When it comes to getting into dangerous situations online, teenagers are at a special risk. More advanced than younger children but lacking the maturity and experience of most adults, teens are likely to accidentally compromise their safety online or to experiment with risky behavior.
Parents should know and understand that the teenage brain is still developing. Every teen is different, but certain age-specific traits make parental monitoring absolutely essential for the teenager who uses social networking, online gaming, or cell phones.
Unmonitored teens are prone to questionable Internet behaviors for a variety of developmental reasons, such as:
- Low risk perception. Teens are more likely to think that nothing bad will happen to them, and find it more difficult to imagine long-term or permanent consequences to their actions. Even if they know they’re engaging in unsafe behavior (like sharing too much identifying information with online strangers,) they still may not believe it could really come back to hurt them.
- Poor hazard detection. Parents might see dozens of red flags in a given situation, but those danger signs might go completely unnoticed by teenagers. For example, teens may not think twice before clicking on a suspicious-looking link in a Twitter comment or accepting a friend request from a stranger.
- Poor impulse control. Teens tend to act in the moment, posting a bullying comment or sending a sext before thinking through all of the potential implications. They are less likely to stop and think about the consequences before hitting ‘send.’
- Risk-taking behavior. With their sense of invincibility and their sometimes poor judgment, teens are notorious risk-takers. They may experiment with dangerous places, people, or behavior online to feel more grown up, explore their identity, satisfy their curiosity, rebel against authority, or fit in with peers.
- Peer pressure. Because most teenagers will go to great lengths to seek acceptance from their peers, they can also be susceptible to behaving in ways they ordinarily wouldn’t. For instance, many teens cite pressure from friends, boyfriends, and girlfriends as a prime reason for sexting.
- Lack of experience. Despite their technological savvy, teens can still be naïve when it comes to their own online safety, underestimating how easily someone can identify them with a few pieces of personal information or how quickly an embarrassing picture can go viral.
- Boredom. Teens looking for something to do can sometimes find their way into trouble, and it’s no different on the Internet. Cyberbullying or meeting strangers online can start with an unsupervised teen with too much time on their hands.
Risk factors like these make it critical that all parents monitor their teenager’s Internet behavior. Of course different teens will require different types of monitoring and supervision.
Depending on your teen, you may feel the need to closely monitor every text message, or you may be comfortable with a broad picture of their online activity and looser supervision. A teen’s level of online privacy should depend on how they’ve safely and responsibly used the Internet in the past.
Tim Woda is a passionate advocate for protecting children from today’s scariest digital dangers – cyberbullying, sexting and online predators. He is the co-founder of uKnow.com, developers of uKnowKids.