The Changing Nature of Your Teen’s Online Relationships

As teens get older, their image becomes everything to them. This means their social media sites become much more carefully curated. They are also starting to search for intimacy in their friendships, and will likely be engaging in their first relationships. The 24/7 accessibility through technology makes it ideal for supporting this need.

Cyberbullying Risk

Incidences of cyberbullying tend to peak at around 15 years-old and then drop off significantly. This is a time where teens are immersed in a close-knit group of friends, and relationships at this point have become deeper and more intense. Although to us, this is a seemingly insignificant and short period of time in life, to a teenager, high school is their entire universe. This means when something happens to them socially, such as if they are cyberbullied, the impact is deeply felt.

In addition, due to the increasingly intimate nature of their relationships, they often share very personal things about themselves. Sharing and allowing themselves to be vulnerable is a natural way to build close friendships. However, it also creates the risk that something they have shared could be used against them. For example, a vengeful ex-partner sharing a naked photo. Unfortunately, warning your teenager about these risks is somewhat pointless because they feel very close to the people they are sharing their intimate thoughts with, so it seems unimaginable.

As kids get older, they will expect to have greater control over their personal life, which includes their online socializing. In fact, they may have a job, so pay for their own phone and data plan, which might exclude you completely. There is evidence that the more parents try and control and monitor their older teen’s online world, the more likely the teen is to engage in risky behaviour. Being overbearing and controlling also runs the risk of damaging your relationship with your child. A better approach is to encourage open and trusting dialogue with your teen so that they will come to you if they have questions, or if they are having difficulties online.
As teenagers begin to engage in intimate relationships, the temptation to use technology to build this intimacy is high. Unfortunately, once an image or text has been shared, even if it was to only one person, there is a risk that it could be shared with others. It is important that teenagers be educated about the risks associated with sexting. Media smarts has a good tip sheet about how to talk to your kids about sexting. Having conversations about strategies to resist pressure are also important. Oftentimes, girls report being pressured by boys to send revealing images. It’s important that girls feel confident enough to resist these pressure and comfortable saying no.
In today’s society, we are overwhelmed by sexual images in the media at an increasingly alarming rate. Unfortunately, much of mainstream media portrays women in gender stereotypical ways, or overly sexualized. As teenagers begin to become aware of and exploring their own sexuality, boys and girls may want to emulate what they are seeing online. This is not problematic, and girls should not be shamed for being ‘sexy’ or for what they are wearing, however, making sure that your child is exploring this for his or her own personal interests, and not because of what they see online, is important. This is a great time, as a parent to initiate conversations about how the media overly objectifies women, and how this can unconsciously influence their own beliefs. Reminding your child again that all digital activity is public and permanent is a good way for them to understand the potential risks of posting photos.
We’ve all heard the stories of a young person losing out on a lucrative job because of photos on their social media accounts that depict them drinking or partying. Kids are growing up in a world where everything is documented. Every single mistake a teenager makes will likely be captured by a photo or video. Reiterating the fact that once its posted, anyone can have access to it, is an important factor in helping your teenager maintain a positive online image. Encouraging your child to understand that posting online is permanent, and although photos such as drinking at a party or acting recklessly may not be who they really are, other people, or prospective business do not know that, and can easily misjudge their character.