Topics

6 main risks youth will encounter - and solutions to those risks

This portion of the site covers six risks children and teens are likely to encounter. Click the links below to learn more about each topic's risks and solutions to those risks.










Comprehensive Solutions

The most important and effective solutions to all of these risks are to:

  1. Create and maintain relationships of trust with your children
  2. Make your home a safe place for your children to ask questions

The absence of tech-based solutions may come as a surprise to some readers. One reason tech-based solutions like filters aren't listed here is that, while filters and parental restrictions are important, no matter what parents do:
  • Undesirable content will find a way to get through filters
  • Your kids will use WiFi networks you don't control
  • Friends could send messages with undesirable content
  • Filters don't do a good job filtering text messages and apps (like Snapchat)
Additionally, children will eventually have to navigate the online world with either partial or full independence from their parents. So, it's important to build relationships of trust and answer our children's questions so that when difficult issues arise, they'll feel comfortable and safe talking to us about the challenges they're facing.





Social Media

Social Media

Risks

Youth increasingly use social media to communicate and socialize with their friends, with both positive and negative outcomes. Here are some of the risks of social media use:

  • Social media apps/sites are intentionally designed to be addicting
  • Increased use is closely related to depression and anxiety. Some reasons include:
    • When peers do socialize in-person, they post about it. Those not invited feel left out
    • Posts are routinely made (positive or negative) about a youth that are outside of their control
    • People post mainly the positive aspects of their lives, leaving many viewers feeling negatively about their own lives
  • Sharing too much information (including photos) can lead to:
    • Online predators obtaining a lot of information
    • Targeted stalking, robbery or other bad situations
    • Identity theft
      • You can use these online tools to see all of the invisible information your photos contain (called "metadata" or "exif" data)
You can read about more social media risks teens face online at this Pew Research article.

Solutions

Here are some tips to help kids stay safe and healthy while using social media:

  • Implement time limits on social media
    • Discuss the potential for mental health problems that come from over-use
    • There are filters that can enforce this. Your internet provider may already have free tools.
  • Talk about how people generally only share the positive sides of their lives
  • Teach youth how and how much to appropriately share (and the dangers of over-sharing), including:
    • That posts can be screenshotted and archived, so even if a post is deleted it may still exist somewhere out there
    • How to setup privacy settings (e.g., posts are only visible to friends)
    • Note: Everyone has different risk tolerance levels, so "how much" may vary from person to person
  • Only add people to accounts whom they've met in-person
  • Turn off geolocation on photos

An Important Note: Social media is now how many youth create and maintain friendships (often even more so than in-person). As a result, completely banning social media use may not the best solution.




Cyber Bullying

Cyber Bullying

Risks


The risks of cyber bullying can't be overstated, as it has led to increases in both attempted suicides and actual suicides.

Many of us have been bullied at some point during our lives. It's an awful experience for anyone, especially when you're young and already feel really vulnerable.

Just as other parts of our lives have moved online, so too has bullying. In some ways, cyber bullying can have worse effects than in-person bullying. Here are a few reasons why:
  • Anonymous commenting (especially on social media) makes it easier for anyone to say hurtful things
    • In the words of the brother of a young Eagle Scout who committed suicide after being cyber bullied:

      “In today’s age, bullies don’t push you into lockers, they don’t tell their victims to meet them behind the school’s dumpster after class.
      They cower behind user names and fake profiles from miles away constantly berating and abusing good, innocent people.”


  • Threats of physical harm (either by the bully or for the victim to carry out) are common.
  • None of us is perfect, and bullies are more than happy to prey on those weaknesses
    • With billions of people online, at least one person will notice

The following are real examples of cyber bullying, which some readers may find disturbing. Discretion is advised.


  • A 12-year-old girl received these hate-filled messages via social media the day she committed suicide (News Article and source of images)
  • message to kill yourself 1 message to kill yourself 2
  • A 13-year-old, named Hope, sexted photos of herself to her boyfriend. The photos were then shared with students at six different schools, and a "Hope Hater Page" was created. Hope subsequently hung herself.
    • Note: Regardless of your opinions on sexting, the sharing of those photos with others and creating of the derogatory page are NOT somehow "her fault" or "justice" for her sexting.
  • Here's the story of the 16-year-old Eagle Scout who committed suicide, and who was talked about earlier:
    David was the target of a group of six to 10 bullies in a group text, who went after him for no reason and whose contact info he didn't have. His brother said:

    “He did not do anything to them besides having an attractive girlfriend. … They crushed his spirit and took away his motivation to do anything. I saw the pain in David’s eyes three nights ago as he was added to a group text only to be made fun of and kicked out two minutes later. I spoke to him right after to comfort him and he didn’t even hear me. He stared off into the distance for what seemed like an hour. I could feel his pain. It was a tangible pain. He didn’t even have the contact information of any of the eight members who started the group text. It is important to note David had been enduring this sort of abuse for a very long time."

