Parents a generation ago didn’t have to worry about online predators, but today’s parents need to be aware. What are the signs your teen is getting in over her (or his) head in social media? How do we keep our kids safe?
1) Examine your relationship with your child.
Do you know how they spend their time, and with whom? Do you have an open line of communication? Does your son or daughter volunteer information or do you have to pull it out of them?
Every adolescent is different, and every parent/child relationship is distinct. But these are good questions to ask yourself, because protecting your child starts with really and truly knowing them and their vulnerabilities. Most importantly, if your teen was in trouble, would he/she come to you?
2) Based on the level of transparency in your relationship with your child, consider what safety measures are necessary.
If your teen can (and does) approach you with problems, then you’re less likely to need absolute transparency in terms of social media. For example, you might not need to monitor your child’s Facebook page or Twitter account closely if you’re already talking a fair amount. But if your child is not very forthcoming, you may need to insist upon absolute access. You might even need to block some sites if you don’t feel they have the maturity to engage safely.
3) BUT before you take those steps, think about why your teen isn’t sharing more voluntarily.
You can lay down rules, but you can’t mandate closeness. And having a strong emotional bond with your child is the greatest protective force at your disposal. Think about ways to strengthen that bond by being more approachable and a more empathetic listener.
4) Be attuned, and notice changes in your child’s demeanor, behavior, and circle of friends.
For example, if your teen was formerly outgoing and now only wants to be online, something’s wrong. And if your teen no longer seems to care about appearance, or there are other signs of a self-esteem blow, that’s another warning sign.
Online predators feed on hurt and isolation. They want to find someone who doesn’t have friends to warn them.
5) Foster healthy self-esteem in your child, and a strong self-protective instinct.
A teenager who feels good about himself or herself is less likely to fall for a line of b.s. That means encouraging your child’s involvement in pro-social activities, clubs, and hobbies. It means developing and affirming their natural talents. Helping them to distinguish friends who elevate them from those who knock them down.
Teenagers can overestimate their own savvy. They may have significant blind spots when someone comes along to tell them how special they are. The ability to see through to others’ true motivations can come through painful experience. You might have that kind of wisdom to impart. Just be careful not to condescend. An open dialogue is the best place to start.
This is a theme from my novel, “Don’t Try to Find Me”, which features a 14-year-old runaway named Marley and the family that’s desperate to bring her home (though all have more than a few skeletons in their closets.) You can find an excerpt on my Facebook author page. Thanks for reading!
Teens online image available from Shutterstock.