Guiding Teens Through Cyberspace
By Linda Stade
It would have been hard to avoid media coverage this week of a new American website featuring photos of young Australian girls. Hundreds of girls, including about a hundred from Perth private schools, had photos stolen from their private social media accounts and shared in files listed under their names. Ex-boyfriends submitted some of the photos and still more came from sources as yet unidentified. Essentially, anybody could go onto the website, select a girl’s name and go through the file of photos of her.
I find it difficult to hide the disgust I feel for the person, or people, who did this, but also for the so called commentators in our media who have gone on to throw around their misguided, victim-shaming comments. One television celebrity went so far as to imply that if the girls put up photos of themselves on their social media, they asked for it. These girls did not ask for public scrutiny and humiliation.
We know teenagers. Presumably if you are reading this, you have one or are close to one. We know that teenagers don’t share photos so that some faceless stranger can leer at them. They do it because their sense of self is developing. They want approval, they want love and they want to belong. They also have a right to celebrate their youth and the beauty that accompanies youth.
I believe that women shouldn’t be afraid and have to adapt to this predatory behaviour. However, I also completely understand that parents are frightened for their children. I reconcile the two with the belief that teens are still developing and need guidance until they are able to choose the consequences they are prepared to accept. Also, parents need to feel as though they are striving to protect their children. So, what conversations should parents be having with their kids? I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but here are some suggestions:
- Open and continual communication with teenagers is important in cyber safety, just as it is with every social issue facing children. Listen to your children and accept that everything you hear will not be to your liking. Your reactions will determine how honest your child feels they can be. You don’t have to approve of everything they say, but they need to feel comfortable saying it.
- Explain to your children that the Internet is not secure and that ultimately nobody can guarantee that images won’t be accessed, no matter what your privacy settings are. As we’ve learned, even unpublished photos on your device and backed up to the cloud can be hacked.
- Keep explaining that there are people out there who do not have his/her best interests at heart. Early adolescents have a disconnect here. They hear you say that people might be watching them or want to take advantage of them, but deep down they don’t understand it. Unfortunately, they may be more afraid of you or a teacher seeing their images than a pedophile or stalker.
- Many young adolescents will be comfortable with you following their Instagram account or friending them on Facebook. However, that may change as they get older. If you follow their account they may decide to simply open another. Perhaps enlist the help of another adult they like and trust to help guide them, perhaps an older sibling, cousin or friend.
- Know what social media sites your child is on and how they work. Use social media yourself. It is the best way to know how it is used, positively and negatively. Some of the more popular sites are Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Snapchat Story, YouTube and tumblr. There are also a number of messaging sites that kids use to send photos, film and text. The most popular of these are Messenger, kik, twitter, Skype and Whatsapp.
- Sit with your child and ask them to Google themselves. Together you can talk about the results and what needs to be deleted. It might be worth Googling yourself too.
- Talk to your child about thinking very carefully about what they post. This will need to be an on-going conversation. A slow drip approach will show your child how important you take their on-line activity.
- Ask them to check that Location Services for all sites are turned off. If they are left on it is quite easy to track or locate a user. At school students will have had a number of demonstrations of what sort of information can be gleaned from social media posts.
- Don’t rely on restrictive parental software. All a child need do is type in ‘workaround’ and the name of the software and they will able to avoid your software. Communication with your child and making sure they don’t use the Internet in private is a better solution. It requires more parenting but it’s more effective.
- Investigate methods to access the browsing history of your home Internet. A quick Google of your router model and how to gain admin access will let you see browsing history, block sites and increase security. Alternatively, you can contact your Internet service provider for help. With a little bit of technical investigation you can more effectively guide your child’s on-line activity. Remember, communication about this sort of action is important in building and maintaining trust.
And finally… When your teen is doing the right thing on-line, tell them so. Kids are never too old to be complimented, especially in an area such as this, where their behaviour is so often criticised.
Want more? Try the excellent Federal Police cyber safety site:http://www.thinkuknow.org.au
Linda Stade has worked in various teaching and management roles in education for twenty-five years. She has worked in government and private schools, country and city, single sex and co-ed. Currently she is the Research Officer at Santa Maria College, Western Australia.