The Internet is an invaluable tool for teenagers, allowing them access to information that would have required their parents to spend hours in the library with a card catalog and stack of reference books. For all of the vast stores of information online, there are also more than a few dangers. Sexual predators, bullying and inappropriate and dangerously false information are just a sampling of the trouble teens can find when their online lives aren’t supervised properly.
Make Social Media Work For You
Adding your child on Facebook and following her on Twitter can keep you in the loop, provided that she doesn’t add you to a restricted list. If you know that your child is constantly updating her status or sending out tweets and you can’t see them, it’s a sure sign that you’ve been blocked. Making sure that you talk to your child about why you want to follow her posts can help her understand your reasoning behind these tactics. You’ll probably have the best results with this method if you refrain from posting on her Timeline or tweeting to her, though. Remember: out of sight, out of mind. When your every word is a source of embarrassment to a moody teen, she’ll be painfully aware of your presence and more reticent when it comes to social media. A policy of radio silence is more likely to give you an accurate picture of what she does and says online.
Establish an Open Line of Communication
When your teen knows she can trust you and can come to you with any questions or concerns she has without fear of judgment, she’s more likely to be open and honest with you about her life. Letting her know that you are making an effort to monitor her online life and that you’re doing it out of concern rather than a desire to snoop is your best bet. An open, honest relationship can almost eliminate the need for extensive monitoring.
Consider Monitoring Software Carefully
There are dozens of software products on the market that will record your teen’s keystrokes, track every move she makes online and report the contents of her email inbox back to you. The problem with these products arises when you’re forced to confront her with proof of her misconduct online. In order to discuss the matter, you’ll have to admit that you were secretly spying on her with monitoring software, which could seriously damage the level of trust between you. If you opt to use monitoring software, it may be best to disclose that upfront.
Keep an Eye on Your Browser’s History
Tech-savvy kids will know to clear their browser’s history, but even the stealthiest teens can forget from time to time. Making a habit of checking the browser can give you some clues as to what your kids are looking at online. Just be sure that you’re confronting your teen with something he actually looked at, rather than blaming him for a misstep made by another member of the household.
Use Parental Controls
There are basic parental controls built into most web browsers, which can filter the majority of the objectionable content that comes up in a general engine search. As with browser history, a tech-savvy teen can find ways to circumvent these controls, but they do provide a layer of protection from inadvertent stumbles upon questionable material.
Think About Computer Placement and Access
It’s certainly easier and more convenient to provide your child with a laptop or a computer in his room to complete homework assignments and such, but you’re effectively forfeiting your ability to keep an eye on his activity. By placing the computer your teen uses in a high-traffic area and limiting his access to a specified block of time, you can keep a closer watch on the things he’s doing online.
Work Out a Social Networking Policy That’s Acceptable to Both of You
An overly-authoritarian approach to social networking and Internet use will almost certainly make your teen feel more rebellious than eager to comply, but working together to draft an agreement everyone can live with gives them a modicum of control. At an age when asserting independence is so important, this small gesture can make a big difference in the way that your teen views his Internet use and the rules you’ve made together. Working out the agreement also provides you with a built-in opportunity to discuss the reasons why responsible social networking use is important, the repercussions of posting too much information and why you’re concerned with his activity online in the first place.