Keeping Teenagers Safe Online Tips and resources for parenting teens in a 24/7 connected world
The Internet has brought many benefits, in particular for teenagers, such as doing research on any topic or quickly connecting with friends & family. Despite all the advantages, the online world also raises safety concerns from cyberbullying, fraud and sexual predators.
Since technology changes so quickly, it can be challenging for parents to keep up with the risks and know how to prepare their teenagers. According to a 2018 study (Social Media, Social Life), 54% of teenagers between 13-17 reported that if their parents knew what actually happened on social media, they would be a lot more worried about it. To help parents out, we have gathered the best tips and resources to make them aware of the dangers and ways to protect their teens in the online world.
What dangers do teenagers face online?
a) Phishing / Online Scams
There are constant attempts by cybercriminals to steal money or personal information. Phishing usually involves emails or websites that look legitimate but are really a way for fraudsters to capture important data. This can also be done with malicious text messages called “smishing” that encourage recipients to click links that will take them to fraudulent sites.
There are also more robust online scams that can involve emails, websites, phone calls and text messages. While most teenagers are not going to fall for Nigerian princes offering them a million dollars, they might fall for scams that offer prizes they can relate to such as gift cards in exchange for completing surveys or free games downloads.
b) Cyber Bullying
Social media and gaming platforms make it easy for bullies to harass their victims 24/7 while maintaining their anonymity. A 2016 report from the Cyberbullying Research Center indicates that 33.8% of students between 12 and 17 were victims of cyberbullying in their lifetime. Online bullying can range from negative private messages to public posts with embarrassing information. This bullying can be particularly harmful since it doesn’t just happen during school hours, it can take place all day and night.
c) Sexual Predators
Sexual and other predators can stalk teenagers online, taking advantage of their desire to be liked or romanced to build trust and, perhaps lure them into dangerous situation. These predators also lurk on social media and game sites that appeal to teens and look for opportunities to start conversations based on common topics – “Hey, looks like you like playing Fortnight – so do I, do you want to play together?”
d) Downloading malware, ransomware or viruses
Malware is computer software installed without the knowledge of permission of the victim and performs harmful actions on the computer. This can include more malicious ransomware that can hijack your data or whole computer, usually requiring a payment to regain access. Teenagers are often targeted for these types of malware on gaming or social media sites as free plug-in or music and video sites with free downloads.
How can I protect my teen from online dangers?
Constantly evolving technology can make it intimidating for parents to stay informed about online dangers and know how to protect their teens. Thankfully, there are many resources and tips available to guide parents on cybersecurity and children & teens:
- Have the technology talk
Preparing teenagers to be safe online is similar to learning to drive a car. Most cars can travel at speeds way above speed limit and be dangerous if used recklessly, so teaching responsible use is the key to safety. Part of this talk should include setting up an appropriate online profile and knowing what content is appropriate to share with others or post.
- Start early with education and setting expectations
It starts with a safety discussion when parents give their teen a device that connects to the Internet, whether it’s a tablet, smartphone or laptop. It’s important that teenagers understand what is expected and the rules they need to follow in order to have access to the Internet. Parents need to keep in mind that while it’s easy to create a laundry list of rules, if the rules are impractical to follow or enforce, then the rules lose meaning and your teenager may become disengaged. Before setting a rule, think about whether it will significantly improve your teen’s safety and how you can keep the lines of communication on the issue open
- Get educated
Parents who understand the biggest risks and engage in discussions with their children are much more likely to shut down cybercriminals before they can ever have a chance to attack. Here are some Canadian resources about cybersecurity, specifically when dealing with kids and teenagers:
- Get Cyber Safe – A national public awareness campaign created to educate Canadians about Internet security and the simple steps they can take to protect themselves online
- Public Safety Canada – Cyberbullying Information for Teens – This national agency coordinates security and safety measures across all federal departments and has come up with some great resources about Cyberbullying
- Media Smarts – A Canadian not-for-profit charitable organization for digital and media literacy has put together some resources specifically for teen cybersecurity
- Government of Canada Cybersecurity – Learn about the potential risks of your online activities and how you can stay safe when you are connected.
- Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada – Online Privacy Resources