How Closely Should Parents Monitor a Teen's Online Activity?

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Texting, social media use, and blogging are issues that no other generation has dealt with before. For parents of teens, establishing healthy rules and setting limits on internet use is unchartered territory. It's important for parents to be well-educated about the potential risks teens face when their on the internet so they can make an informed decision about how closely to monitor a teen's smartphone, social media, or internet browsing.

Potential Safety Issues

There are a lot of debates over how much parents should monitor their teens’ online activity. After all, many dangers lurk on the internet- cyberbullies, online predators, and thieves can take a serious toll on the well-being of young people.

Unfortunately, many teens also risk ruining their reputations on the internet. Sending scantily clad or nude photos, posting inappropriate comments or being associated with scandalous content on social media can be harmful. Colleges, future employers, or even law enforcement could obtain material that teens leak into cyberspace.

At other times, teens fall prey to “catfish,” who use false identities to lure others in. An adult from a foreign country may pretend to be a teen from a nearby school, or a teen bully may try to befriend a potential victim online by assuming an undercover identity. Sometimes catfish simply want to steal information, while at other times they ask for financial help.

Teens can often become easy targets to these types of schemes.

Varying Degrees of Online Monitoring

Some parents take a hands-off approach to a teen’s online activity. After all, many parents know less than their teens do about the internet and social media. And other parents aren’t sure how to monitor a teen’s internet activity.

The danger of being uninvolved is that teens can get themselves into big trouble. A teen who is being cyberbullied may not know how to broach the subject with a parent. A teen whose activity is never monitored may be willing to arrange dates with strangers or may give out private information online without thinking about the potential consequences.

On the other end of the spectrum are parents who want to monitor everything from the contents of emails to who their teen is friending on Facebook. There are apps and software programs that allow parents complete access to everything their teen does online.

The danger of being overly involved in your teen’s online activity is that your teen may not feel trusted. It could damage your relationship. It may also lead to your teen going behind your back and opening social media accounts that you don’t even know exist.

Teens need some freedom to talk to friends without parents present. Without some privacy and independence, teens will struggle to create their own identities. Trying to maintain too much control can also lead to rebellion.

Balance Freedom with Guidance

There isn’t a single rule that should dictate how much freedom a teen has on the internet.

Instead, parents should take it on a case-by-case basis. A teen who shows less maturity may need a lot of online monitoring while a more mature teen who shows increased ability to make healthy decisions likely won’t need as much monitoring.

Here are some basic tips when it comes to monitoring your teen’s online activity:

  • Consider installing basic software on computers that will prevent access to pornography or other inappropriate content, but understand that most teens have found ways to get around a lot of such monitoring devices.

  • Assess whether or not it would be helpful to install applications that will send you alerts about your teen’s online activities. There are many apps and programs that can send parents an alert if a teen is using language or accessing photos that could signal trouble. These types of programs won’t tell you everything your teen is doing but can warn you of potential danger.

  • Educate yourself about the internet. If you don’t understand how social media and texting work, you won’t be able to have conversations with your teen about the potential risks involved. Talk to your teen about the things that should never be posted on social media.

  • Establish rules about online activity. For example, only allow computers to be accessed in common areas of your home. That way, your teen will understand you may be looking over his shoulder at any time.

  • Understand that monitoring programs don’t replace ongoing conversations with teens about the dangers of the internet. Have regular conversations about potential dangers. Look for news stories about teens and the internet. Also, have regular conversations about how the internet can be positive.

  • Don’t invade your teen’s privacy by trying to secretly spy on your teen’s activity. Have ongoing conversations about what you plan to do – whether you are going to check the history regularly or whether you want to review social media accounts daily. Open, direct communication is an important part of maintaining a healthy relationship.

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