Have you met up in person with people you’ve met online? It seems like many of us have, in one way or another. Today, meeting up with coworkers and new friends we’ve only previously interacted with online is almost commonplace. It could be that you’ve developed strong relationships with people you’ve met in gaming and other types of communities. Perhaps it was just to meet someone to buy a table from them. Most of us likely don’t even give a second thought to meeting up with people we’ve met online.
Teens, with just as much reliance on the online realms as adults, may also seek friendship and acceptance in virtual communities. Whether chatting online with friends they know from school and the neighborhood or making new friends in an online game or other gatherings, many teens are now integrating apps and games as a part of their social life.
How can you protect your teen, respect their privacy, and help keep them safe when meeting people online and making plans to meet up in person?
Why does online safety matter?
Today’s teens use various devices and online services for activities that have become a part of daily life. This includes schoolwork, keeping up with family and friends through social media, and unwinding with videos and games. Teens also tend to go online in search of support for mental wellness and physical health concerns that they may have.
They may also use online platforms to experiment with new ways to express themselves and the things that they believe in. Most importantly, teens may gravitate to online platforms for support, validation, and acceptance.
Since teens are spending so much time online, generally unsupervised, they need to have the ability to recognize what is and isn’t acceptable. They also need to understand that there is a potential risk when deciding to meet up with people they’ve met online.
Knowing the risks your teen faces
Deciding to meet up with online friends brings a world of potential risk. That said, there are several other types of risks teens face online. The top three are content risks, conduct risks, and contact risks.
Content risks include running into online content that may be uncomfortable or upsetting. This may extend to simulated or actual violence, hate sites, sexually explicit content, and fake news sites. Teens may also come across user-generated content promoting self-harm, drug use, and negative body image related to anorexia or bulimia.
Conduct risks can lead to your teen becoming a victim of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying has often been in the news because of the impact it can have on those who are targeted. It has even led to teens taking their own lives.
Your teen may also become the perpetrator of poor conduct by feeling confident and secure behind the screen. He may cyberbully others.
He may impersonate someone else online or access financial information that allows him to make unauthorized purchases online. Your teen could find himself in some serious legal trouble if he is involved in shady transactions.
Contact risks could extend to your teen communicating with adults posing as teens online. This can potentially lead to a dangerous situation if your teen was to meet up with an adult who has plans to harm them. There are countless stories in the news of teens being hurt, assaulted, or even trafficked.
Another risk is with online scammers seeking to bilk them out of money or out of their personal information. Phishing is a problem that adults often find themselves faced with, but teens are just as much at risk. With just a bit of personal data, would-be scammers could gain access to social media accounts, bank accounts, and more.
Steps you can take to protect your teen
Protecting your teen online begins with education and understanding. Sit down with your teen and explain some of the risks he could face when he’s online. Some teens may roll their eyes and tell you they’re too savvy to fall for anything.
Cyberbullying, scamming, and other online risks rarely have anything to do with smarts. It’s too easy for your teen to get drawn into conversation with someone who validates how he feels, listens to the things he says, and gives him the attention he may be looking for. We can find ourselves trusting the wrong person when we feel vulnerable. Give the school stranger danger an update that your teen can relate to.
Your teen may not be willing to listen to reason or be ready to pull back with his online friendships and relationships. How then can you protect him? You could install monitoring apps that will control the sites and content he can access. This is not likely to be a decision your teen agrees with, and it may cross the line into violating the privacy that he is entitled to.
Set boundaries for your teen about the amount of time that he spends using his devices. You can tell him to stay off certain websites, apps, and services. But if he’s determined to, the only direction you can take is to block his access or take away all of his devices when he’s not being supervised.
If your teen wants to use social media platforms, tell him he needs to allow you to follow him on each of them, not so that you can spy on him or comment on the things that he posts. But so that you can be aware of the people he’s interacting with and can step in if need be.
If he wants to meet up with online friends, suggest you accompany him to a public location to meet his friends. You can sit at a different table at a restaurant or be nearby at a gaming store so that he doesn’t feel smothered. The important thing is that you will be close enough to step in if things don’t go well.
Speak to your teen about the importance of knowing your online friends. Meeting online friends is a great way to get to know your friends in person. And video chats are another great way to see exactly who your online friends are before you meet.
Is your teen struggling with his mental health and having difficulty connecting with his friends? Perhaps he’s been spending too much time on the internet? Parents often struggle to find the right type of resources to help them and their teens who are struggling. HelpYourTeenNow can connect families with the right solutions to help them get through the struggles that their teens are faced with.