When it comes to keeping your teenager safe on the Internet today, there’s more to consider than monitoring the way they “surf the web.” Most teenagers have an iPhone or iPad, or Android phone or tablet, and “hanging out online” typically means using a chat app like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.
In our last article we looked at some basic steps you can take to keep your teenager safe online. In this article, we’ll be looking at specifically how to keep your teenager safe when it comes using chat apps. Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are popular examples, however the steps we recommend here apply to all chat apps, so whatever comes next, you’ll be prepared.
We always recommend that the first step is to have an honest talk with your teenager about the dangers of being online. Our first tip is to help you frame the conversation with your teenager when it comes to chat apps.
#1 - Talk To Your Teenager about Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying happens online, but it’s a real thing with real consequences for teenagers. Unlike bullying in the past, where a teenager would get a break after a bullying incident, cyberbullying can be persistent, with bullies tracking their victims across a number of sites. It sounds serious and it is.
Like traditional bullying, there are more actors in the drama than simply the bully and the victim. Other teenagers can play a part by piling on the bullies attacks, playing the defender, or simply participating as a spectator. It’s important that your teenager knows that any participation is a problem and they should report cyberbullying whenever they see it.
In our last article we mentioned using anonymous reporting tools to maintain your teenager’s privacy when reporting bullying and also when asking or posting about sensitive subjects online.
#2 - Create an “IRL Rule”
IRL means “in real life,” and it’s the opposite of meeting someone online. Consider setting an “IRL rule” for your teenagers when it comes to Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, they can only chat with people they’ve met in real life. This rule can really protect your teenager when it comes to the worst threats online such as sexual predators.
Another type of “IRL rule” you can create is: your teenager can chat with people they haven’t met online, but when they start chatting more often, they need to setup a time to meet in real life, at a public place where you can be. In case their chat buddy lives somewhere far away, then ask to speak to their chat buddy’s parents by phone to put your mind at ease.
In case their buddy doesn’t want to chat, or it’s “not cool” to talk to their parents, they tell your teenager they can no longer chat with that person. As a parent it’s better to be “lame” and on the safe side than have your teenagers chatting at length with someone they’ve never met.
#3 - Limit the Use of their Phone or Tablet
For many parents, this may already be rule #1. Preventing your teenager from getting too wrapped up in technology is great way to keep them from getting wrapped up in the dangers of going online. Encourage them to participate in activities and hangout with their friends in supervised situations.
As much fun as technology can be, remind your teenager of the many fun things that don’t involve a screen. Showing them how to change a tire, frame a spare room in the basement, sew their own dress, or plant a garden, are all great examples of real world activities that as teenagers get older, they are more capable of doing; and, these activities provide an opportunity for parents and teenagers to bond.
#4 - Maintain Anonymity and Block Immediately
We mentioned earlier about using anonymous reporting and posting. Another way your teenager can remain anonymous and protect their safety is by not publicly talking about their location or specific details about where they are going and when. Tell them not to reveal their address, phone number or other personal details that could allow someone to identify them.
Be very clear with your teenager that whenever someone sends a message to them which is inappropriate or offensive, tell them to block that person immediately. Bullies and predators will often prey on the weakest targets. The great thing about chat apps is they all have a block feature. Tell your teenager, “don’t get involved, don’t respond, simply block and move on.”
We want our teenagers to have the latest technology so they’ll be prepared for the future. We also want them to keep up with their friends too. By keeping an open dialog with your teenager about the dangers of chat apps, and helping them develop healthy relationships in real life, you can create an environment of safety and trust. By following through with the specific tips above you can keep your teenager even safer when they chat online, with Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp or whatever’s next.