How teenagers use media
Teenagers and adults often use media differently. Adults tend to use the internet to search for information or entertainment, whereas children usually first use the internet for entertainment, often to play online games.
But as they age, children use the internet differently, and more often. Many teenagers use the internet to talk with friends, and to share their ideas and creative outputs. It’s an important way for teenagers to connect with each other, socialise, and feel part of a peer group.
Teenagers are keen creators of content. Many use cameras, mobile phones and computers to upload and share items, such as videos and photos, on the internet. They also spend a lot of time watching content that has been created by other users, rather than the material produced by corporations or network television production companies.
Teenagers also use social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace to send and receive messages, and to share photos, videos, games and applications. Teenagers like to use online chat features to make social arrangements, keep in touch with friends and talk about things that are important to them.
Your child might also be writing or reading blogs to express and explore his opinions and thoughts on a wide range of topics.
Common concerns about teenagers and internet use
You might be concerned about your child’s safety on the internet. You can help keep your child safe by:
- talking to her regularly about what she’s doing to keep safe online
- encouraging her to talk to you if she’s experiencing social difficulties
- knowing the policies of your child’s school on cyberbullying and cybersafety.
Too much internet/computer use
Most teenagers don’t find it difficult to stay away from the internet for several days at a time. But excessive solitary media use – that is, if your child plays a lot of games online by himself – can lead to him becoming isolated and having less contact with friends and family. It might even aggravate existing attention disorders.
If you’re worried about the amount of time your child spends playing computer games, try the following:
- Ensure your child has lots of opportunities to take part in a wide range of physical and social activities.
- Set reasonable limits to internet or game use with your child, and negotiate consequences for not sticking to these limits.
- Agree on particular times of day that will be game-free.
- Encourage your child to play online multiplayer games that involve interacting with other people, rather than always playing solo games.
Some teenagers might spend a lot of time communicating with friends through online games or social networking sites. This is fine, but it’s a good idea to balance it with face-to-face social activities. Encourage your child to engage in a range of activities that get her up and moving, or that stimulate her thinking and creativity. For some ideas, read our article on extracurricular activities
Inappropriate and dangerous content
Your child is likely to be sometimes confronted with inappropriate and even dangerous content, either online or in traditional media. Children with older siblings are more likely to be exposed to content that isn’t appropriate for their developmental stage. This can also be an issue for older children with girlfriends or boyfriends, who may introduce them to content they normally wouldn’t see.
Learning to deal with these issues is an important skill for children as they move into adulthood.
You can help your child learn these skills by:
- talking to him about the kinds of content he comes across
- working with him to help him decide what content is appropriate, giving him ways of making sense of and dealing with violent or sexually explicit content.
Safe and responsible use of social networking sites
You can’t keep up with everything your child is doing online every day. But you can establish guidelines with your child about safe and responsible use of social networking sites.
- Check that the social networking sites your child wants to use are appropriate for her age. For example, to have a Facebook account you need to be 13 or older.
- Negotiate some guidelines with your child about when it’s OK to use social networking sites – for example, you might both decide that the chat feature needs to be turned off when it’s time to do homework.
- Negotiate with your child about what’s an appropriate amount of time to spend online. Software programs that can limit the amount of time spent online might be useful for some families.
- Your child will have a profile on each social networking site he uses. Talk with him about what personal information is OK to include in an online profile – for example, it’s not a good idea for him to share his school, phone number or date of birth.
- Regularly check the privacy settings on social networking sites, then ask your child to update her page accordingly. Facebook occasionally changes its default privacy settings, sometimes revealing more private information than users had intended. Note that Facebook’s default privacy setting allows everyone on the internet to see your child’s photos, videos and status updates (not just the people who are friends with your child), although this default setting is more restricted for under-18s than for adults.
- Encourage your child to select the ‘friends only’ privacy setting on each section of his Facebook account (including selecting that option for each photo album he posts). This will stop your child’s information from being publicly available.
- Your child should keep her passwords and log-in details private and secret from her friends. She should also make sure she logs out after using public computers, such as at a library.
Inappropriate content and comment
- Talk with your child about considering his reputation and those of his peers when uploading photos and making comments. As a general guideline, if your child wouldn’t do or say something in front of a live audience, he shouldn’t put it on his page. This also goes for images, videos and information about friends.
