In some cases, the answer is yes. Teen internet use, including what material they are viewing and posting, can lead to risky behavior, and real world encounters with individuals met online. While that may seem obvious, the statistics might surprise you.
An article appeared in the publication “Pediatrics” in February of this year discussing the results of a study that attempted to draw a conclusion about the internet usage and other risky behaviors by adolescents who had been mistreated earlier in life. Mission accomplished as you will see below, but the overall results of the study are instructive, especially in the case of online interaction with strangers leading to online meeting with a person who was previously a stranger. 251 adolescent girls aged 14 to 17 were studied over the course of a year and a half, and:
- 30% of subjects reported online meetings with people they met online
- Subjects with a history of maltreatment, adolescent behavior problems or possessing low cognitive ability were indeed more likely engage in risky behavior or to meet someone offline
- Subjects who viewed sexual content online were more likely to meet someone offline
- Parental control software was not effective in stopping high-risk behavior
- High quality parenting and monitoring was the only effective risk mitigation strategy
Obviously, not all people you meet online pose a risk, but I think we can agree that parents, especially when thinking about the predators out there, would not have permitted some of those meetings.
What can parents do about it? Numbers 4 and 5 above are interesting. Many parents install monitoring software on their teens’ computers and think that they have solved the problem. Issues can ensue when parents don’t check, or don’t know what warning signs that they are looking for. Further problems arise when the teen knows she is being watched, and chooses to conduct her risky behavior on her phone, a friend’s computer or somewhere else.
When it comes to the internet and social media, high quality parenting consists of:
- Explaining to teens, ad infinitum, that bad behavior online is still bad behavior
- Talking to kids about what websites or networks they are using
- Understanding for yourself how each site works and what to look for
- Take quick action if you think at risk behavior is happening
A hands-on parenting approach is the best way to ensure that your teen’s internet activity does not lead to risky behavior online or offline. The holy grail is a partnership between educated teens and informed, aware parents.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.