Cyber Safety and Teens: How Online Behavior Can Be Dangerous for Kids
Teens often lack the maturity and social judgment necessary to act responsibly in the unsupervised, anonymous free for all of the internet. Help them protect themselves.
What are some of the inherent problems that exist with this new technology, and how do the developmental issues kids are grappling with impact and exacerbate these issues?
Lack of feedback. Interactions don’t occur in a vacuum, but on the internet, they often feel as if they do. Written exchanges lack verbal and social cues such as tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. Emoticons are a poor substitute for the usual signals that accompany verbal communication. The result: accurately assessing the intention and meaning behind the words becomes difficult. Misunderstandings are common. Assumptions are made and acted upon without verification, and situations can quickly escalate into hostility.
Disinhibition. You can’t see me, and I can’t see you. This dynamic prevents users from receiving crucial feedback about how their words and actions impact others. This is especially problematic for kids, whose ability to see another person’s perspective is still developing. The ability to post material without fear of identification, along with the diluted sense of responsibility that comes with going along with the crowd in harassing or hateful activities, allows kids to avoid the natural consequences of their behavior. Over time, this behavior becomes normalized on the internet, and eventually spills over into real life interactions.
Aura of safety and anonymity. Kids disclose huge amount of personal information, oblivious to who might see it and how quickly it can be disseminated to large numbers of people. Because of immature thinking processes and a sense of immortality, they underestimate how dangerous this is. On the contrary, in our tell-all society, the sharing of private, even sexual information and images has become the norm.
Vulnerability. Kids without positive personal relationships may be at increased risk. They may be looking online for what is missing in their own lives, and not have the judgment necessary to avoid unhealthy internet relationships. Teens who use internet postings as a journal to share their pain with the world may attract like-minded individuals who encourage extreme or dangerous behavior, or online predators who use a teen’s vulnerability to their advantage.
Three Hundred Friends. Teens are in the process of forming their identities, exploring social relationships, and trying out different roles in society. “Popularity” is often determined by the number of “links” or “friends” a teen has. In an effort to increase this number quickly, kids often post questionable content, highlighting provocative, unhealthy, or illegal behavior, in an effort to gain attention and status.
What Can You Do? Knowledge is power. Talk with kids about the above dangers, and explain to them why you have concerns about their internet behavior. Provide a sounding board for kids dealing with difficult situations, so they won’t feel the need to turn to the internet for attention and support.