Why internet safety matters for teenagers
Teenagers use digital technology for everyday activities like keeping in touch with friends on social media, relaxing and doing schoolwork. They also go online to look for support for physical or mental health problems and sometimes to experiment with ways of expressing themselves.
Because they’re online so much without your supervision, teenagers need to be able to identify acceptable and unacceptable online content independently. They also need to know how to behave respectfully online and avoid online risks.
Internet safety risks for teenagers
There are 4 main kinds of internet risks for teenagers.
For teenagers, these risks include seeing material that they might find upsetting, disgusting or otherwise uncomfortable, especially if they encounter it accidentally. This material might include:
- pornography or sexually explicit content in music videos, movies or online games
- real or simulated violence
- hate sites
- terrorist sites
- misinformation and fake news
- harmful user-generated content like sites about drug use, self-harm, suicide or negative body image.
These risks include encountering adults posing as children online, strangers who persuade teenagers to send them photos or videos of themselves or meet them in real life, and online scammers.
Conduct risks include behaving in inappropriate, hurtful or disrespectful ways or being the victim of this kind of behaviour. Examples include:
- misusing people’s passwords and impersonating people online
- making unauthorised purchases using other people’s financial details
- creating content that reveals information about other people
- having trouble regulating online time, which can develop into problem internet use.
Contract risks include teenagers signing up to unfair contracts, subscriptions or terms and conditions that they aren’t aware of or don’t fully understand. As a result, teenagers might:
- be open to identity theft or fraud
- get inappropriate marketing messages or scam emails
- have their personal data collected from apps and devices.
Practical precautions to protect teenagers from internet safety risks
Your child is probably an independent internet user now, but it’s important to keep helping your child to identify and manage internet safety risks.
Here are basic things you can do to protect your child from internet safety risks:
- Create a family media plan. It’s best to negotiate the plan with your child. Your plan could cover things like screen-free areas in your house and appropriate online behaviour.
- Talk with your child about upsetting and inappropriate content. Open and non-judgmental conversations can encourage your child to talk with you if they have a disturbing online experience.
- Stay in touch with what your child is doing online and how much time they’re spending online. This will help you to spot when your child might be having problems.
- Ask your child to ‘friend’ you on social media. Younger teenagers might be OK with this, but older teenagers might prefer not to friend you.
- Encourage and remind your child to explore and use the internet safely. For example, it’s OK to remind your child to check privacy settings.
- Find out how to make complaints about offensive or illegal online content.
- Avoid using filters or other internet safety tools. If teenagers are using filters, they might not be developing the skills they need to avoid disturbing content. They might take risks either accidentally or on purpose when they use the internet in unfiltered environments.
Internet safety precautions are important. But it’s also important to encourage your child to use the internet safely and responsibly and respond positively to online risks. Good ways to do this include being a role model, talking about online content, and checking in with your child on privacy issues and online purchases.
Being a role model for internet use
Children – including teenagers – do as you do, so being a role model for your child is a powerful and positive way to guide your child’s behaviour when it comes to internet use.
You can be a role model by using social media and the internet in the way you want your child to use it. For example, you might ensure that your social media posts are respectful, and balance screen use with other social and recreational options.
It’s also good to model positive technology use like putting your phone away when talking face to face with others.
Talking about online content
Talking openly about your own social media and internet use and encouraging your child to do the same is important. It helps your child feel they can talk to you if they have a bad online experience.
You can get your child talking by asking them to explain the apps, games and content they’re interested in. You might say, ‘Snapchat posts disappear quickly, but a screenshot can capture what’s been said. Is that right?’ Or ‘Talk me through the differences between YouTube and TikTok’.
It’s good to encourage your child to develop a sense of what they like and don’t like online and to explain their choices to friends. For example, you could say, ‘It’s great that you chose not to get involved in that online argument’.
Talking about trends, online hoaxes and misinformation will help your child to develop the ability to tell whether an app, post or website has good-quality information. You and your child can find out how to recognise, avoid and report scams on Scamwatch. You can also use the ABC’s Fact Check to check the accuracy of claims by politicians, public figures, advocacy groups and institutions.
Taking care with privacy, personal information and personal safety
You can help your child look at and choose appropriate privacy, location and safety settings on devices, apps and social media, and talk about why this is important. For example, you might say, ‘Employers often do online searches to find out about job applicants. Make sure that anything you make public is OK for future employers to see’.
It’s also important for your child to be careful about sharing personal information. Remind your child not to give out their name, address or other identifying information to people they don’t know in person. Your child also shouldn’t send images or videos of themselves to people they don’t know.
It’s important for your child to know about the risks of using public wi-fi to access their accounts. You can explain that even though the wi-fi might be at a location that they trust, like a shopping centre, the wi-fi is public and therefore can easily be hacked by cybercriminals.
As your child gets older, online dating might come up. Key safety issues include your child sending sexts or nude photos of themselves to someone. These could be forwarded without your child’s consent. Your child should also be very careful about meeting up with people from dating apps.
You might find that your child knows more than you do about privacy settings and data collection on YouTube, streaming services, gaming platforms and fitness devices. You can make the most of this by asking your child to share what they know and then working together to adjust the settings on all your devices, services and apps.
Making online purchases
If your child is starting to shop online, it’s important for them to use reputable shopping sites, check customer reviews are real, and look into transaction and security software. Never pay if the site takes only alternative currency like gift cards or cryptocurrency.
You could talk with your child about shopping online, and explain the risks associated with online transactions. For example, you might say, ‘Have you done an online search and checked the online ratings to make sure it’s a reputable site? You can also message or email the company before making a purchase. I can help you do that’.