Teens and cybersecurity: 3 myths you should stop believing

Children are the most vulnerable part of our society, both in reality and the virtual world. But teenagers are facing different and sometimes even more difficult challenges. That’s why we want to tell you about the biggest cybersecurity threats your teenage kid risks facing each day.

Your teenage daughter or son probably already has a smartphone and your concern is how to prevent him or her from getting in trouble on the internet. For this, we need to bust some myths that prevent parents from helping their children act safely in an online environment.

Why is this relevant today?

This might not seem obvious at first sight, but just look at these stats from multiple studies conducted in Europe and the US:

  1. Parents buy smartphones for their children when they are as young as 5 years old (London School of Economics and Political Science, UK).
  2. In 2016, the average age for a child getting the first smartphone was 10.3 years old, down from 12 in 2012 (Influence Central, US).
  3. Almost 25% of 8 to 11-year-olds and 3 in 4 of 12 to 15-year-olds have a social media profile (Influence Central, US).

Myth 1: Your teenage kids are more knowledgeable about cybersecurity than you

The thinking that the young generation is all-knowing when it comes to anything digital has an obvious source. Simply put, we conflate their mastery of some digital technologies with all the others. As it turns out, the reality is counter-intuitive and quite alarming:

The truth

These two conclusions made by researchers from the London School of Economics and Politics will probably make you rethink just how tech-savvy your kids are:

  • 1 of 3 teenagers think they know less about the internet and related technologies than you do
  • One third have no idea how to block pop-ups, choose the best app or turn off location sharing

The dangers of clinging to the myth

First and foremost, this is dangerous for your kid, but it may just be more problematic than that. Holes in your home cybersecurity system can pose a threat to the whole family. Here are just a few things that may happen:

  • They may infect their laptop or smartphone with dangerous malware
  • Leak passwords, credit card numbers and other sensitive data
  • Use illegal websites (leading to legal issues)
  • Get exposed to adult content

Some malware can travel throughout your home network, and there’s probably no need to explain how leaked passwords and financial data can ruin the day for the whole family.

What you can do

Learn more about internet technologies and educate your teenagers about them. Figure out what they already know and spend some time to plug the holes together. 

Finding out what the best anti-malware software, how to create strong passwords, how to use two-factor authentication, and how to use tools like VPNs, encrypted messaging apps, and password managers are just some of the things you could learn about.

Myth 2: Few teenagers experience issues online, and my kid isn’t one of them

Every parent thinks their kid is special. And for them he/she is. However, in reality, there’s a much greater chance your kid is dealing with troubles online than you think.

The truth

The dangers of clinging to the myth

The consequences of online harassment can be just as tragic as they are in real life. Whenever this happens, it’s important that there’s someone who can intervene in some way. Ideally - that should be you. 

The psychological and emotional consequences you and/or your teenage kid might suffer include:

  • Increased chances of depression
  • Poor results in school
  • Suicidal thoughts or even attempts

What you can do

Talk to your child, and try to see if he/she is coming home upset. Try to gain their trust and assure them that you’re always there to help. Communication will let you make the right decision: either to deal with it in the family or seek third-party help, such as psychological counseling. Sometimes, it may even be a good idea to call the police.

Myth 3: If something bad happens online, your teenager will tell you

You might have experienced this already: children can be reluctant to speak about issues with their parents. The fact that your child hasn’t told you about their issues with cyberbullying means only that - they haven’t told you. For all you know, they may be experiencing them on a daily basis.

Some parents think that if it happens to their teen, they will know. Turns out, it’s not really like that.

The reality

According to the NSPCC research of 11-16-year-olds and their online experiences, only 1 of 5 teens who were upset by something online have had an eye-to-eye conversation about it. As a matter of fact, this is only the 3rd most common reaction - blocking the person who made them upset and not visiting the website where the uncomfortable experience occurred are the more common courses of action. 

The older your child gets, the more he/she will talk to friends instead of you. Be that as it may, teens often avoid talking to their friends about such problems as well. 

Also, take extra attention if your child is a boy - they tend to keep silent twice as often compared to the girls.

The dangers of clinging to the myth

These are the most common upsetting scenarios which your 11-16 years old child might experience or continue experiencing as per the NSPCC study:

  • 36% Trolling
  • 22% Exclusion from social group or friendship
  • 18% Aggressive and violent language
  • 14% Pressure to look or act a certain way
  • 12% Cyberstalking
  • 12% Receiving unwanted sexual messages
  • 10% Racism

Among the less common upsetting experiences are personal information theft, requests or pressure to send or respond to a sexual message, homophobia, and sexism.

It’s not difficult to see why such experiences may cause serious issues: anxiety, stress, depression, and worse.

What you can do

Every parent should look for signs that his teenager is upset and gain his trust so he/she feels safe to tell you what happened. The biggest mistake is thinking that nothing brought to the table means there’s nothing to bring. We also have a few more cybersecurity tips for parents that should help your family stay safe on the web. Be sure to check them out.

The precarious world of teenagers

Adolescence is a tumultuous period for everyone - full of emotions and new social situations. Contemporary teens spend much of their time in a digital world, which has its benefits and pitfalls. The latter includes threats to cybersecurity, as well as cyberbullying.

Parents have their work cut out for them! Don’t fall for the most common cybersecurity myths and always talk to your teenage children. They may not show it, but a healthy relationship with their parents is very important.

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