As parents we have to ask ourselves, “How safe is the digital space for teens?” Here are some tips on how we can convey digital safety and the hazards of digital life to make surfing the internet a safe and enjoyable experience for your teen.
By Dr. Amy Acosta, psychologist at Texas Children’s Hospital
In today’s technology-driven world, it’s not uncommon for parents to find their teen consumed in the latest app or internet trend. What is Digital Wellness? It is the idea that we can engage with technology with awareness, understanding and mindfulness and be proactive in order to promote the following outcomes:
- Teens make choices that ensure internet safety
- Teens think critically about media and digital decisions
- Teens can utilize the internet and online tools for valuable information
- Parents are engaged in ongoing conversations with their child about his or her online life as an extension to their child’s social and academic world.
The digital landscape: The rapid pace of change and advancement in technology poses a challenge for adolescents and their parents. The ability to manage oneself online with an understanding of media literacy and reputation management skills is paramount. Other challenges include time management, screen time and the risk of making poor decisions online.
Time management: It can be hard to break away from the screen (e.g., phone, television, video game, etc.) to complete homework or to sleep. Unplugging can be accomplished by being proactive about setting reasonable boundaries with technology. How do teens hold themselves accountable? How can parents help? These are conversations worth exploring further.
Online safety: To achieve the goals of safety, critical thinking and learning: Parents should have ongoing dialog with their children about media use (early and often!). Social media involves relationships, therefore it is important to consider safety when networking and posting online. One risk with online relationships is cyberbullying. Of note, Internet harassment happens most frequently by peers. For example, in one study, 73 percent of study participants who were victims of cyberbullying reported they knew the identity of their bully (anonymous survey, 1,400 + teens, 12-17, Juvonen & Gross).
- Talk to your child about cyberbullying, harassment, and even joking online.
- Sometimes examples are easy to identify, while others are subtler.
- Help your child navigate these waters by talking with him or her about the impact of his or her words.
Promoting a positive digital space: Some tips for teens:
- Avoid using derogatory (negative) words to describe others.
- Discourage teasing and put-downs (of yourself and your friends).
- Focus on internal qualities and effort rather than external appearance.
- Think about the person behind the post, rather than dehumanizing your news feed.
For parents: Like in other areas of life, parents are important role models for their child. Parents have many opportunities to model digital wellness by modeling healthy behaviors such as unplugging, collaboration, using good judgment when posting, etc.
Positive youth perspective: While adults fear the use of technology, youth feel participation in social networking provides literacy tools to succeed in a contemporary world (MacAurthur Study 2005-2009). New media allows for autonomy and exploration not found in the traditional classroom setting.