We're all aware that internet safety is an important issue. Unfortunately, what happens online is getting increasingly difficult to monitor.
As little as 10 years ago, the standard advice was to keep the computer in the family room so you could casually keep an eye on your child's online activity. This is already ridiculously outdated in a world where teenagers live on their phones and can access the internet from almost anywhere.
Knowing what's going on in the online space teens inhabit is the first step to helping your teen stay safe. Be aware of these and other things your teenager may be doing online:
1. Posting and/or viewing inappropriate photos
You probably feel sure your kid is not one of the 13 percent of teenagers who admit to posting nude photos of themselves online. Maybe you're right, but consider that statistic. If it's accurate, you can be fairly sure your teen knows other teens who post those photos. And your teen may have seen them, even if inadvertently.
2. Clicking inappropriate links
On the internet, you don't always know where you're going until you click or tap. Some seemingly innocent links might lead to malware, viruses or shocking topics.
Accidents happen, but this accident can have a big impact on a teenager, particularly if he/she feels guilty or even scared about what could happen next. Some teens worry that a parent (or even the police) will be able to access their computer/phone records. They worry they'll get blamed for what they clicked on, even if they weren't seeking anything bad.
3. Talking to predators
With most teens using social media sites and many of them connecting with people they don't know in person, it's never been easier for sexual predators to target our children.
Even if they're too sensible to be lured into a real-life meeting with someone they meet online, things can still get ugly. At best, they may be exposed to some unwelcome suggestions. As long as the interaction stays online, damage may be minimal. But, unfortunately, some teens do meet up with strangers posing as younger people.
4. Giving away too much personal information
Most teens know not to post their address online, but it's easy to get pulled into an online conversation and give away the name of your town or school.
A teenager may feel safe flirting on the internet with someone who claims to live four states away, especially if they think they're another teenager. But, again, they don't always know who they're talking to or where the other person actually lives.
The bullying takes many forms, from mild-taunting to serious threats, and often includes spreading malicious rumors or posting false information. Cyber bullying, like other forms of bullying, may be considered so normal it's rarely reported or not taken seriously if it is reported.
6. Bullying others
According to the statistics from i-SAFE, over 50 percent of teenagers also admit to having engaged in cyber bullying.
The problem with online interactions is that teenagers may feel anonymous and use that anonymity to bully others. Apart from the obvious fact that you wouldn't want your teen involved in causing distress to other kids, no one is quite as anonymous as they think they are online.
This seems mild compared to the other dangers on this list, but envying others can be at the root of much bigger problems. Teen depression is a significant issue, and, according to suicide.org, a teen takes his or her own life every 100 minutes. There is no one reason behind this, but technology probably isn't helping.
For a teenager who is already isolated and feels his/her life is desperately unhappy, watching other people's happy, friend-filled lives unfolding online can make things worse.
How can I help?
Generations of teenagers have felt their parents don't understand what it's like to be them. This generation has more reason than most to feel that way. Many of the issues they're dealing with simply didn't exist when their parents were teenagers.
As the internet becomes ever more accessible, it becomes more important than ever to keep communication channels open with our teenagers. Talk specifically with your teen about their online life and how to stay safe on social media and other public online forums.
If you're tempted to bury your head in the sand or assume your teen knows more about technology than you do, it's time to educate yourself so you can support your teenager.