Protecting Teens Online

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Education

How parents can help their kids navigate the digital world while also being safe

By: Eleanore Catolico

It’s hard enough growing up, but the advent of technology, whether it’s computers, laptops or mobile devices, has transformed the social dimension of the modern teen.

Cyber bullying and online predators have gripped national headlines, forcing parents, teachers, and policy makers to zero in on what adults can do to protect their children from the dangers of virtual life.

On March 8 and 9, the American Academy of Pediatrics will host the Healthy Children Conference + Expo at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, the first large scale event of its kind in Illinois.

Parents and their children are encouraged to attend and participate, as a contingent of nationally-recognized health professionals will gather to discuss a wide range of health topics, including managing online safety and responsibility with teens.

Dr. Don Shifrin is currently a clinical professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine and completed his M.D. at Georgetown University’s School of Medicine in 1974.

As pediatrician specializing in communications and media with adolescents, Dr. Shifrin decided to enter this difficult terrain because no matter what socioeconomic or cultural environment a teen thrives in, media on all levels has had an indelible impact on the pediatric population.

According to the Pew Research Internet Project’s “Teens, Social Media and Privacy” report, 81 percent of teens use Facebook, while 24 percent of teens use Twitter in 2012. It’s a statistic that reflects the growth of the average teen’s comfort level with digital forums that coincides with an increase to what is shared online.

More and more teens are posting pictures of themselves, and even personal contact information. Without monitoring a teen’s online use, they become exposed to unfiltered online advertising that can encourage potentially harmful behavior.

“Parenting is a time based function and with many teens (research proven) spending more time with media than in school or with parents,” Dr. Shifrin said. “It has often become the other parent, the progenitor of role modeling. Parents often are hard pressed to reprise their role as model, mentor, monitor and manager of their teen’s choices.”

Another challenge is teens falling prey to online taunts, which could eventually evolve to cyber bullying and comes in the form of spreading rumors about a teen on social media, posting embarrassing photos or videos, sending cruel text messages or creating fake profiles to degrade a teen.

It’s a troubling problem teens face as news of cyber bullying instigating teen suicide has gripped national attention. Even those not pushed to this extreme edge can teens to use alcohol and drugs, skip school, lower self esteem and become ill.

In 2011, The Center for Disease Control conducted the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey that reported that 16.2 percent of teens nationwide said that they had been bullied electronically and that percentage 18.0 percent of Hispanic females and 9.5 percent of Hispanic males said that they were bullied.

So, what can parents do? Dr. Shifrin suggests a diplomatic approach to talking with teens about their online actions.

“Just as we teach driver’s education, the ‘rules of the road,” how to recognize -and react to situations that are, or could be, dangerous, so too should we guide our tweens and teens,” he said. “I have said that the most dangerous idea about connection to the internet for kids is to deny them access and the second most dangerous is to give them unlimited access.”

The website also gives practical tips to prevent cyber bullying including installing parental filtering software onto their children’s laptops, and keeping track of the websites their children visit on a regular basis. It’s about balance, not absolutes for parents, Dr. Shifrin assures and be allowed to give yourself some peace.

“Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint: pace yourself, remain calm, connected, and competent. There is no parenting learner’s permit “here’s your baby-go.” So keep learning, listening, and loving.”

Photo Credit: Getty Images

For more information on this weekend’s event, go to

Comments are closed.