By Raising Children Network
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In a recent survey, 40% of teenagers reported they ‘always’ or ‘sometimes’ shared computer passwords with friends, even though this makes it possible for others to pose as them online.
Teenagers spend an average of between one and three hours online each day. You might worry that this is bad for your child, but being part of the online world offers advantages too.

What teenagers get out of being cybercitizens

Teenagers see the online environment as a place to share, create and learn.

When they’re online, teenagers can be social and collaborative. For example, websites like Facebook are social forums that let teenagers keep up with local and long-distance friendships. The ‘culture of sharing’ on the internet also helps teenagers feel connected to a larger global community, and can even improve their existing relationships.

The internet offers teenagers opportunities to be expressive. They can create their own online worlds by joining groups, commenting on the online profiles of their peers, and posting photos and videos of themselves and their friends.

Finally, the internet lets teenagers be proactive. It can give them good access to news and health information, and many turn to the internet first to find out about themselves and the world.

How to be a safe and responsible ‘cybercitizen’

There are ways to encourage your child to be safe online. Start by talking together about the following issues:

  • Behaviour: as a general guideline, if your child wouldn’t say or do something in front of a live audience, she shouldn’t say or do it online.
  • Respectful online communities: encourage your child to treat online friends with as much respect as those he meets face to face and to avoid any online bullying behaviour.
  • Photos of your child: it’s best if you can get your child to agree not to post provocative photos of herself or others. It’s also smart to avoid posing for inappropriate photos in real life (such as at parties), because someone else might post them online without your child’s permission.
  • Other photos and images: some phones and cameras add data to photos that identify where and when they were taken. If your child isn’t careful, he could be sharing more details than he’d planned.
  • Tone and feelings in digital communications: it’s often hard to ‘read’ emotion in emails, and jokes can easily be misinterpreted. Using emoticons like smiley faces can help.
  • Identity: encourage your child to be cautious about identity, because not everyone online is who they say they are.
  • Rude or nasty comments on profile pages: your child should delete any nasty comments on her profile page.
  • Online ‘frenemies’: your child can block or ‘unfriend’ people who don’t treat him with respect online. This will send the message that it’s not OK to mistreat or bully someone online.
  • Online information: share only as much as necessary. It’s not compulsory to enter your year of birth, mobile number, email address or city on all online forms.
  • Privacy settings: your child needs to keep settings up to date on social networking sites, so her profile isn’t publicly available. It’s also important to keep an eye on the privacy settings on sites that let users post their location. For example, it’s a good idea for your child to make sure only her friends can see her ‘checking in’ at a cafe or shop.
  • Pop-ups: your child should be careful about clicking any pop-ups that appear on websites.

Risky online behaviour
It’s easy to feel anonymous online, and impulsive teenagers sometimes say or do things on the internet that they would never say or do in person. But photos, comments and videos shared online are much harder to get rid of than in real life.

In fact, this kind of content can remain online permanently. Uploading content to the internet creates an ‘online reputation’, or digital footprint, which is very hard to change or erase.

This goes for digital content about other people as well as content about your child. You can talk to your child about not forwarding nasty or humiliating emails, photos or text messages about someone else, and encourage him to talk to you or another trusted adult if he or someone he knows is being bullied or attacked online.

If all else fails, encourage your child to remember the ‘nanna rule’: ‘If you wouldn’t want your nanna to see it, don’t put it online’.

Concerns and facts about teenagers and internet use

You might be concerned about the following issues in relation to your child’s internet use. It helps to know some facts:

  • Online harassment or cyberbullying: this can be a problem for teenagers online, so read about steps to take in our article on cyberbullying.
  • Paedophilia: fortunately, cases of paedophiles trying to contact teenagers online are rare.
  • Online relationships versus real-life friendships: most teenagers do a good job of balancing time online with real-world interests such as school, family and sport.
  • Internet addiction: a recent study found that nearly 80% of surveyed teenagers said they ‘never’ or only ‘sometimes’ had a hard time staying away from the internet for several days at a time.
Read more about keeping your child safe online in our articles on internet safety and sexting.
  • Last updated or reviewed 13-05-2013
  • Acknowledgements Content in this article was developed in collaboration with Tena Davies, psychologist.