Navigating Online Safety for Teens

Sextortion is just one of many traps threatening internet safety for teens. Caught in His Web is a Lifetime movie based on true events released earlier this year. In it, three teen girls are coerced into sextortion by a relentless cyberbully named Blake. 

According to the FBI, sextortion is a serious crime that occurs when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if you don’t provide them images of a sexual nature, sexual favors, or money.

In the movie, the cyberbully is eventually “unmasked” with the help of the police and other girls coming forward. But not all teens are so lucky. 64% of victims block offenders from contacting them online but 45% of them said it didn’t stop the attacks. Most victims are too ashamed to seek help and many were first attacked at 13 or younger.

Let’s pause for a minute and identify other key terms surrounding online dangers for tweens and teens.

  • Cyberbullying: online harassment that can happen 24/7 on your teens’ social media, email, texts, and instant messaging (IM)
  • Sexting: sending or receiving photos of inappropriate or nude content via text message. It also includes suggestive banter.
  • Identity theft: Cybercriminals can take your teen’s clean slate of credit and open up unauthorized accounts that can follow them for years. 
  • Pornography: Nude pictures or video your child may be receiving, sending or participating in against their will
  • Online predators: People who assume false identities online to groom teens for sexual exploitation or human trafficking. 

The internet is a tool. If we want our teens to use it responsibly, we must commit to teaching them its dangers. 

As teens mature and their minds develop, they learn new ways to interpret and understand face-to-face and online interpersonal interactions. With the increase in child suicides related to online bullying and sextortion – parents must be vigilant in protecting their children. 

Parents can advocate for internet safety with teens while giving them the space they need to explore their world. 

How do I teach my teen about internet safety?

Here’s a step-by-step guide.

Step 1: Start conversations about online safety

Keep communication about internet safety open and frequent between you and your teen. It’s never to early or too late to educate on teen internet safety. 

Step 2: Create safe spaces for teens to talk about what they are seeing, experiencing, and curious about

Allow your teen to ask you questions about what they encounter online. Be prepared to get uncomfortable. You’re helping your child identify potential online danger, which won’t always feel good.

Step 3: Form an agreement about what behaviors are acceptable (and what consequences will be if the agreement is violated)

Safewise encourages parents to clearly outline their expectations for online behavior and identify internet safety rules that will help protect their teen.

You might instruct your teen to:

  • Not give out their personal information online (birthday, address, phone number or social security number)
  • Not to click unknown or suspicious links
  • Not to accept friend requests from strangers
  • Not to post an overwhelming amount of pictures online
  • Not to let friends use their personal laptops, tablets or phones

Once you’ve determined acceptable online behavior for your household, don’t forget to establish consequences for breaking the rules. Examples of consequences could be taking away their phone, suspending home wifi access or deleting social media accounts. 

Step 4: Setup ways to keep tabs on your teen’s online activity 

Look for apps and website blockers to help you monitor your teen’s online activity. Apps like Bark or Famisafe are great ways to ensure your teen stays safe while using the internet.

Raising Children also recommends being the role model for how you want your child to interact online and keeping internet devices in public areas in the home.

You can avoid inappropriate posts on your social media accounts and set up the family laptop in high-traffic areas like the living room or kitchen.

Schools can also join the fight for teen internet safety. THORN encourages educators to get ahead of the problem by 1) deciding how they’ll handle disclosures, 2)developing a script to guide the conversation, and 3)adding an internet safety curriculum to the classroom. For their complete list, click here.

We expect things to be okay at the end of movies. Data tells us happy endings don’t always happen. Help your child understand the threats to teen internet safety as you continue helping their development into their best healthy selves. 

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Willaim Wright

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