Protecting your teen on the internet

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It’s not easy being a teenager, especially with the advancement of technology and our society’s obsession with social media. While many of the issues that teens face today are not new, the additional impact of technology presents challenges that previous generations never dreamed of. It’s important to understand these issues and to know how to discuss them with your child. Here are two I find particularly concerning.

Sexting: Sexting occurs when someone sends or receives sexually explicit words or photos via mobile phone or any digital device. In my opinion, this is an issue where many parents are in denial. Even if your child isn’t sexting, he or she has likely been asked to participate or knows other children who do. Sexting is alarming and can have lifelong consequences. Children should understand that once a photo is sent, they have no control over where it goes or who will see it. Inappropriate photos can impact college acceptance and future employment, and can even result in legal action.

Here’s some advice for parents:

  • Acknowledge that teens are naturally curious about sex. Talk openly with your child about safe sex and
  • Educate yourself on apps that enable teens to secretly send and receive sexts. Apps like Snapchat, which deletes photos soon after they are sent, and even Tinder, which is an adult dating site, are popular among young people.
  • Foster an environment where your child feels comfortable discussing delicate topics. Your son or daughter will be more likely to talk to you if he or she feels heard and validated.
  • Set strict cell phone boundaries. This could include installing parental controls and safety apps like Detoured, taking your child’s phone away at bedtime and frequently perusing his or her apps, texts and social media postings.

Cyber bullying: Like sexting, cyber bullying is all too common among teens today, and the consequences can be devastating. Studies show that children who are bullied are at an increased risk for depression, anxiety and even suicide. While your child’s social media activity may seem innocent, take a closer look.

Cyber bullying can include:

  • Posting cruel and embarrassing online comments about others.
  • Posting a photo of a fun event and tagging a person who wasn’t invited.
  • Impersonating someone online in an effort to extract personal information from that person.
  • Distributing inappropriate photos or sexts for the purpose of degrading or embarrassing someone.

Here’s some advice for parents:

  • Draw a hard line on bullying. Let your children know that it will not be tolerated in your home and encourage them to speak with you if they see it or experience it.
  • Look for signs that your child might be a victim. These could include a noticeable decrease in online activity, a change in attitude or behavior or a withdrawal from activities and friends they once enjoyed. If you’re concerned, seek help. In addition to the numerous online resources available, I encourage you to speak with your child’s teacher or guidance counselor.
  • Remind your child that cell phones are a privilege and don’t be afraid to take them away if they are used inappropriately.

As parents, it’s important to teach our children independence and responsibility, while also protecting them from the very real dangers associated with the internet. By maintaining an open dialogue about these issues, your child will feel comfortable discussing them and will hopefully choose not to participate in them.

David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.