Help your teen navigate online

Help your teen navigate online

I see my son, a college-going student, use social media in myriad ways. YouTube videos of varying themes, ranging from the ‘5 best football goals of the season’ to many of Barack Obama’s rousing speeches run galore on his smartphone. He participates in online lectures and amuses himself with humour shows. He connects and chats with his school friends and his cousins abroad. Accessibility, connectivity and participation converge on the little device in empowering him with knowledge and in taking him places. Yet, until a year ago, when he was still 18, I was wary of his online activities and the many risks our teens are often exposed to.   

Consider these dangers that our children face online: they could become victims of cybercrimes such as cyberbullying, sexting, phishing and smishing; they could be stalked by
cyber-predators who could lure them into scams or downloading malware; and the gravest of all, they could succumb to the habit of uploading posts on social media that can come back to haunt them in later years.

All of these evils often leave permanent psychological scars on children who are said to be spending as much as nine hours a day on social media.   

Be aware

Despite the many benefits of technology and social media, it is against this harsh reality that the role of parents in monitoring, regulating and encouraging good social media practices of their teens become non-negotiable.

Through their involvement, the staggering unproductive hours spent in the virtual world can successfully be morphed into an enriching experience for minors.

Teenagers with addictive tendencies to social media frequently exhibit behaviour such as avoiding face-to-face interaction, feelings of prolonged anxiety, withdrawal from social get-togethers, drop in class grades, constant phubbing, which is a phenomenon when teens snub those next to them by looking down at their phone, and end up in rebellious situations or conflicts at home.  

Parents therefore need to be aware and wholly engaged in the online activities of their minor children on a regular basis. Statistics show 71% of teens admitting to hiding their online activities from parents fearing disapproval.

When parents become aware of the online life of their children, it will open up better communication between them and this will help teens navigate online prudently, avoiding the many cybercrimes aimed at them. 

Experts suggest several approaches to monitoring and assisting teenagers in their preoccupation with social media.

They recommend the installation of apps on the teen’s phone to set a damper on excessive online activity. Some features, such as setting phone time limits, filtering web content coming into the phone and enabling tracking of calls, texts, GPS and social media activity, are available in many apps that parents can download. 

Role of parents

Parents are also advised to be mindful of the amount of time and nature of activities that children are indulging in. They could in turn sign up and visit the social media that their children are part of to get a sense of how the site impacts its users on a daily basis. As teens can get carried away with popularity coming from the number of likes, shares and comments, the involvement of parents can help keep the whole situation in perspective for their children. 

Eventually, the best help parents can offer their children is to encourage them to trade the smartphone and social media for real, lasting, life experiences every now and then.

Children should be encouraged by their parents to go outdoors, play a sport or pick up an absorbing hobby. The role of face-to-face communication, physical activities and time spent with family and friends in moulding teenagers into happy, young adults should be emphasised and instilled in them.     

Certainly, social media can inform and educate a child on what is happening around the world. Even so, for youngsters on the threshold of adulthood, it can also be a dangerous
place that entices them with addictive and harmful indulgences.

The key is for parents to be aware of the blurring line that separates the benefits from the dangers, and to be engaged enough to chalk out this line for their growing teens until they are old enough to take
judicious decisions.