Parents, Help Your Connected Teens Get Safety Savvy This Summer

July 9, 2015

If you’re the parent of a teen, chances are that they updated their Facebook page, posted pictures on Instagram or live Tweeted their last day of school to celebrate the freedom from homework and rise to a new grade. Summer vacation means a break from school, but all of the extra hours in the day also mean that they may be Whispering, Periscoping, and Snapchatting even more. This makes it a prime opportunity for families to talk about responsible Internet use, limiting passive screen time, double-checking safety settings, and avoiding over-sharing.

The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) recently partnered with Intel Security to take a look at what teens are doing online and exactly how much parents really know about their kids’ digital lives. The result was the recently released Intel Security report, “The Realities of Cyber Parenting: What Pre-teens and Teens Are Up to Online.” Through our work, we talk to parents from all over the world, and the most common narrative we hear is that technology moves so fast and it is difficult to stay up to speed with their tech savvy teens.

How to Start the Conversation on Technology

Parents often don’t know where to begin when it comes to talking openly with their kids about what they are doing online and how to stay safe. Most parents surveyed believe that their child is more social media savvy than they are, and about a third rely on their own kids to provide help with technology. More than half of parents surveyed also rated their technology expertise as intermediate or novice, and those who are less confident shouldn’t be afraid to let their kids be the teachers when it comes to technology and should talk to their kids about what they like doing online and what platforms they use.

This summer, let your kids guide you online. Have them instruct you about creating strong passwords, making an Instagram account, or limiting who can see your posts on Facebook. That way you can see how much they know about online safety, initiate a talk about experiences they’ve had, and look for resources and help together if needed. FOSI has some new app tip sheets to help learn about the latest apps kids may be using, like Periscope and Twitch, as well as other downloadable tools and an extensive blog of digital parenting advice.

The Importance of Protecting Reputation and Privacy

Another big concern for the majority of parents is their child’s online reputation and how it might impact their ability to get into college or land a good job in the future. Parents can use relatable examples of celebrities over-sharing or experiencing hacking scandals to start a conversation with their teen about the kind of posts that will help show who they really are online, versus those posts that can damage their reputation. Summer is a great time to talk to teens and pre-teens about not over-sharing, as the temptation to post pictures from vacations and parties will be high.

It’s also important to remember that many kids already have an awareness of the need to protect their data, as 78 percent of youth surveyed by Intel Security said that they are concerned about maintaining the privacy of their online personal information. Parents should encourage kids to review privacy settings and look at where they show up online and what they are publicly sharing on social media. One thing that we hear a lot from our interns is that they didn’t know how important their online reputation would be when they were younger, so they talk to their siblings about it before they make the same mistakes. It’s a good time to encourage some sibling bonding by getting older teens and college students to sit down with their younger siblings to share some lessons learned.

Approach Technology with Positivity

Most importantly for parents, it pays to keep a positive approach to technology in the household. Summer doesn’t have to mean a ban on devices and it also doesn’t have to be an end for learning. It’s a great time to get kids working together on digital projects such as an online scrapbook from a family vacation or watching YouTube videos to learn about a summer travel destination. FOSI has a list of 50 fun online summer activities for families like exploring digital museum collections, watching zoo web cams, and learning to cook from online videos that help provide families with activities that can translate from on screen into real life.

Take the time this summer to encourage your family to connect and get some new tech skills, but also to have important discussions about not over-sharing, balancing screen time, using privacy settings, and making sure the whole world can’t see the video from your pool party.

Cover image courtesy of Flicker.

Written by

Jennifer Hanley

Jennifer Hanley is the Vice President of Legal and Policy for the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI). Jennifer directs FOSI’s government outreach and policy strategy. Jennifer helps FOSI build relationships with government officials as well as external partnerships and advises leading technology companies on best practices, policy developments, and emerging issues around online safety. Jennifer implements FOSI’s global projects and initiatives and manages the Washington, D.C. staff team. She also leads FOSI’s research work. Jennifer develops policy positions on Internet safety issues including online privacy, mobile safety, cyberbullying, sexting, controversial content, student data privacy, encouraging positive online content for kids, and federal and state legislation and regulations. Jennifer also represents FOSI on panels and in the press.

Jennifer is a magna cum laude graduate of the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, where she served as a Vice Chancellor on the CUA Moot Court Board and as the Vice President of the Communications Law Students Association. Jennifer held legal internships with FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, EchoStar, and Comcast. Jennifer graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude from the George Washington University where she studied Political Science.