Ah, parenting a teenager. It's definitely not for the faint of heart. Where does it begin, and where does it end? Some say when they hit 13, but what about 11 and 12 – that's pre-teen, isn't it? You try to keep them safe; they want independence. You try to impart wisdom; they choose to learn the hard way. You stand back and do nothing; you're accused of not caring. Ah, parenting a teenager.
When they're babies, you make sure they sleep on their backs to prevent SIDS. When they're toddlers, you use outlet covers and baby-proof the house to ensure no accidents. When they're school-aged, you teach them to look both ways before crossing the street and to say no to strangers. Well, when they're teenagers, they all of a sudden know more than you (in their minds at least). That's when things get outside of your purview and control. Bullying situations, suicidal ideation, stupid pranks, and dangerous online challenges begin to creep into your seemingly full parental-controlled world.
We teach kids that when you get in the car, the first thing to do is seatbelts, right? You make sure they have a coat on if it's cold outside, right? You put the computer in the living room so you can monitor their activity, right? Unfortunately, that's not enough.
Now, through the internet, we have access to a world that is not just down the block but everywhere. The entire world is IN your house, and there's no escaping it. For most of us, the internet is used for good. But for others, it's used as a weapon. No longer does your child need to leave your loving care to be whisked away by bad people meaning harm and destruction.
Tell me, what do these terms mean? LOL, BRB, BTW, OMG, G2G? Oh, that's easy you're thinking.
LOL: Laugh out loud
BRB: Be right back
BTW: By the way
OMG: Oh my gosh
G2G: Got to go
What about these? ASL, TDTM, PIR, GNOC, LMIRL? Not so easy anymore, is it?
ASL: Age, sex, location
TDTM: Talk dirty to me
PIR: Parent in room
GNOC: Get naked on camera
LMIRL: Let's meet in real life
This is where the online world becomes a battlefield. A battle for your teen's innocence in a multitude of ways. The statistics are startling and yet very real. Did you know that approximately 500,000 predators are online daily looking for their next victim? Social media is where over 80% of teen sex crimes start. That's 8 out of 10 teens. Contrast that with these statistics. Only 15% of parents are aware of what their kids do online. That's 1.5 out of 10. Parents, we're losing, and it's a "game" we cannot afford to lose. (https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/protecting-your-kids)
We all know about Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. Did you know there are secret social media accounts? Parents tend not to know about them, nor can they pull them down. What they can do is block the app. These secret accounts are where a lot of the bullying (all types), stupid pranks, and dangerous challenges stem. It's practically untraceable until it's too late. These mischievous acts are very damaging to your teen's sense of self-worth, mental health, and sometimes even their life. FBI Statistics note that most teen victims of online abuse tell a parent or a trusted adult 10% of the time. The consequences are too great!
Don't get me wrong. The internet is not a bad place. We are so much better off having it. We learn new recipes to prepare, new ways of doing things, and even new places to travel. We grow by taking classes online, virtually visiting a museum that's in another country, or hosting a book club in an entirely different state. We connect with people from everywhere, we teach ourselves and others, and overall make the world a better place. With all the scientific advancements that have been made, we are, without a doubt moving in the right direction. But how do we keep this big beautiful online world of ours a safe place to do all the wonderful things we love and long to do?
First, arm yourself with information. Knowledge is power. Knowledge is also knowing what to look for. All the hidden dangers that lurk on the internet, especially with regards to acronyms and secret accounts. Secondly, keep the conversation going. Ask questions. Even if your teen won't readily open up, keep asking. Their business IS YOUR BUSINESS!! Another thing, use a password manager for your kids. I have two sons (now grown), and I have always told them that their passwords were private between the two of us. If I can't access whatever program or app they're on, they no longer have access to that app or program. Plain and simple.
One of the best things you can do for your teen and your family is to find a company like 1600 Cyber. 1600 Cyber offers a multitude of cyber security options to keep your teen and your family safe online. We have affordable month-to-month subscriptions that protect the entire household from hacking, cyber vigilance, and even password management. This puts the parent back in control.
In the summer, 1600 Avenue has a Hip Hop Tech Leaders Program, where your teen can stay at the highly esteemed UC Berkeley for 3 days/2 nights and learn about Cybersecurity, AI, and Online Privacy. Think of it like this. Your child takes swimming lessons. Why? They take lessons to be better acquainted with the water as a safeguard in knowing how to react when in and around water. That's like our program. It teaches cybersecurity and privacy to help them learn how to react online. Essentially, the dos and don'ts of online presence.
This is not a warning but a wake-up call. Stay involved. Know what your teens are doing online. As you prepare them for life after high school, may it be college, the working world, or merely adulthood, these tips can be a saving grace.