• Denisa Millette

Teens, Social Media, and Online Safety

Undoubtedly, the internet has created new ways for us to communicate and be connected. Thanks to today’s technology, our teenagers have an opportunity to gain media literacy, become technically savvy, socialize, and be connected to their peers all over the world. However, this increased use of the internet and today’s technology among teens comes with a prize. Cyberbullying and online gossip on social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Myspace, as well as through instant messaging, chat rooms, and emails are becoming a growing and common problem. Many parents of my teen clients share with me that their children have at some point been bullied or taken advantage of on social media.  In fact, the FBI reports that by the age of 14, 77% of teens have been contacted by a predator online, 12% of teenage girls admitted to eventually meeting strangers they first met online in person, and chat room strangers have been implicated in nearly 20% of cases of missing teens each year. Thus, teaching teens online safety is crucial.

According to recent research studies, social media has had a profound effect on how children and adolescents interact. While there are many benefits to the use of social media, cyberbullying has emerged as a potential harm, raising questions regarding its influence on mental health. Specifically, there is a consistent relationship across studies between cyberbullying and depression among children and adolescents (1) Other concerns regarding social media typically entail the amount of time teens actually spend online.  In addition to a growing safety concern, research shows a significant correlation between elevated social media use, low self-esteem, and high level of depression symptoms in teens. (2)

Interestingly, research also show that adolescents who perceived lower levels of parental attachment were more likely to experience Internet addiction, cyberbullying, smoking, and depression, while adolescents who reported higher levels of parental restrictive mediation were less likely to experience Internet addiction or to engage in cyberbullying. Adolescent Internet addiction was associated with cyberbullying victimization/perpetration, smoking, consumption of alcohol, and depression. (3)

In addition, excessive Internet and social media use or Internet addiction  is associated with a variety of psychiatric disorders, especially affective disorders (including depression), anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). (4) Furthermore, the current research findings suggest that adolescents with excessive internet use or addiction seem to have more aggressive dispositions than others. (5)

So, what can you as a parent or a caregiver do to teach your child Internet safety and boundaries.

1.Talk to your teen – Make sure your teen understands that although the internet can be used for many amazing purposes, it is sometimes used to hurt others.  Explain to them what they need to be careful about:

  1. Predators – people aren’t always who they say they are, they may lie to you, and trick you into meeting them in public

  2. Bullying – if you would not say that aloud or to someone in person, don’t say it online. If you are a victim of cyberbullying, don’t respond, rather print out the message or the picture as evidence and show it to the trusted adult

  3. Website Content: If you come across anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, always report this to an adult

  4. Permanency: Everything you post online is tracked and stored, and will follow you everywhere

2. Establish rules: Use “Online Safety Rules for Kids” by National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as example

  1. DO NOT not give out personal information such as your address, telephone numbers, parent’s work address/telephone number, or the name or location of your school to anyone online

  2. DO tell your parents/caretakers right away if you come across any information that makes you feel uncomfortable.

  3. NEVER agree to get together with someone you “meet” online. If you parents agree to a meeting, be sure that it is in a public place and you bring your parent along.

  4. NEVER send someone your pictures or anything else without first checking with you parents.

  5. DO NOT respond to any messages that are mean or in any way make you feel uncomfortable. It is not your fault if you get a message like that. If you do, print it out and share it with a trusted adult.

  6. DO talk to your parents about decision regarding how much time you spent online and appropriate areas for you to visit. DO NOT access other areas or break these rules without their permission.

 3. Stay informed: use a monitoring program such as the one offered by Netnanny to track your teen’s activity online and on social media. For more information about safety on the internet and social media, you can  go to www.netsmartz.org.

As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you are dealing with any of these issues with your teenager and need further help.  You can contact me by clicking here.

All questions and comments are always welcomed. Before you leave, don’t forget to sign up below to stay in touch and not to miss my new posts.

With well wishes,


Sources for this article include:

  1. Hamm MP, Newton AS, Chisholm A, Shulhan J, Milne A, Sundar P, Ennis H, Scott SD, Hartling L. Prevalence and Effect of Cyberbullying on Children and Young People: A Scoping Review of Social Media Studies. JAMA Pediatr. 2015 Aug;169(8):770-7. PubMed:26098362

  2. Bányai F, Zsila Á, Király O, Maraz A, Elekes Z, Griffiths MD, Andreassen CS, Demetrovics Z. Problematic Social Media Use: Results from a Large-Scale Nationally Representative Adolescent Sample. PLoS One, 2017 Jan9; 12(1):eo169839. PubMed: 28068404

  3. Chang FC, Chiu CH, Miao NF, Chen PH, Lee CM, Chiang JT, Pan YC. The relationship between parental mediation and Internet addiction among adolescents, and the association with cyberbullying and depression. Compr Psychiatry. 2015 Feb;57:21-8. PubMed:25487108

  4. Weinstein A1, Lejoyeux M. Internet addiction or excessive internet use. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2010 Sep;36(5):277-83. PubMed:20545603

  5. Lim JA1, Gwak AR, Park SM, Kwon JG, Lee JY, Jung HY, Sohn BK, Kim JW, Kim DJ, Choi JS. Are adolescents with internet addiction prone to aggressive behavior? The mediating effect of clinical comorbidities on the predictability of aggression in adolescents with internet addiction.Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2015 May;18(5):260-7. PubMed:25902276

  6. http://www.sdcda.org/office/girlsonlytoolkit/toolkit/girls-only-toolkit.pdf

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