1. Avoid the words “Internet safety.” Talk about Internet identity.
Teaching Internet safety is important, but it invokes an idea that rings hollow for many teens. “The big, bad Internet is out to get you,” is often the message parents and educators send. Of course, there are many safety issues teens should be made aware of—privacy concerns, predators, identity theft—but teens do not often see their peers face these issues.
Instead, emphasize their Internet reputation, their web identity. Teens should be made aware of how their online profiles, statements, and pictures reflect who they really are. Their online profiles are like the clothes they wear: how do they want to present themselves to the world?
- Consider what your profile says about you as a person. For instance, about 40% of teen girls have said they are concerned they won’t get accepted into the college of their choice, or they will miss a job opportunity, or they will get in trouble with parents or teachers because of stuff they’ve posted online.
- Posting “Am I Pretty?” videos on YouTube only makes you look insecure or shallow.
- Posting intentionally provocative images on Facebook attracts the wrong kind of people.
- Posting mean or cruel messages online only creates enemies. Choose to compliment others instead.
2. Teach teens how hard it is to undo what is done online.
There are many stories one could use to drive this point home when teaching Internet safety. Consider that 20% of 16-year-olds and 30% of 17-year-olds have had a sext (sexually provocative or nude selfie) sent to them. Then consider this: 13% of young people say someone has showed them naked pictures or videos that were not meant for their eyes, and 10% of young people say someone has sent them those naked images. Once something is out there, it is hard to take it back.
3. Teach teens that it’s not just about them. It’s about standing up for others.
Cyberbullying is a major problem among teens. Often thoughtless or cruel words are shared over the Internet or through text messages. If teens see this behavior going on, challenge them to be the heroes. Teach them to not just be an innocent bystander, but take action and stand up for those who are being bullied online.
4. Contrast the emptiness of pornography with the goodness of sexual commitment.
According to a survey of today’s college students, more than half of men and a third of women say they first saw pornography before their teenage years. By the time teens enter college, more than half of guys and a fifth of women are habitual consumers of porn.
Sadly, this use of pornography is killing libido and the ability of teens and young adults to connect relationally. Men are being sexually conditioned by the porn they watch, expecting real women to be as clickable, downloadable, and customizable as the women they see on their screens. This drives them to an endless pursuit of sexual experimentation or to a total avoidance of real relationships in favor of porn.
Noted feminist author Naomi Wolf said it best: “Today, real naked women are just bad porn.” Wolf elaborates,
The young women who talk to me on campuses about the effect of pornography on their intimate lives speak of feeling that they can never measure up. […] The young men talk about what it is like to grow up learning about sex from porn, and how it is not helpful to them in trying to figure out how to be with a real woman. […] They know they are lonely together, even when conjoined, and that this imagery is a big part of that loneliness.
Contrast this with the pursuit of real intimacy and the commitment of marriage. Wolf says, rightly, that the real power of sex can only be maintained when there is some sacredness to it, when it is not on tap all the time. The ‘Big O’ of sex is not “orgasm” but “oneness.”
Parents play a key role in this last lesson. Parents have the potential to influence a teen’s understanding of sexuality more than anyone else. If a teenager is into porn, it is vitally important parents can intercept that behavior and converse with him or her about why porn isn’t good in the light of how good a committed sexual relationship is.