Updated: Jul 22, 2022
Ah, summer. The season of freedom and fun teens so desperately long for. But with all of this free time comes an increased use of technology in order for your teen to maintain their social life while away from friends.
It's no secret social media and apps have played a more demanding role in the way teens socialize for years now, but this shift was magnified by the recent pandemic, as socially-starved adolescents turned to their smartphones to stay connected. It's been widely reported that teens’ screen time more than doubled during the pandemic, averaging 7.7 hours per day (outside of virtual schooling!).
What's also concerning is the increase in transmission of nudes and other sexual content as teens resorted to exploring their sexual lives through devices, especially when this type of data is being shared before the age of consent and an awareness of potential life-changing impacts.
The Risks of Handling Personal Data Irresponsibly
Now that our daily experiences are documented and published in real-time, teens, whose decision-making centers are not yet fully formed, are much more likely to impulsively send or publish explicit content, not fully grasping the possible repercussions of such actions. While it is natural for highly hormonal teens to be exploring their sexuality, once these images are sent, the sender no longer has control over how the data is used, and who will see it.
Currently, the transmission of sexual images of a minor, and to a minor, are both illegal, and in some states, classified as a felony. But even if the teen is not legally punished for sexting, the existence of these images can have lasting consequences. Despite the legal risks to the person spreading explicit images, many teens have become victims of bullying and harassment when their image ends up in the wrong hands or is spread around their school or community.
Even if the images aren't being shared, but merely captured and saved in their camera roll, an attempt by your teen to delete them later from their device doesn't mean they vanish entirely and are unretrievable.
As a parent, it's challenging to guide your teen through these times and teach them responsible data handling when they are involved in activities you may not even be aware of. Oftentimes, our teens better understand the tech involved in these activities than we do, so their ability to hide them becomes an easy task. Even when we try to foster open dialogue with our teens, it can be difficult to stay in the know.
Many parents share this concern, which is why it’s important to inform ourselves about how our teens are using their tech. If we better understand how these apps work, we can better help our teens make good decisions when using them.
A Few Steps You Can Take Now
This can feel like an overwhelming feat, but thankfully, there is a wide range of steps that parents can take to open dialogue and implement safety measures that will greatly decrease the risks your teens will face online. Here are a couple of steps you can take right now:
Step 1 - Have the Conversation.
Experts suggest that as early as Middle School, it’s time to talk to your tween about risk factors present online, and the various ways that sending or receiving nude or explicit data can impact their lives. A good starting point is by asking your child what they already know. Most tweens are already aware of the existence of adult content on the internet and on their devices, and they may even have some anecdotes to share about times when this has happened in their school. Or maybe, through health education, they have already received an introduction to the topic. By letting your child lead the discussion, it will feel less like a lecture, and more like a team working towards common goals. You’ll want to discuss issues like consent and legal repercussions, as well as be frank with them about the steps you will be taking to monitor their online activity, ultimately guiding them to make smart choices while handling and making decisions on how to use their personal data. I have found that sometimes even naming things helps open dialogue. For example, “What do you know about sexting?” This may sound silly to your kids and even garner a giggle, but it might be just what the two of you need to begin a real conversation and get them to open up about some of the things they are dealing with.
Step 2 - Put parental controls in place!
Tech may have opened the door for these issues, but it has also stepped in to try to mitigate some of the damage. Here are some of the tools you may want to use to help keep your teens safe:
Bark: As a parent, I think Bark is an amazing tool for staying informed on what my kids are doing online. It's an app that allows you to monitor the content your child is sending and interacting with through email, youtube, and dozens of other social media apps and programs commonly used by tweens and teens. Definitely worth consideration!
Net Nanny: This app allows you to follow your child’s internet use with real-time alerts for sensitive content involving sex, suicide, weapons or bullying. You can also keep track of which apps your kids are using and when.
Smartphone and Tablet Device Settings: Apple, Amazon, and Android devices all have built-in parental controls where you can limit screen time, block access to certain apps and features, and disable web browsing. Apple devices have a built-in feature in the messaging app where outgoing and incoming images containing nudity will be filtered and blocked.
Communication is key here too. It is important to let your kids know, “Hey, we are going to start using this app to help keep you safe online. This is how it works and what we can see.” This will allow you to maintain trust with your kids and reassure them that you aren’t spying on them, but your intentions are to keep them safe. I always ask my kids, “What’s my number one job?” and they shout back “to keep us safe!”
With a healthy dose of communication, and by using the tools at your disposal, you can greatly reduce the dangers your teen is exposed to online, and even help better guide them in becoming a responsible data-handler as an adult.
If you are feeling unsure as to which of the many apps and programs might work best for you, or you are intimidated by the process, consider enlisting the help of tech experts who can give you peace of mind knowing your children are safe. Contact us today to see how one of our Personal IT specialists can help you design and implement effective web controls so you can rest easy knowing your teen is better protected online.