Good Digital Parenting
Blog | Oct. 9, 2013

Building Safe, Healthy Relationships Online

Blogger, Internet Keep Safe Coalition

When I was 19, I left my home in the Midwest and headed south to Costa Rica. I quickly picked-up Spanish (for survival) and spent my days walking the streets, befriending everyone I met. Over the next two years, I became close with an eclectic bunch of amigos—there was the family of nine who picked coffee beans for a living, an affluent woman who had emigrated from Europe, even an indigenous couple whose humble home was literally perched on top of a mountain. We grew close to one another, and though it was difficult to leave them, it wasn’t goodbye, not really.

Thanks to the ubiquity of social media platforms, I’ve been able to keep in touch with many of those friends. Three cheers for the Internet! Hip, Hip!

Technology Can Nurture Relationships

The lesson to be learned from all of this is that the Internet can be a place where we form and maintain happy, healthy relationships with others. In fact, having positive relationships online is fundamental in becoming a responsible digital citizen.

Relationships are one of the six pillars of the iKeepSafe BEaPRO™ index: Balance, Ethical Use, Privacy, Reputation, Relationships, and Online Security. These six pillars are all necessary for youth to achieve successful digital citizenship.

Within the digital space, there is ample room for camaraderie. Social media allows us to connect with friends despite distance or time constraints. From personal experience, I can speak to the simplicity of staying connected using technology. Though life has taken me far from home, I still maintain close relationships with friends and family through various means such as Skype, Twitter, Facebook, email and texting.

And technology isn’t just good for keeping in touch with relatives. Through a blog or a video on YouTube, you have the ability to express yourself—your interests, hobbies and passions. Because the Internet is so accessible, people with similar tastes can convene virtually, and forge meaningful, substantive relationships.

The Internet can also help to build relationships by serving as a tool to spread positivity in times when amicability is much needed. For example, when a natural disaster strikes or a friend is faced with tragedy, we rally by sending our love and support through social media. Countless lives have been bolstered through this form of outreach.

Teens Connect Emotionally with—and Through—Their Devices

For youth, an overwhelming majority of interactions occur online. Because social interactions and online activity are so tightly interwoven, it is essential for teens to maintain healthy relationships through technology. Research shows that teen social media users develop stronger relationship skills and are more likely than their non-social media user counterparts to interact with friends outside of virtual interactions. Social media can also help introverts become more at ease in social interactions.

While the majority of people agree that the Internet has improved their relationships (70% of people worldwide), there is still the risk for unsavory encounters online. Many individuals are victims of cyberbullying, harassment, or addiction to the Internet—all examples of detrimental relationships.

Parents Make a Difference

Parents bear much of the responsibility in ensuring that their child’s online relationships are positive and uplifting. Sit and talk with your child about how to appropriately interact online so that he/she can become a responsible digital citizen and foster positive online relationships.

To help you gain the skills needed to teach your children how to have safe and healthy relationships online, the Internet Keep Safe Coalition (iKeepSafe) created the BEaPRO™ Parent app (launching October 14th).

Developed with the expertise of attorneys, pediatricians, child psychiatrists, psychologists, cybercrime researchers, media literacy specialists, and school counselors, the BEaPRO™ Parent app assesses the specific needs of the users in your household, then provides you with the individualized resources you will need to help your child improve his/her technology health and safety.

Visit iKeepSafe.org/BEaPROParent to learn more about BEaPRO™ app and how to create safe and healthy relationships online.

Cover image courtesy of Flickr.