Whether you're a parent of a teen or simply an observer, you know this is to be true: 93 percent of teens are online. With social media platforms such as Facebook and handy smartphone apps, teens are digitally connected wherever they go.
That photos, status updates, videos and comments can be shared on a whim – sometimes too impulsively and without much thought about repercussions or privacy – completely changes the social landscape for teens. Many teens say and share private information and photos they would certainly think twice about saying and sharing face-to-face.
Therein lies the risk with social media and teens. Take these recent statistics as food for thought:
In 2011, 1 million children were harassed, threatened or subjected to cyberbullying on Facebook.
33 percent of teens report being a cyberbullying victim.
Only 10 percent of parents whose teens were targets of online cruelty knew about it.
55 percent of teens on Facebook have given out personal information to someone they didn't know.
Only 34 percent of parents regularly check their child's social network sites.
29 percent of teens have posted mean or embarrassing information or photos about somebody else.
Of those teens who have witnessed or experienced online cruelty, only 36 percent sought advice or help.
Adults must be tread a fine line with caution, knowledge and guidance.
Just as we wouldn't hand our newly minted 16-year-old the keys to her own car without instruction, practice, advice and parental rules of driving conduct, we cannot simply hand her a smartphone with instant access to social media platforms and apps without safety provisions and rules of engagement.
Long before your 'tween starts Instagram, opens a Facebook account or takes to Twitter, start an ongoing and open discussion. Here are six key points to include:
Create a rules-of-engagement agreement. Many parents I know have discussed a list of rules with their 'tweens or teens, who then signed a contract. Parents and child both know upfront what is expected. Break the rules and lose your online privileges.
Emphasize the Golden Rule. Make sure your children understand that they shouldn't do or say anything online that they would never do or say face-to-face.
The online world can have real-world repercussions. In essence, they should treat others how they would like to be treated. Practice restraint, respect and kindness.
Monitor online activity. Some call it stalking; some call it spying. I call it parenting in a social media-laden world.
Be honest and upfront with your children. Tell them, "I will be watching what you do online – not because I don't trust you or want to invade your privacy, but because it's my job to keep you safe."
There are many apps and controls available to parents. Use them, both for your peace of mind and to stay in the know. And if your teen is on Facebook, it's time for you to get an account, too.
Privacy matters. Make sure your child understands that his online posts and tweets are never really private. Many apps (think Snapchat) claim messages can be deleted right after they are sent. Problem is, who doesn't know how to capture a screenshot these days?
Nothing is ever private unless it's face-to-face between trusted friends. And it's true: "Post it online, and it's out there forever." Protect your privacy, your future and the privacy of those you love.
Discuss cyberbullying. Bullying is nothing new, but bullying online gives it more traction and power. Hateful messages and rumors can spread by a click of a button with devastating effect.
We've seen the tragic results of bullying a teen still navigating the unsteady waters of high school.
Empower your kids to speak up if they see or are a victim of online cruelty. Teach them how to take screenshots and send them to you right away. Reassure them that you or a trusted adult can help if it ever happens to them. More than anything, teach them to never stay silent about it.
Last but certainly not least, don't be afraid to pull the plug: If your teen's online use is interfering with sleep, homework or their peer relationships, or if she has broken one of your contract rules, pull the plug of her computer and/or phone.
Parenting has never been for the faint of heart. In this brave new world of social media and teens, online parenting is part of the territory.