One major effect of COVID-19 is that teens have turned to the Internet for preoccupation more than ever before. Many were already relying on social media to stay in constant touch with their friends and even their family. However, the pandemic has forced people to social distance and stay away from one another. A lot of teens won’t be going back to school in person, at least not for the first part of the semester. Therefore, they’ve now become reliant on the Internet, not only to keep in touch with their friends but to ensure that they are taking care of their schoolwork as need be, and to simply occupy them. Teens can’t shop in person anymore, so they shop online. They can go to their usual haunts to hang out in person, so they hang out online. Again, the seeds of this were already present due to the constant presence of social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But the need for them has intensified over time, and for the foreseeable future, they will be the main means through which teenagers interact with each other. The question is, are they only interacting with one another or are they also interacting with potentially dangerous strangers online? This question that keeps many parents up at night.

The immediate instinct of some parents may be to stop their teens from going online at all. They may demand that they stay away from the computer, only allowing Internet access when they absolutely need it for schoolwork. Historically, however, this has not worked. Teenagers often lash out in response to these types of heavy restrictions, and it makes them want to be online even more than they were online before. This generation of teenagers have been raised in a post-Internet society, wherein going online and using technology like computers and smartphones is very much the norm. It’s so easy for young teens break through passwords and parental controls. A better approach is discussing the Internet with them and putting realistic restrictions in place. This will ensure that you stay approachable, and make your relationship with your child open, so that they feel as if they can talk to you about potential dangers that they run into online. With that being said, here are a few ways to keep your teen safe online realistically.

1. Monitor Their Behavior

There are a number of risk factors that can jeopardize the safety of your children online. Some of them are the result of strangers. Sexual predators can frequent the Internet, targeting vulnerable teens and often befriending them through false personas. This is sometimes referred to as catfishing, and it can certainly affect adults as well as teens but is particularly harmful to teenagers. But cyberbullying is also a major issue online, and kids can know their cyber bullies in person. Cyberbullying is much like bullying in person, but it’s even more insidious and problematic because teens cannot go home and avoid their bullies. Every time they go online, their cyberbullies may be present. These dangers have resulted in teens suffering anxiety and depression, and some have even taken their lives due to the consequences of cyberbullying. It’s always important to pay attention to the ways that teens are interacting with others. But a sullen attitude, withdrawal, losing interest in friends, and even self-harm can be linked to issues online, especially if other causes are not readily apparent. It’s important for parents to investigate these issues and ensure that they understand what is happening to their children. In some cases, legal action can be sought if children are being threatened by sexual predators or cyberbullies; though there are about 1,315,561 lawyers in the United States, those that are experts on cyber crimes are still rising.

2. Be Present Online

One of the best ways to monitor your child’s online activities without being too intrusive is to simply be present online as well. If your child has a Facebook account, it’s not unusual to become their Facebook friend as well. You may want to follow them on Twitter or Instagram as well. This can at times be overbearing, so it may be a good idea to simply monitor the sites they are on, and discuss any possible issues with them. For that matter, this could push teens to create separate private accounts. Simply being present is often enough for most parents.

3. Talk To Your Teenager

It’s important to have an open dialogue with your teen about what’s happening online. Be honest about your concerns, and about why they shouldn’t trust everyone that they speak to online. Let them know that just because a person is online, doesn’t mean that they lack a criminal record. Ohio alone has 1.9 million residents with criminal records according to the Ohio Justice and Policy Center. A lot of criminals who are worried about getting caught when preying on people in person simply move online.

4. Be Aware Of Gaming Risks

Although we’ve largely focused on dangers associated with social media. But a lot of parents assume that gaming is totally safe for teens, and this is not always the case. Gaming online is incredibly popular, with over 200 million copies of Minecraft having been sold as of May 2020. Parents feel safe, assuming that there is no risk from gamers. In fact, everything from the ground up regarding gaming varies wildly in terms of appropriateness for teens. Always check on a game’s rating, to ensure that the game itself is appropriate for your teenager. You may want to have an account on gaming sites as well, increasing that presence mentioned above. It’s important to start monitoring your child’s gaming habits at an early age and to be open about them as they grow older and become interesting in more mature games.

Letting your teen move online can be scary at first. But there is a space available for them, and you should be open with them about what they want to do. Holding them back will only create a wall between the two of you. Be active and honest with your child, and it will be much easier for you to monitor their online activity.