In today’s hyper-connected society, it’s rare to find a teenager that isn’t on at least one social network. Even more, with new applications and social media sites becoming popular among teens at such a rapid pace, keeping up with everything teens are doing online can be a challenge for parents. With this in mind, it’s important to be wary of the potential threats these sites can pose to our teens, like the promotion of dangerous activities, such as over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicine abuse.
Regardless of whether your teen is Snapchatting constantly or live tweeting his or her favorite TV show, use these five tips to make sure your teen is having a safe and positive digital experience.
- Do your research.
What social platforms does your teen use? How does he or she use them? What potential dangers do these platforms pose? These are all questions you need to explore to make sure that you are aware of the possible threats these sites may pose to your teen. For example, while Twitter and YouTube can offer a lot of fun and informative content, the platforms can also provide dangerous information about abusing over-the-counter medicine. If you search online for “DXM” or any of the slang terms for DXM abuse, you’ll find posts with instructions on how to abuse DXM to get high, users filming or tweeting about their experiences and more.
- Make your expectations clear.
This may mean drawing up a social media contract with your teen or setting ground rules about how, when and where your teen should use various social media platforms. Even if you don’t draw up a contract, be sure to set clear guidelines about how you expect your teen to use digital devices and behave online. These rules can be as simple as no cellphones at the dinner table or emphasizing the “golden rule” – that your teen should treat others in social networks the way they would like to be treated.
- Trust, but verify.
Explain to your teen that you’ll be checking in to see what websites he or she is visiting as well as what he or she is posting online. By checking in, you can actively prevent risky behaviors before they start. For example, if you notice that your teen visited a site that promotes DXM abuse or made an unexplained OTC medicine purchase online, you can start a conversation with your teen about what may be going on.
- Join your teen online.
If you join your teen on the sites he or she is using, you’ll be able to stay plugged into your teen’s online life. However, make sure to give your teen enough space. This means letting your teen know that you’re keeping an eye on what he or she is posting, but not commenting on every picture uploaded to Facebook. This will also open up an opportunity for you to model good online behavior to you teen.
- Communicate often and openly.
At the end of the day, let your teen know that you have his or her best interest at heart. Explain that you are trying to protect him or her from online threats and risky behaviors. If you’re hesitant about starting this conversation, here are some conversation starters. Even more, don’t make the chat about online safety a one-time conversation. Talk frequently and freely about the importance of privacy, good social media behavior and online threats. And finally, let your teen know that if he or she has questions about something online like the promotion of OTC medicine abuse, you are always around for a conversation.
Although it may not seem like it sometimes, your teen trusts you and looks to you for guidance. Use these guidelines to stress less about your teen’s online activities and possibly build a more open relationship with your teen in the process.
QUESTION: What advice have you given your teen about staying safe online?
CHALLENGE: Take the time this week to establish social media ground rules for your family!
Contributor: Blaise Brooks
Blaise is a mother of one, caregiver of two, accountant and community advocate. Blaise is also a contributor to The Five Moms blog on StopMedicineAbuse.org, working to spread awareness about over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicine abuse with other parents. Join the conversation by following Stop Medicine Abuse on Facebook and Twitter.