By Joseph Stabb, ABD

In our ever-expanding digital world, the risks of participating online and on social media increases. Teens, today, have access to many different tools that allow them to communicate with both known and unknown individuals locally and internationally. As parents, relatives, and friends/mentors we need to help teens learn to use these tools responsibly and be aware of the dangers and consequences that their actions can have in a digital environment.

 
Communication is key! According to a study by the Pew Research Center, only 40 percent of parents in the United States state that they frequently discuss what their teens should share online. Yet, according to a study by the National Cyber Security Alliance 55 percent of online teens and 50 percent of parents were interested in information regarding the prevention of online identity theft.

 
81 percent of teens and adults agree that people their age share too much information online . People share personal information such as home addresses and phone numbers, thoughts and feelings, videos and pictures. It is not just what your teen is sharing, but also what parents are sharing. Many parents don’t realize that an online predator can obtain a lot of information about your child/teen from the photos and status updates that are shared, even if those posts are meant for other family members.

 
Sexting is another way our teens are sharing too much information. Sexting is the exchange of sexually suggestive messages or images. Sexting can have life changing consequences, for both minors involved. If a minor sends a nude photo of them self or another minor, then this is considered dissemination of child pornography. If convicted, your teen could be prosecuted and labeled a sex offender for the rest of their life. Talk to your child about the possible social, academic, and legal consequences of sexting.

 
Information and sexting can happen on many different platforms, even most gaming consoles. Yes, your XBOX, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch has chat, forums, voice-enabled interaction, photo/video capabilities that allow for collaboration with others gamers all over the world. Predators may send inappropriate content or use a game’s communication functions to arrange in-person meetings. Be cautious of online game play and find games that have single player campaigns to avoid the unfilterable sometimes offensive language that is used in online  gaming. Teach your teen not to interact with cyberbullies and have their gaming console in a family room to monitor their online conversations. Cyberbullies may harass your teen and online scam artists may promise virtual goods to get credit card information.

 
There are many digital tools available to help you monitor your teen’s online activity. Your home internet modem can track what is being accessed. Many internet service providers give you access to tools like anti-virus, firewalls, and monitoring software. Your internet provider’s customer service can assist you in setting these safety measures to protect your teen.

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