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Teens and the search for social privacy online

Mother with daughterAs a mother of teenagers, I often stress about everything and anything. I worry about car problems, school grades, crushes, and dangers trolling the online world. Needless to say, I have spent many sleepless nights surfing the Internet reading horror stories about teens’ risky behaviours that have a tragic ending.

I know…I shouldn’t do this to myself.

In my quest to keep our children safe, I have often struggled with respecting our children’s privacy. On one hand, I want to go mama bear and ward off all potential predators to maintain safety at all costs. However, I know that privacy is needed and valued by our sons and daughters.

The Human Need For Privacy

All humans, even young children, desire some form of privacy. As children age this need increases as they struggle to form their self-identity. It’s normal for adolescents to pull away from their parents in this quest to adulthood. This time away from parents is often used to explore who they are as a person and what their goals are in life.

As much as I hate to admit it, our teens do need privacy. They need a place to collect their thoughts and evaluate the world around them as they become their own person.

Social Media And Privacy

Even though I recognize this need, I also understand that teenagers are notorious for risky behaviors and faulty judgments. Here are a few statistics that send my heart into palpitations when my children reach for their digital devices:

●     70 percent of teens admit to sexting their boyfriends or girlfriends.

●     43 percent of kids have been the target of cyberbullying.

●     Three-quarters of children admit to sending messages or personal information to strangers they have met online.

It turns out that most teens aren’t concerned about oversharing or exposing personal data online. They are focused on keeping their thoughts private from the authority figures in their lives, including parents and teachers. So, as our children pull away, we are left to ponder all the “what ifs” and statistics that flood our own social media platforms.

Respecting Teens’ Digital Privacy

While social media can add frightening aspects to teenagedom, these platforms also present wonderful learning opportunities to teach our children important life lessons. With appropriate guidance, our teens can safely navigate what topics are appropriate to share, how words can hurt, and the power of permanence. Unfortunately, these skills can’t always be taught with us spying or invading our children’s privacy.

It’s important for parents to find the right balance of monitoring and respecting a teen’s ability to control their own digital footprint. In our family, we frequently check in on our children’s social media presence, because we feel that social media is anything but private. We do respect the privacy of their personal emails, but there have been times we have asked to see what they were sending and had conversations about safety, empathy and the longevity of online messages.

What are your views on teens and digital privacy? How do you approach these issues with your teen?

For more information on teen privacy online, please see the following infographic: 

Infographic on teens and social privacy

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