Most of us would agree that the internet has proven to be a fantastic resource for research and learning. It has allowed us to connect with people around the world. Unfortunately, the internet poses threats and dangers that we may never see coming. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable. The Pew Research Center reports that 94% of teens use a mobile device or go online daily. Threats include cyberbullying, cyberpredators, posting private and embarrassing information, scams, malware, and creating posts that later come back and embarrass the teen. Therapists who work with teens may be the first adult that becomes aware when a teen is engaging in dangerous online behavior, or has become a target of a bully, predator, or scam. We need to educate ourselves, our clients, and their parents.
StaySafe.org offers a detailed Online Teen Safety Guide. Starting with the hardware the guide walks parents and teens through simple steps that will help create a safe online experience for the teen. The guide reminds us that mobile hardware also needs to be protected. Identity theft and online scams also target teens, so teens need to be protective of passwords and credit card numbers. Parents need to monitor purchases and educate their teen about the proper use of debit and credit cards. Online gaming can be a source of entertainment and opportunity to connect socially, but can also contribute to dysfunctional behavior.
Much of the danger for adolescents, and an even bigger challenge for parents to supervise, is found on social media. Most of us are familiar with Facebook and Twitter, but these are likely not the sites your teen spends much time on. Much more popular are Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest. Other apps your teen may be using include Tumblr, WhatsApp, Kik Messenger, and Whisper. For more information about these and other apps visit Common Sense Media. FBI statistics suggest that there are 750,000 predators online, looking to develop inappropriate relationships with teens. Parents need to learn how to set up privacy settings on social media apps and sites frequented by their child, and they need to actively monitor their child’s activity on these sites. Online predators can often be identified and recognized by their behavior. OnlineSense.org provides a list of 20 early signs that can identify an online predator.
ChildTherapyToys.com also offers some resources that may be of use to teachers and clinicians. Check out our Cyber Safety page for ideas and items to help arm teens with the skills they need to combat unwanted attention online such as the Cyber-Safe game , Cyber Bullying Ball, and more!