Teens today have grown up surrounded by technology. Some might argue they were practically born with smartphones in their hands. In some cases, your teenager might even know more about the Internet than you.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t susceptible to getting into trouble online. Because teens feel so comfortable using computers and phones, they might actually get too confident at times and fall into a variety of traps. That could include anything from talking to the wrong people to giving out private information that could cause problems later.
So, how can you help your teen identify misinformation online? Doing so can protect their mental (and possibly physical) health and provide them with the critical thinking skills they need to make important, safe online decisions in the future. Let’s take a look at a few strategies you should put in place.
It’s not uncommon to hear phrases today like “cancel culture” or “fake news”, and while your teenager might have a basic understanding of those things, it’s a good idea to further explain what they are. Chances are, your teen is going to get most of their information and news online. Being able to differentiate between what’s real and what isn’t will make a big difference not only in what they believe but how they process what’s going on in the world.
So, how can you help your teenager truly spot “fake news”? It starts by pointing out common sources of false narratives. Some of the most popular outlets for misinformation include:
- Viral messages
- Challenge videos
- Comment sections
- Online videos
- Scam emails
Some websites go to extremes to look as professional and “newsworthy” as possible, but they don’t post all of the facts. In these cases, make sure your teen knows how to check multiple sources to determine if something is true. If something feels “off”, let them know it’s okay for them to question what they see.
Often, misinformation will play on people’s emotions to get them to buy into a false narrative. Helping your teen improve their emotional intelligence will make it easier for them not to give in to their emotions without knowing the facts. You can help them to boost their emotional intelligence by practicing gratitude, guiding them through a greater sense of self-awareness, and teaching them about empathy.
It’s estimated that there are over 500,000 predators online every day. Children between the ages of 12-15 are often their targets, as they can be easily “groomed” and manipulated. Your teen might think they know how to handle themselves when talking to people online. But, many child predators are very good at what they do and know just what to say to make your child believe them.
Online predators provide a slew of misinformation. They often lie about their ages, interests, and sometimes even their genders to gain the trust of kids and teens. They also can often make up excuses for any “fishy” behavior, such as not having a webcam to send pictures, or suggesting that their phone is broken so they can’t call. These are all techniques to keep their real identity hidden.
In today’s ever-changing world of technology, it can be difficult to pick out predators – even as a parent. So, the best thing you can do with your teenager is to openly communicate about online dangers, and put the following in place:
- Set ground rules about talking to strangers online (don’t share photos, personal information, etc.)
- Have computers and phones in a central location at home.
- Use parental control filters.
- Look for changes in your teen’s behaviors and attitude.
It’s important to stay as involved as possible with your teenager’s online habits. It can keep them from falling for expert lies and manipulation. Speaking of which, there are also things you can do to get ahead of any potential problems and keep your teenager safe with a few preventative protocols.
Is your teen going to groan about having “Internet rules” in the house? Probably. But, putting protocols in place will keep everyone safer and more secure online. You never know when your teen could end up on a shady site, and chances are they won’t know the difference either.
One of the best things to do is educate your teen about cybersecurity and keep rules in place, including:
- Keeping social media profiles private.
- Never giving private passwords to anyone.
- Not installing any apps without permission.
- Leaving out personal information (address, phone number, email) on social media.
- Turning off devices when they aren’t in use.
You should also invest in antivirus software for everyone in your household. Cyber threats are very real and can happen in the blink of an eye. Though your teenager might think they know everything about spending time online, it’s easy to fall into misinformation traps. You can help them identify these falsehoods faster and keep them safe as they navigate the ever-changing world of online information.