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The Reality Of Teens’ Online Life May Not Be Squeaky Clean

Kids are getting smarter when it comes to disguising their online activity from parents and adults.

Many teens view themselves as quite sophisticated and may actually feel they need to shield their parents from things they see in their real-life or online worlds. They have navigated a course that allows them to get the good stuff and avoid the bad stuff.

Of course, this isn’t much different from teens from many generations. We all believed that we were able to handle things on our own. But as it was for all of us, just because teens feel quite worldly and capable, they need their parents’ and other trusted adults’ help in protecting their reputations and their best interests.

Two recent studies look at the approaches that teens take when dealing with difficult situations and their online relationships. The Pew Internet study’s “Teens, kindness and cruelty on social network sites” section on Privacy and Safety issues describes a world where kids manage the privacy settings on their online profiles to shield their information, photos and status updates and often lie about their ages to gain access to the sites. Some kids are quite adept at creating filters that allow only some info through while others are completely open. They make distinctions between who can be their online friend with full access and to whom they will seem invisible. Sometimes, they choose to hide information from their parents or older relatives even when they are on their friend list. They may have entirely separate online identities, “alts” in gaming terms, meant for familial contact.

A second study looks at how kids who argue with their parents may use the skills acquired in those arguments to resist peer pressure, and those teens who are more compliant might be more susceptible to peer influence as they use those same conflict avoidance lessons learned in the home and take it to their interactions with their social groups.

Taking the two studies together, consider that while you may be sure that your child’s online life is squeaky clean and in line with your family’s rules, the reality might not reflect that belief. While a determined kid will find ways around almost any boundary set, it might be the discussions explaining your reasoning for the rules that might be more valuable.

Perhaps take the time to share these articles with them. If you listen, you will probably hear stories of other kids they know who make mistakes online or who have social media profiles without their parents’ knowledge.

Explaining that racy photos, ignorant language or bullying all have impacts on reputation, the feelings of others and their character in a true conversation where you listen to their experiences and opinions might be better than a simple ‘no Facebook’ rule. And better prepare them for when they have to make their own decisions when you aren’t there.

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