Solutions


Teach children about cyber bullying from three angles:
  1. As a victim
  2. As a bully
  3. And as a bystander

As a Victim
As parents, we can help our bullied children by:
  • Taking their concerns seriously
  • Creating a safe environment for them to reach out to us
  • Watching for signs of depression and suicide
    • Note that even all-around great kids can be at high risks of depression/suicide
    • How youth (and we) view ourselves determines our reality, even if they're stellar people
  • Teaching them how to work through hurtful situations, including:
    • How to forgive and let go of anger
    • Separating themselves from mean people
    • Taking something positive from negative experiences (e.g., having greater empathy for others)

As a Bully
All of us have said things we later regretted, and the same goes for youth. So it's important to keep in mind that anyone is capable of being mean to others - some more so than others, though.

To help our children not bully or be mean to others, we can teach* our children:
  • How to control their emotions, including:
    • Taking ownership of their actions (i.e., accountability)
    • Stepping away (temporarily) from situations where they're getting angry
  • Don't abuse the ability to be anonymous online
  • How to ask for forgiveness and right the wrongs they've done
  • Let them know we'll always love them and be there for them
    • Remember that those who bully or say mean things are often hurting inside (and likely are in need of help)

As a Bystander
We can also teach our children how to:
  • Stand up for those being bullied
  • Reach out to those who are bullied
    • Having someone reach out can make all the difference for a victim
  • Be a positive example to their friends

*Remember that teaching happens in both formal and informal situations.




Pornography/Sex

Pornography/Sex

Risks

As many know, pornography and sex-related content can be accessed from pretty much anywhere at anytime. This site aims to discuss some of the potential consequences of a pornography addiction:

Before discussing some of the well-known effects of a porn addiction, here are some things to consider that usually aren't talked about:
  1. Viewing pornography is not necessarily the same as an addiction
  2. Motives for watching porn extend beyond pleasure to include:
    • Learning more about sex (sex education - from parents, school, and/or church - is viewed as inadequate by many youth, and probably is)
    • Discovering one's sexuality
    • Having an outlet to abusive relationships
    • etc.
  3. Feeling shame (different from guilt) associated with even believing a person's addicted can have worse effects than the actual effects of a porn addiction
    • Guilt inspires positive change - shame drains hope and love
  4. And lastly, many (if not all) porn sites are loaded with malware, which often automatically downloads to and infects your computer.

The rest of the content in this section discusses topics in frank, but respectful, terms and may disturb some readers. Discretion is advised.

This video from the BBC does a great job discussing this section's content.

There are different ranges and types of pornography and porn addiction - it's not just black and white. For example, seeing porn is vastly different from being addicted. And porn ranges from still images to movies, from nudity to BDSM (bondage, discipline, submission and dominance) and, disgustingly, even to depictions of rape.

There's also child pornography, which is its own realm and won't be discussed here. But needless to say, it is wrong, illegal, and is closely tied to increased rates of sexual assault and child molestation.

Here are some of the potential consequences of a pornography addiction:

  • Skewed perception of what sex and love are/about
    • Viewing romantic partners as objects, not people
    • Forgetting that sex, while very pleasurable, is ultimately about expressing deep love and commitment
  • Belief that consent ruins the mood (for both initiating intimacy and subsequent sex acts, like anal sex)
  • Belief that a person's body isn't good enough. For example:
    • A woman may believe no man will ever want her because she has a hairy vulva
    • A man may think that he'll never be able to pleasure a woman because his penis is smaller than most
    • Conversely, believing they can only be sexually satisfied unless they have sex with the "perfect" body (whatever that means)
  • Like other addictions, reduced brain activity in key regions, leading to increased:
    • Aggressiveness
    • Poor judgment of future consequences
    • Inability to respond properly to situations
    • Impulsiveness
    • Source for this bullet point
Like any addiction, a porn addiction can be overcome.

This site doesn't cover addiction recovery, but we do discuss tips on helping children avoid an addiction in the solutions section below. If you are addicted and want to recover, look for useful resources in your area. Family and friends are great places to get help too.

