May 07, 2015 —

Teens use digital technologies as an important part of their social lives. This convenience, however, comes with responsibility. As parents, we need to be positive digital role models in order to teach our kids how to appropriately engage in online communications. I recommend starting by improving your own online behavior. From there, you can talk with your teen about following your lead.

You can get started with these 10 steps:

  1. Check Yourself. Take a few minutes to Google yourself online. Is what you find an accurate reflection of the person you are and the person you want presented to the world? Take some time to pivot to the positive and Clean Up Your Digital Footprint. Share our guide with your kids and help them to present their best selves online as well. Remind your teens that cultivating a positive online presence is important for their future as college applicants and job seekers.
  2. Learn Parental Controls. Have you added any new technology to your home recently? Does your teen have a gadget you’ve never used before? Take the time to learn about the parental controls and settings on all forms of technology in your home to keep your family as safe as possible when connecting online. Search online for step-by-step instructions on family safety or privacy settings for devices, gaming platforms, search engines and popular apps. Make sure you and your teen understand how to use these settings effectively.
  3. Ask About New Apps. It is important that you know what apps your teens are using. You can find information about popular apps through an online search or by browsing in your app store. You may want to try some apps yourself just to get a better understanding of what your teens may be using on a daily basis. Showing an effort to understand the apps your teens are using will give you credibility when discussing proper use. Not sure where to start? Peruse our App Tip Sheets for a review of 10 popular teen apps.
  4. Keep it Classy. Remember, what you post online is there for the whole world to see. Be on your best behavior, the world (and your teen) is watching! Remind your kids that the digital world is fast and permanent. Encourage your teen to think before they type.
  5. Stay Connected, Not Chained. You should let your teen know that you will be following them on social media. However, you should also respect their space. Meaning that you don’t need to comment on every post or get involved in every discussion. Let them know you will be checking in occasionally to make sure they are conducting themselves appropriately. Keep an eye out for troubling behavior but otherwise trust them to maintain their online social lives in a healthy way.
  6. Stay Positive. If you see something on your Facebook or Twitter feed that you disagree with, remind yourself that you don’t necessarily need to engage. Remember what your mom taught you, if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Instead, simply remove the item from your feed and move on. Advise your teen to try this as well. And encourage them to keep their digital space upbeat.
  7. Take Arguments Offline. If you are angry or upset with someone, don’t use social media, text or email to communicate. This can easily escalate and magnify the conflict. Resolve to pick up the phone or discuss any disagreements face to face. Then teach your teen to do the same.
  8. Stand Up to Cyber Bullies. If you see someone behaving badly online, call that person out. Don’t join in on the bad behavior. No one wants to feel ganged up on by others on social media, or offline for that matter. Try to shed light on the situation or simply post something positive about the person being bullied. Let the person being bullied know they are not alone. Encourage your teen to do the same, if they feel comfortable doing so. Talk to your teen about reaching out to a trusted adult before things get out of hand.
  9. When in Doubt, Don’t Share. If you are unsure, it is best not to post. If you have a photo of a friend or family member (yes, including your teen) that they might not want shared on social media, then it is best to ask their permission first. Additionally, if someone asks you kindly to remove a photo you’ve shared of him or her, it is best etiquette to comply. Anything that gives you pause, or that you feel may be embarrassing to someone is best kept private. This is an important lesson for your teen to learn.
  10. Unplug. Do you fight with your teen about their screen time but stare at your phone on the sidelines of their games? There’s a time and a place for everything. Resolve to put your phone down and disconnect in order to be fully present in teen’s life. You never know, your teen may be waiting to open up. And your teen is definitely looking to you to practice what you preach.

I completely understand how parents can feel overwhelmed and skeptical of their teens’ digital habits. There is a lot of inappropriate content and negativity online. Managing the online behavior of your teen can be enormously challenging, like parenting itself. Do your best to set a good example and stay involved. Reinforce your values and trust that your teen will follow your lead.

Denise Lisi DeRosa is Program Manager for the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI). Denise is dedicated to empowering families with the tools needed to embrace the current social and digital technologies in meaningful, creative and positive ways. In her role at FOSI, she hopes to impart the importance of media literacy, cyber safety and cybercivility for kids, teens and parents. Denise is a married mother to three enthusiastic users of media and technology. As a result, she understands first-hand the opportunities and challenges parents face in navigating the online world with their children. You can connect with Denise on Twitter and LinkedIn.