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Helping teens online - Kirrilie Smout


There are many advantages for young people being involved in the online world. They can connect with friends and family, learn and have fun. Parents and teens need to also understand the risks. The online world can impact homework and sleep, as well as expose young people to inappropriate content and unsafe situations. 

On behalf of Parenting SA, Adelaide psychologist Kirrilie Smout gives parents and carers some tips and strategies for talking with teens about online safety. She also talks about setting rules and limits and what to do if rules are broken.

More information about helping teenagers online can be found at Parenting SA.

The Parenting SA website also has many other topics for parents of children aged 0 to 18 years.

Transcript

Hi, I’m Kirrilie Smout. I’m a psychologist who works with kids, teens and their parents, and here are some things to think about in helping teens deal with the online world.

The online world offers our young people huge advantages. It can be a wonderful source of learning, of communication, of fun. This is really good for our young people.

If we stay positive about the online world, that can then help us manage. We need to know the dangers, but also keep communicating with young people, setting down boundaries, getting help from somewhere else, and making sure that young people know that they can always come to us with any concerns or worries that they have about what they see and do online.

There are some potential disadvantages and dangers for parents to be aware of that teenagers can sometimes get caught up in on the online world. Teenagers accessing adult content, for example pornography, is one of the issues that we need to look at as a society. We know that a large percentage of both young men and young women are accessing pornography and inappropriate content online. We know that some of them are coming across this accidentally, and some of them are deliberately seeking it out. It is important to understand that the pornography online is very often quite violent and quite degrading to women.

Another potential problem for young people online is the problem of conflict. With social networking it means that young people are talking and interacting more than ever before. So, whenever you have an increased level of contact, you are going to have increased chances of hurt, rejection, bullying and problems with managing communication. This means that young people will sometimes be feeling deeply hurt about what’s been said and what they are saying.

Another disadvantage for young people in the online world is the problems it can create with homework and studying. Most teenagers these days have laptops and phones and devices open while they are trying to study at the same time. This means that they are flicking back and forth between an assignment and trying to also have a conversation with someone. We know that this slows them down. We know that it means they don’t retain as much information, but we also know it’s a really tempting thing to do. This is a hard one for young people to manage; we need to help them do that.

Another potential disadvantage that young people can experience with the online world is the problem of sleep. It’s important to understand that a lot of teenagers are online late at night. This is a problem. Teenagers need sleep. They need sleep to be able to function, both emotionally and academically at school, and just to cope with the world. We normally recommend that (particularly for younger teens) phones and any other online devices are out of the bedroom overnight.

Another potential problem for young people is online safety. Unfortunately, there are some people online who do want to hurt our young people. Predators who prey on young people, not just in terms of trying to get access to them personally, but trying to get access to their computers, credit cards and scams. We need to help young people understand that privacy is really important, making sure that they are not meeting people they’ve met online, offline - unless other people are around.

Another potential problem for young people is gaming. Gaming can be a great thing. It helps with young people’s problem solving skills and visual skills, can provide a source of great fun and enjoyment. Gaming can be addictive as well. We know that there are corporations out there who are spending millions of dollars making sure that people stay gaming for as long as possible. Gaming is something we need to help young people manage.

Another danger for young people is sometimes they are sharing too much, or sharing the wrong kinds of things online. There can be inappropriate photos that they post. They might post calls for help in a public way. While we want young people to ask for help, we don’t want them to do it publicly because sometimes that leads to disappointment when nobody responds.

We also want to help young people understand that what they post online can have ramifications for their future. Information that they are putting publicly on websites can be found by employers, can be found by other people. This can have damaging impacts for them.

The most important thing that parents can do in helping teens online is making sure that they are having regular conversations with them about it. This means asking teens lots of questions. When we think about conversations, we often think about telling teens what to do. We often think about giving them advice but in actual fact asking teenagers about their experiences, about their opinions, what they think, what’s happening, is more important than the advice that we give. Asking teenagers about what’s happening online will help them think about the way that they live their life online, the kinds of dangers that might come up, and help form their opinions about how they can stay safe.

The kinds of questions that we can ask teenagers about being online include: What is it they think should happen? What are the rules that should be in place at schools, at home, for teenagers online? What are the kinds of apps and programs that they are using? What are the kinds of problems that they’ve seen their friends get into?

It is also important that we tell teenagers what we think and what our concerns are about them being online, but it is important that we do that after we’ve got information from them. In telling young people what we think, we really need to be informed. This means, as parents we need to put time into investigating all the different programs and apps that are out there. Unfortunately, technology does take a fair bit of time for parents. We need to look up information on the web, talk to other parents, talk to schools, find out information from teachers, go to various websites to get information about what’s happening. Teenagers will give us a good bit of the information, but they won’t give us all of it.

It’s also a good idea, where possible, to be online yourself, to have profiles, for example, to be using apps and websites at least some of the time so that you can see what young people are doing. It is an important part of keeping teenagers safe.

I think it’s important for parents to set down specific rules, boundaries and guidelines about how much time teenagers should be spending online, who they are talking with and the kinds of things that they are doing.

Inevitably, teenagers will break rules. That’s what they do. At this point it’s important not to get too angry or to over-react. Start by asking the young person what was the hardest thing about following that rule. Some of the time teenagers won’t be happy, and you can do all the negotiating in the world, you can be as empathic as you can, but you still have to take charge and stay in control.

More information about helping teenagers stay safe online and many other topics for parents of children aged 0 to 18 years can be found on the Parenting SA website.

If you need help and support, contact a health professional.

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