As a parent, we know there are important topics we should talk to our teens about prior to them heading back to school. From working that bit harder in Mrs. Benedict’s class to spending more time on homework. Or, maybe, your teen is older and starting to date. In this case, it may be time you had every parent’s worst nightmare — ”the talk.”
All of these things are important, some arguably more than others. But there’s one topic parents are neglecting, and it’s perhaps the most important of them all: online safety.
In a recent survey, only a handful of parents said they’d properly spoken to their teens about staying safe online, and of those parents with teens aged 16-18, that number plummeted even further. We often think that it’s the youngest of kids that are most vulnerable, but the reality is that we’re all exposed on the web—even parents.
Online safety for teens
Teaching teens to stay safe online should be every parent’s priority. Nearly half of all teens (47%) have faced some form of cyberbullying online. Additionally, each year more apps vie for our attention and there is a direct link between intensive social media use and mental illness.
Here are some shocking stats that you may find disturbing, but it’s imperative that we as parents understand what’s really happening:
- 42.1% of young children admit they have seen online porn.
- One in 12 have exchanged messages with sexual content with other people.
- One in 25 have sent graphic photos of themselves.
- 25% of children pretend to be older than they are online.
- One in 20 teens admitted arranging a secret meeting with someone they met online.
- 29% of parents let their kids use the internet without any restrictions or supervision.
We all know never to talk to strangers, and for the most parts, kids will follow that advice. But evidently the same doesn’t apply online, perhaps due to the comfort of being hidden behind a screen. The facts, however, prove that it’s just as dangerous—or perhaps even more so given that things live on the web forever.
For example, those pictures they sent, those inappropriate Facebook messages they posted, the random conversations they had with strangers online—they all live forever. These seemingly silly mistakes could, in fact, harm a teen for decades.
What teens tend not to realize is how vulnerable we are online. How connecting to an unsecured public WiFi network, for example, can provide a smorgasbord of private information that even the most inexperienced hacker can steal in minutes. There’s no telling the harm that could be done. And that’s not even mentioning the risk of cyberstalking, or that you’re 20 times more likely to be robbed while at your computer by a criminal based overseas than held up in the street.
We’ve probably all read about tips to protect teens online. Things like monitoring their online activities, restricting their social media usage, using parental controls to help shield what they see, and so on.
But the most important message is simple, and yet so often neglected: Talk to your kids.
Have the conversation. Be open, be honest. Be approachable. Let them know you understand that times have changed and that you appreciate they’re growing up in a technological world we never did. By explaining the inherent dangers online, and by keeping an open dialogue with them, you’d be amazed at what a difference this alone could make.
Arm them with the information and the tools they need to protect themselves. Because the problem isn’t that kids are too dumb to understand the risks they face online. It’s that we, as parents, aren’t doing a good enough job teaching them.
For back to school this year, talk to your kids about online safety. It’s a conversation you’ll never regret.
If you’re looking for a tool to protect your teen’s privacy online, conceal their identity and location, as well as secure their devices from hackers and malware, consider Hotspot Shield. Hotspot Shield is a free internet security app for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. It’s trusted by 600 million people across the globe.