Solutions

  • Teach your children about sex and respecting others in this context
    • Talk to them about what's appropriate, especially asking for consent
    • Consider teaching sex in a positive light, rather than a just set of "do nots"
    • Psychologists have found that children who are taught about sex by the age of 8:
      • View sex as a normal part of life
      • Usually feel comfortable asking their parents sex-related questions as they get older
  • Setup filters/parental controls
    • Many internet providers provide these as part their services for free (like Xfinity)
    • Other software exists. A list of top-rated software from 2018 can be found by clicking here




Anonymity

Anonymity

Risks

Being anonymous can have some great benefits, including:
  • Identity protection
  • Ability to easily to speak one's mind for good
  • Evade predators and other ill-intended people

But these benefits can be abused, leading to problems like:
  • Speaking one's mind freely to hurt others
  • Increase in cyber-bullying
  • etc.
Youth can face these problems as both:
  • Victims
  • Aggressors

Solutions

To minimize the negative effects of being anonymous, we teach children to:
  • Be civil online, including when we're anonymous
  • Stand up for others who are being anonymously bullied
  • Develop capabilities to healthily manage situations where they're being targeted
Just as importantly, we should be there to comfort and help our children when they're going through difficult times.




Violent Media

Violent Media

Risks

"Media" includes video games, television/movies, videos (e.g., YouTube), and music. Consistent consumption of violent media carries some significant risks, including:
  • Mental health deterioration, such as:
    • Increased aggressiveness
    • Nightmares
    • Desensitization to violence
    • Fear of being harmed
  • Swatting
    • "Swatting" is where an emergency call is placed describing a dangerous situation, with the intent to have a large police force or the SWAT team dispatched to someone else's home
    • This often happens when one gamer gets upset at another player.
    • Swatting has led to evactuations and mistaken killings by police
  • Developing an addiction to video games (and other media)
While these risks extend to both youth and adults, they're particularly acute for youth (whose brains and emotions are still developing).

Solutions

To minimize the negative effects of violent media, consider these suggestions:
  • Be selective in the types of media you allow into your home
    • As children get older, they can better handle more mature content
  • Monitor your child's behavior and attitudes, looking for negative changes
    • If you notice negative changes, consider reducing or banning violent media (even though your children will probably hate it)
  • Regarding Swatting, counsel your children to:
    • Avoid causing confrontations with others (including trolling)
    • Leave online games where they feel unsafe
    • NOT disclose any personal information to strangers (on account info or in chats)
  • Be aware that online gaming consistently exposes players to angry people, even fully-grown, 60 year-old men.




False Information

False Information

Risks

This topic has been discussed a lot in recent years, but it extends beyond just the news. Some repercussions of false info. include:
  • Loss of trust in other people and institutions (e.g., news stations, governments, etc.)
  • Creating impressions (biases) of others that may be incorrect
    • This extends from minor to significant impressions
  • Learning important topics incorrectly (e.g., Wikipedia, as great as it is, doesn't always have accurate info.)

Solutions

To help our youth successfully navigate a world filled with false information, we can teach them how to:
  • Constructively question information they view and come to their own conclusions
  • Discern between trustworthy and untrustworthy sources
  • Take some thing (like gossip) with a grain of salt
  • Lastly, teach them good principles to live by so they can determine for themselves if something lines up with good values or not




Resources


To better protect your children and family from online security risks, be sure to:
  1. Establish relationships of trust
  2. Make your home a safe environment to ask any questions
Note: Because each browser is different and there are so many different internet service providers, it's not feasible to provide links to every service. I've included the links (in red) where I can and encourage you to search for solutions that best fit your situation.

In addition to the two suggestions above, consider:
  • Implementing filters (for websites and apps)
    • Check if your internet provider already has these tools before you purchase one
    • Filters exist as both software and physical devices
  • Setting search engine settings to strict (called "SafeSearch" for Google )
  • Installing ad blockers for each of your browsers (ads can contain viruses and display inappropriate content)
    • Download them from your browser's extension store
    • There's one for iPhone Safari called Ka-Block!
  • Establishing rules regarding:
    • Setting up new accounts (e.g., all accounts have to have parental approval)
    • Screen time limits
    • Media consumption
    • Sharing of personal information (e.g., don't share any personal info without parents' permission)
    • Regular parental reviews of phones, computers, etc.
  • Implementing of these tips into your own life, setting a good example for your children

If you'd like to learn more about general security principles and see more resources, visit our sister site IntroToSecurity.com