Some things about being a teenager never change: heartbreak over a first love, learning to drive, searching for a college. But today’s teens face new challenges we never had to deal with. So what does the parent of a millennial need to do to keep their teen safe?
Here, we share 5 threats your teen faces and how you can help him or her cope and stay safe.
Today’s teens are the most wired generation in history. And with that access to information and social media comes an unwelcome threat. The anonymity of the medium serves as both a mask to sexual predators’ true identities and intentions, and a tool for disarming potential victims. Because tweens and teens enjoy making friends through social media, they can be less sensitive to the risks.
Twenty years ago, bullies harassed us at school but couldn’t reach us once we were home. With social media, bullying can happen at all hours and the indirect nature of taunting someone on a platform like Facebook makes it even more insidious. Cyberbullying has received significant attention lately as the vicious and pervasive natures of the attacks have caused many tweens and teens to commit suicide.
Read Related: Protect Your Child From Cyberbullying
With the marketing of thongs to grade-schoolers, most of us realize our girls were being sexualized at younger ages. Still, a recent study surprised many. Using paper dolls to assess self-sexualization in 6-9-year-old girls, psychologists found that 68% of the girls wanted to look like the sexy doll and 72% of the girls thought the sexier doll was more popular than the non-sexy doll.
This early sexualization has long term consequences for both our daughters and sons, including engaging in risky sexual behavior in the hopes of gaining attention and popularity.
NEGATIVE BODY IMAGE
Ninety-seven percent of teens think they would be happier if they could change one aspect of their appearance. A significant number of 15-17 year olds avoid activities like giving their opinion and or even going to school, because they feel badly about their looks. Many blame the heightened focus on appearance on messages mass media perpetuates through sexualization and heavy ‘Photo-Shopping’, making media literacy even more important.
Recent alarming news stories have brought much needed attention to the latest illicit drug: bath salts. While they are nothing like what we might soak in, the name bath salts allowed them to be marketed before the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration realized the danger and established a ban. A stimulant, bath salts do not just result in increased heart rate and blood pressure. Users often experience agitation, paranoia, hallucinations and even suicidal tendencies.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Talk to your teenagers about these issues specifically and strive to have a meaningful conversation with your children every day. Too often, parents think theirs teen will just come to them when an issue arises, so they don’t push for conversation and instead wait for their children to initiate. Parents should always instigate conversations, even difficult ones, and make sure they are really aware of what their children are experiencing.
Discuss threats with your teen and understand what they know about them. Making them aware of dangers will not make them want to experiment. Also, talk openly about the choices you expect your children to make and why. Teach your teens that silence really increases suffering and doesn’t keep anyone safe. They should share anything that makes them worry that they or a friend are in trouble. Let them know you will hear their concerns without getting angry and that together, you can act accordingly to keep everyone safe.
For more concrete solutions: Consider having a common area computer rather than computers in children’s rooms. Have access to all of their accounts, even their cell phone, and check them regularly, not just periodically. Finally, create limits you think are fair for your family and that you will also follow. Some families limit computer, television, and gaming time, cell and texting minutes, prohibit cell phones from being charged in bedrooms overnight, and even have media-free periods. By being proactive and creating a forum for discussion, you will likely head off the newest troubles before they come knocking on your door.