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Monitoring Your Teen’s Online Activities

It is common for parents to struggle with how to stay involved in their teen’s online activity. Here are some ideas to help guide parents in balancing their teen’s need for privacy and independence with their parental job of providing protection.

Typically, teens are highly skeptical of parental involvement and questions, and will swiftly leap to the classic phrase, “It’s none of your business.” Rest assured that it is your business! While teens can feel ready to take on the world, their brains are still developing and they are not yet at a place where they can properly deal with all situations on their own. Your involvement is very important.

Strategies for staying involved

Here are some strategies you can integrate into daily life to stay involved in your teen’s online activities and increase their safety, while also giving them the independence they desire:

  1. Set the expectation early on that you will monitor your teen’s use of their devices. Follow through on what you have told them with regard to consequences for any inappropriate behaviour/actions. It’s also a good idea to set a time every evening when WiFi is disabled and all devices are shut off in the house.
  2. Regularly engage in conversation with your teen about the apps or sites they are using. Remain informed about the online spaces where youth may be negatively impacted and have ongoing discussions. Sign up for Alerts to remain informed of the emerging issues facing tweens/teens. Review any parental controls, chat options, profile information options and privacy settings available for the apps/sites they are using.
  3. Reinforce the public nature of the Internet. Let your teen know that once a picture/video or information is sent, they lose control over what is done with it. If your teen has been negatively impacted by a picture/video being shared by peers, they can visit for practical steps to take to regain control over the situation.
  4. Talk about the risks associated with live streaming. What happens over live stream can be easily recorded – don’t be fooled by thinking it is live and therefore “no big deal.” The same risks exist for live streaming as sending pictures or videos. Pre-recorded content can also be live streamed so unless the other person is known to be offline, there is no way of verifying who is on the other end of the camera and you should proceed with caution.
  5. Discuss the importance of seeking help. Identify situations when it would be important to tell you, or another safe adult, about an uncomfortable or potentially unsafe situation. Acknowledge that while this may be a difficult step for your child to take, their safety is your number one priority and you are there to help them. Discuss what might happen if they don’t seek help from a safe adult and emphasize that it is never too late to come to you for help, even if they have made a mistake.
  6. Monitor your teen’s behaviour to watch for changes that may trigger cause for concern. It’s important to pay attention to changes in your teen’s typical behaviour patterns, as well as changes in the intensity of their behaviour. Some signs that may indicate the need for increased involvement and communication with your teen include:
    • They seem more withdrawn, sad, anxious, defensive, angry or secretive.
    • They have significantly increased or decreased the amount of time they spend online.
    • They do not respond to limits placed on how often and how long they spend online.
    • They have lost interest in activities that they’ve normally enjoyed.
    • They are complaining of stomach aches or headaches.
    • They develop problems with sleeping patterns, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep at night, or sleeping all the time and avoiding interaction.

What to do if you notice concerning behaviour

If you discover that your teen is pushing boundaries online, they may need some adult direction to re-establish the line. It is typical for teens to break boundaries, especially if they think adults aren’t aware. Sometimes all it takes to get them back on the right track is knowing an adult is monitoring them more closely.

Here are some steps to consider:

  1. Increase your involvement to become more visible in your teen’s online activity. Calmly communicate your concerns and be emotionally available for your teen. They will likely resist your involvement – do not back down. It is their job to test limits and your job to set them.
  2. Increase direct supervision and directly monitor your teen’s online activities, including their phone. Check their social networking, chat and messaging sites/apps. Simply knowing that you are aware and monitoring may be enough to change your teen’s behaviour.
  3. Enforce limits on your teen’s use of their devices. Depending on the level of concern for your teen’s behaviour, you may consider taking away access for a limited time.
  4. Build your relationship with your teen. Create opportunities to do things together. Even if your teen is resistant, the message you are sending by wanting to spend time with them is that you care which unto itself is a powerful protective factor.

The tips and other information provided herein is intended as general information only, not as advice. Readers should assess all information in light of their own circumstances, the age and maturity level of the child(ren) they wish to protect and any other relevant factors.