Q: My teenage children seem to spend all their free time on the Internet, using Facebook, IMing their friends, and watching YouTube videos. How can I make sure that what they are doing is safe?
Worried on the Web in Lincoln, Nebraska
A: Dear Worried on the Web,
Although “www” stands for “World Wide Web,” I think of the Internet as the “Wild Wild West“: There are a lot of exciting things to see and explore, but there are some dangerous areas, and few laws protect you or your children from them.
My suggestion is first to take some time to learn to use the Internet yourself. If you understand how to use it and what is available there, you can more effectively guide your children’s discoveries. For example, get yourself a Facebook account and have your kids be your teachers (you can also “friend” them, but don’t demand that they accept—it will only make them mad). They will probably even enjoy this process because, in asking for their help, you are acknowledging their expertise in an area where you are uncertain. It also acknowledges that your teens are individuals and are different from you, which is very important at this developmental stage.
Secondly, keep computers in common areas of the house. When in public spaces, teens will be less likely to use the Internet inappropriately, and you can keep an eye on the kinds of things they are experiencing. Finally, when you hear a news story about an amazing new Internet tool or a person who had a dangerous Internet incident, talk with your teens about it. That way, they can learn about the potential the Internet holds for both positive and negative experiences.
Staying safe in “Wild West” of the 21st century can be tricky, but exploring that space along with your teens can help keep the lines of communication open and help you take advantage of what the Internet has to offer.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,