Modern teenagers are more proficient at using the internet than the generation before them, and why shouldn’t they be? As someone once aptly pointed out, they have never lived in a world without them. While I was still trying to figure out how to work the control, alt, delete combination, they are creating their own cyber shorthand.
This is not an altogether bad thing. As we continue to make technological advances, those who do not conform to the evolution of industry will be left behind.
But as with all things, a lot of bad comes with the good.
There are a ton of avenues available for teens to interact with individuals online, which opens the door for danger. Popular social networks like Myspace, Friendster, Facebook and others of their ilk, are primarily geared towards adults, therefore there is no real policing of the sites themselves. Because of this, people with illicit intentions may try to befriend and lure teens into real life meetings, with potentially disastrous results.
How do we balance a teen’s valid need for independence and the ability to keep them safe from people who would abuse the privileges of such sites?
Be aware of the social networking sites that your teenager frequents, and restrict their number to those that are primarily teen oriented. Be sure to talk with them about the people they are meeting online as well, so you can listen out for suspicious behavior.
Inform your teen that it is never a good idea for them to meet anyone off line for any reason, even if the person says it is an emergency. Let them know that if they desire to meet a friend in real life, they should do so in a public place with you accompanying them, no exceptions.
There are very few actual teen dedicated dating and meeting sites online, so before letting your child sign up, write to the moderators to see if they have safeguards in place in the forums and chat rooms.
Here are a couple of teen dating sites that were noteworthy:
Teen Spot is set up like most of social networking sites, allowing users to post profiles, make friends, chat and post pictures (if your son or daughter absolutely must post pics, be a part of the process. Take age appropriate photos that don’t give away information, like where you home is located. Against a blank wall would suffice)…
A nice Christian teen dating site called Christianity Today is a great spot for teenagers of faith. Along with standard fare, they offer advice on clothing choices and dating options.
But don’t limit your teens dating experiences to the computer world. Online interaction should be balanced with real world activities. Allow them to go to hang out at local teen haunts and gathering places, and keep those places phone numbers on hand.
Above all, make sure their teen’s dating experiences, online and off, are happy, fulfilling and safe.