other trusted adult view.
- Never agree to meet someone you've met online in person unless you have a parent's permission.