3 Ways Parents Can Help Teens Build Cyber-Muscle
We’re living in a society where most teens are constantly connected online. One PEW Research Survey showed that 95 percent of young people have smartphones and almost half of them are plugged in all the time.
Maybe it was smoking a cigarette, playing a silly joke on the telephone (landlines, of course), skipping a class in school, drinking, or experimenting with drugs. These were the peer pressures and uncomfortable situations that teens of prior generations faced.
Today, teens are not only dealing with real-life peer pressure – they’re facing digital peer pressure. Thanks to the rise of the internet over the past few decades, teens now have an audience of thousands (maybe even millions) of cyber-peers to interact with on a regular basis.
How many followers (friends or cyber-acquaintances) does your teen have? How many likes are they generating? More often than not, we see young people who will give into digital peer pressure by removing an image or comment on social media if it doesn’t impress their followers by accumulating enough likes in a certain amount of time.
Further, digital peer pressure has a dark side that can lead to risky behavior. It can draw teens into dangerous internet games, such as last year’s Tide Pod Challenge.
Online harassment has been climbing nationwide according to the latest report by the National Center for Education Statistics. For the past few years, we have seen teen depression and suicide rise, with some experts contributing these spikes to social media and the internet.
Part of what makes cyberbullying so damaging is the short- and long-term effects it can have on the victims. And, in many cases, cyberbullying can lead to substance abuse, according to research.
What causes teens to turn to smoking, alcohol, or drugs? Some experts suspect that drugs are used by victims to help them cope with the depression and anxiety brought on by the [cyber]bullying. Others suggest that drug use and [cyber]bullying may satisfy the same goals, such as becoming more popular with the “in crowd.”
Teens often give in to digital peer pressure because they want to fit in, and it can be especially easy behind a screen. They also fear if they don’t participate in the cyberbullying, they may become the next target. They may watch other young people getting an immense amount of attention when a crazy or dangerous idea goes viral and want to be part of the trend (such as the Cinnamon Challenge or Duct Tape Challenge).
How can parents help their teen develop cyber-muscle to prevent and protect them from these potentially harmful and hurtful times online?
- Prepare them for digital challenges and hate. Being forewarned is being forearmed.
Before your teen is even handed a device, discuss the less than positive side of the internet. Peers can be mean and while their actions can’t be controlled in cyberspace, everyone can control how they respond. What teens do online will forever be part of their offline character.
- Flag, block, and report abusive behavior. When your teen opens an account on any social platform, be sure they know how to flag, block and report abusive content and behavior. Encouraging youth to be upstanders from the start can help build healthier and safer cyberspaces.
- Critical thinking. It’s important that your teen understands that online is equal to offline when it comes to their behavior. If they see something negative or inappropriate, they should report or flag it. Any actions taken online could impact their future, so arm your teen with the ability to think of the consequences of what they’re about to post before hitting send.
Finally, and most importantly, never stop talking to your kids. Understanding the pressures they are experiencing, both online and offline, can open the door to conversation. After all, kids may be an app ahead of everyone, but they will always have something to learn from their parents.
Sue Scheff is an author and parent advocate. She is the founder of Parents’ Universal Resource Experts, Inc., which has helped thousands of families since 2001 with at-risk teenagers. Her first book, Wit’s End! Advice and Resources for Saving Your Out-of-Control Teen continues to be a resource for many parents raising teens today. Sue’s latest book, Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate, documents how cyber-shaming has become a national pastime and what we can do about it. Connect with Sue on Twitter and Facebook.
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