The Internet is both a blessing and a curse. It brings so much of the world immediately to your fingertips. But unfortunately it brings both the best and the worst the world has to offer. This is especially true for today’s adolescent. Internet safety is something every parent should teach to their teens.
1. Teach teens about the permanence of what they share.
When 18-year-old Jesse Logan sent a nude picture to her boyfriend, she had no idea he would show the pictures to others after they broke up. As a result, Jesse was the target of vicious comments at school, and the harassment never stopped. So troubled by the abuse, she eventually took her own life. Other women have had similar humiliating experiences.
According to a survey by MTV and the Associated Press, 18% of those who receive a sext from someone else end up sharing it with others.
Once something is shared online—an embarrassing photo, a hurtful word, and rash statement—it is sometimes impossible to get rid of. As many as 42% of teen girls 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, all because of the things they’ve said and shown online.
2. Teach teens how to react to slander.
Johnny Cagno was an eighth grader whose bullying problems gave Birchwood Middle School a wake-up call. The bullying, online and offline, became so bad, he eventually attempted suicide. Later, CBS filmed Johnny for 48 Hours special called “Bul•ly•ing: Words Can Kill,” to tackle the subject of bullying.
One in five teens says “people are mostly unkind” on online social networks, and a third of teens say they personally have been targets of annoying or menacing online activities.
Teens need to be taught about how to react to bullying, both done to them and done to others. In many instance, simply ignoring bullying behavior is best. Bullies often only want to get a rise out of someone, so teens shouldn’t give them the satisfaction. If the bullying is persistent, teens should save any evidence of it, and when necessary, involve the proper authorities.
Nearly nine in ten teens who use social media say they have seen someone being mean or cruel to another person on a social network site. Teens should be taught about the importance of standing up for others, to never be just an innocent bystander.
3. Teach teens about the allure of porn culture.
Despite the Internet filter on her computer, Natalie Ornorf stumbled across erotic literature on the online. What she thought would be just a one time thing turned into a habit. Then it progressed to pornographic videos. Mere months after her first exposure, unbeknownst to her parents, she was watching and reading porn for hours every night. Slowly it was starting to warp her mind.
Pornography and porn culture is everywhere. Today, more than half of guys and a third of girls see porn before they even turn 13. Porn stars are becoming the new crossover artists, regularly turning up on shopping-mall movie screens and prime-time TV. Additionally, pop culture now mimics pornography. One only needs to watch music videos of performers at the top of the charts or see the latest cover of Maxim to find evidence of this.
John Carr of the Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety says many adults are now talking about how much pornography has a grip on their minds and effects their relationships. “If adults are having problems coping with this new mass availability of these types of images, then it’s not unreasonable to deduce that children, who are exposed to exactly the same images, in exactly the same way, must be getting into all kinds of difficulties.”
Parents need to have honest discussions with their teens about not only why porn is damaging, but why it is an imitation of something that is very good. Teens need to be shown the contrast: porn bonds you to fantasy images that leave you empty, but sex in marriage connects you to a person in an intimate way.
4. Create a culture of accountability in the home.
When Richard and Leila Hoffman found out one of their teenagers was looking at porn on the home computer, they spoke to their son-in-law who worked as a computer programmer. He recommended they try using Covenant Eyes Screen Accountability to monitor the computer.
Richard and Leila decided not to simply monitor their children—they monitored everyone, including themselves. They used Covenant Eyes as a teaching opportunity about the importance of lifelong accountability. In this way their teens did not feel targeted but part of something the whole family was doing.
5. Empower them to be their own watchdogs.
When Jacqueline Anderson was a teenager, her dad installed Covenant Eyes on computers at home. She loved the freedom it gave her. No more annoying Internet filters that smothered her or required her parents to always plug in a password so she could do the simplest task. “This program allowed me as a young adult to make my own decisions about what I allowed into my mind through my eyes, while ensuring I had accountability,” she writes. “This empowered me to make my own wise decisions.”
Steve Siler has noticed the same thing with his son. At first, his son wasn’t so sure about being monitored all the time online, but over time he started to become more proactive about the “gray areas” online. His son now comes to him to tell him about the choices he’s making online to avoid sexually explicit material. “I’m glad for the open dialogue [Covenant Eyes] has created for me and my son. I’m also glad it has helped him to be come his own watchdog.”