- Your child should be aware of the consequences that might occur if she posts provocative or embarrassing photos of himself or others online. She might also like to think about what might happen if she poses for inappropriate photos in real life, such as at parties. Read our article on sexting for more information.
- Encourage your child to be careful with photos that he uploads – some phones and cameras add data to the photo that identifies where it was taken.
- It’s important to be respectful when chatting or commenting online. It can be hard to ‘read’ emotion in written comments on social networking pages, and jokes can easily be misinterpreted. Encourage your child to be mindful of what she writes and how others might interpret it. Using emoticons like smiley faces can help others understand what your child means. Just rereading what she’s written before posting can help too.
- Keep in mind that anything your child uploads onto the web can be considered permanent – years from now, someone with the right skills could find information or images your child put up.
- Encourage your child to only accept ‘friend requests’ if he’s sure of the other person’s identity – that is, if he knows the person really is who they say they are.
- Talk to your child about what to do if she wants to meet an online friend she doesn’t know in real life. She should only meet the person in a safe public place, such as a café, with a parent or a responsible older sibling or family member present.
- Encourage your child to always report abuse – on most sites, this is as easy as clicking a ‘report abuse’ button – and to tell a trusted adult about it.
- Encourage your child to keep privacy settings up to date for sites that let him post where he is – for example, when ‘checking in’ at a café or shop.
Cyberbullying (or online bullying) is using modern communication technology to deliberately and repeatedly harrass, humiliate, embarrass, torment, threaten, pick on or intimidate someone.
Cyberbullying happens in lots of different ways – by mobile phone, text messages, email, or through social networking sites such as Facebook. Examples of cyberbullying include sending anonymous threatening emails, spreading rumours on the school e-bulletin board to break up friendships, or setting up an unkind or unpleasant fake social networking account using real photos and contact details.
How to spot cyberbullying
Cyberbullying can be tough to spot. Many young people who are being bullied don’t want to tell teachers or parents, perhaps because they feel ashamed or they worry about losing their computer privileges at home.
As a parent, you might find it hard to keep up with the different technologies your child uses. Or you might not know how to bring up the subject of cyberbullying.
Some warning signs that your child might be the victim of cyberbullying include things such as your child:
- being upset during or after using the internet
- withdrawing from friends and activities
- being more moody than usual, or showing obvious changes in behaviour, sleep or appetite
- spending much longer than usual online, or refusing to use the computer at all
- exiting or clicking out of a computer activity if a person walks by
- avoiding school or group gatherings
- bringing home lower marks than usual
- ‘acting out’ in anger at home
- having trouble sleeping
- feeling sick or complaining of frequent headaches or stomach aches.
Helping teens handle cyberbullying
If teenagers are being bullied online, it’s great for them to feel they have some power to resolve the problem on their own. These six steps are a good way for your child to G.E.T. R.I.D. of the bully:
Go block or delete the person engaging in cyberbullying. Blocking from friend lists helps stop the person engaging in cyberbullying from posting or uploading offensive content about your child. If it’s a text message or call, you can call the service provider and have the calls/texts monitored. If necessary, the service provider can even contact the sender, since mobile phone holders breech their contract if they use their phone to bully. If necessary, you can change the phone number.
Ensure you keep evidence of bullying. Save and print out any bullying messages (use the print screen key, at the top right of most keyboards).
Tell someone. Sharing feelings with a parent, older sibling, relative, teacher or close friend will help keep your child from feeling isolated.
Report abuse. Reporting bullying to web administrators is usually as easy as clicking on a ‘report abuse’ link on a website. The website will remove the offensive content. There could also be consequences for the person engaging in bullying. If your child has been threatened, he should also report it to the local police.
Ignore bullying behaviour. This means not responding aggressively to taunts. It’s OK for your child to tell the person engaging in bullying to stop, but they shouldn’t try to fight fire with fire.
Delete the bullying message (after saving a copy), and don’t forward via text or send chat logs to others.
You might be interested in reading our Parenting in Pictures guide to stopping cyberbullying
. You could also read over it with your child while discussing what to do if she ever comes across cyberbullying.
Technology rules and restrictions
In this short video, parents and teenagers together discuss the family rules that apply to technology, media use and screen time. Issues include time restrictions on computer use, trusting teenagers to use the internet responsibly, and privacy issues when using chat rooms and other social media, such as Facebook.