Should teens be trusted online?

If you’re able to read this, you’re probably familiar with online culture and its many, many challenges to parents. Basic common sense should empower you to at least be in the loop with the online goings on that your kids may be exposed to.  I took it upon myself to set up a Facebook Page for Hannah a few years ago to promote our book. This necessitated her needing an email address as well. Eventually she got her first BlackBerry device, which lead to instant messaging. I went to great pains to explain to her the possible dangers lurking online.

Unsolicited invitations from all kinds of cretins are common place and if you’re new to it or too young to understand the implications, it can get you into all kinds of trouble. I regularly scan my own “friend” profiles on my promotional Facebook page just to make sure I’m attracting the right kind of exposure for my columns, TV show (available on YouTube) and books. I’ve had a few interesting surprises, invitations from porn stars, con-men interested in starting new businesses, radical religious forums, sexual chat forums are just but some of the undesirables who’ve stumbled onto my page.

The sad truth is that there are very real and very dangerous subcultures out there. Even on BlackBerry I would receive unsolicited friend requests. Heaven knows where they get your pin from, but it happens.

All of Hannah’s paths to online exposure are filtered through my own device and I’m automatically notified of any messages or activity. Since she’s entered the crazy, emotional teen phase I have been keen observer of her updates and profile changes, the daily photo changes and status messages are a dead give-away to her state of mind. I often don’t interfere, because teens need to have the freedom to express their creativity.

Fortunately we have the kind of bond that was forged with a very strong platform during the formative years (0-7). However, every once in a while, I would send a cautionary message about a status or a photo to which I’ve always received a positive response.

The fact that her statuses and profile updates and photos are largely positive and motivational is very reassuring. The need for intervention from me is usually sparked by an inappropriate show of emotion, usually sad or angry emotion.

The point is, and it cannot be stressed enough, you have to be involved, you have to check it daily, you have to know, and you have to guide with love and protection.

Our parents never had this challenge to overcome, and while the age of the internet has brought with it many advantages, it has also meant we need to be more alert to its dangers.

The other important thing is to have access to their devices, you need to be able to check the photo files, video files, music clips etc, but it should not be punitive, it should be preventative. Hannah and I had a discussion about it before she received her device and she is acutely aware of what’s lurking out there, we often share motivational quotes and photos and we have no problem checking each other’s devices if we need to.

Do you know what’s lurking in your kid’s online device?

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

Read more by Marlon Abrahams

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