Protect Teenagers from the Risks of Social Networks Without Being Invasive

Safeguarding adolescents from the risks of social networks without invading their privacy is achieved through trust and communication.
Protect Teenagers from the Risks of Social Networks Without Being Invasive

Last update: 13 November, 2022

Your child needs more privacy as they grow up. This scares you because the risks of independent living are just around the corner and you can no longer protect them as closely as before. Among other things, you’re concerned about the risks they’re exposed to when surfing the digital world. In this article, we’ll tell you how to protect teenagers from the risks of social networks, without invading their space.

For young people, networks are much more than a space for entertainment or a means to interact with their peers. In this regard, through them, they develop and reaffirm their identity. When we realize that their cell phone has become a permanent extension of their hand, the typical doubts arise: To what extent should we supervise the use our children make of these platforms? What are the limits? How can we ensure that they’re not at risk without intruding on their privacy?

Adolescents and the risks of social networks: What are we protecting them from?

We know that technological progress has brought enormous benefits to the lives of adolescents and the population in general. However, the risks of being online are a relevant fact.

The age groups most vulnerable to being victims of computer crime are children and adolescents. It may sound paradoxical, but those who handle digital platforms best are the ones who can be most harmed by their risks. We should protect the youngest users of Tik Tok, Instagram, and Twitch from potential dangers:

  • Cyberbullying
  • Grooming
  • Cyber addiction
  • Highly violent or disturbing content
  • The psychological phenomenon FOMO (Fear of missing out)
  • Dangerous challenges
A teenage girl showing her mom something on her phone, looking worried.

Care without excess

The risks of social networks represent a blunt threat to the mental, emotional, and physical health of adolescents. However, prohibiting their use isn’t an option in a reality where the digital world is a protagonist. Let’s also remember that it’s not all bad news in a culture influenced by technology: Through it, we interact with people miles away, we learn, we develop our creativity, we make friends, we broaden our vision of the world, among other valuable issues.

We know that adolescence reflects a particularly intense hinge moment. Let’s not forget that we’re talking about the stage of exploration and discovery. It’s at this time that identity is reaffirmed. The need for intimacy and personal space is strongly present at this stage of life. And we must respect it.

Digitality has had important implications for the development of identity and privacy management, with an even more evident impact for minors, who are part of a culture that urges them to be and participate online, both to redefine themselves and to socialize

 – María José Hernández Serrano –

In this regard, it’s worth seeking a balance to protect our children from the risks of social networks without invading their privacy or excluding them socially. As adults, we have the responsibility to watch over the care of the youngest while preserving their right to privacy. We’re facing a more than complex challenge: Care without excess. How can we achieve this middle ground?

1. Discuss the risks of social networks

It’s essential to know and discuss the risks of social networks with our children. Not from an alarming or threatening discourse but rather from respect and warning. We need to warn them of the negative effects of the inappropriate use of ICTs.

The aim of this talk isn’t to scare them or make them feel that they can’t count on you. It’s precisely the opposite: To raise awareness of the risks and build confidence so that they turn to you or another adult in their environment when they perceive that something’s wrong.

2. Regulate the use of social networks

Limiting the time spent using social networks is one of the most significant challenges we face. As a preventive measure, it’s important to circumscribe a limited space and period of time to be active in the virtual sphere. Excessive use of digital platforms can lead to sleep and behavioral disorders, anxiety, or isolation, among other effects.

Encouraging face-to-face exchanges with peers and participation in sports, recreational, and artistic activities is a good alternative to avoid compulsive behaviors that can lead to serious consequences.

A teenage boy looking away as his mom questions him about his internet use.

3. Ask and listen

Dialogue and trust are two essential elements when it comes to protecting our children from the risks of social networks. In this regard, it’s better to create a safe space in which young people feel comfortable expressing their emotions. For this reason, it’s more functional to ask rather than to assume and to listen rather than to impose. Otherwise, they’ll feel more and more unprotected and thus become more closed off. It’s important to make sure that they don’t perceive communication with us as a stressful or risky event. Rather the opposite: As a safe and comfortable setting.

4. Be aware of danger signs and get involved when necessary

It may happen that we notice certain strange behaviors that make us think that something bad is happening. For example, they display an unstable mood for no apparent reason, they no longer communicate as they used to, they suddenly express a desire not to go to school, or they show excessive and evident worry while using a technological device.

If there are clear signs that something may be happening, it’s necessary to get involved. Before checking their devices without their consent, we should approach them and explain that they can trust us. In this regard, it’s essential that they don’t feel that we’re judging them.

The risks of social networks are combated with trust

The best way to protect adolescents from the risks of social networks without violating their intimate space is achieved through trust and communication. In short, it’s a matter of not falling into any of the extremes: We must avoid both extreme supervision and the lack of it. We must go from less to more, as the specific situation requires. That is, start with less invasive strategies to more invasive ones in an extreme case.

Establishing a respectful and close bond with our children will indirectly lead to having some knowledge of their lives, not from surveillance or sharp interrogation but rather from healthy and proportional care.

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  • Arab, L. E., & Díaz, G. A. (2015). Impacto de las redes sociales e internet en la adolescencia: aspectos positivos y negativos. Revista Médica Clínica Las Condes, 26(1), 7-13. Disponible en: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0716864015000048
  • Hernández-Serrano, Mª J., Renés-Arellano, P., Campos Ortuño, R. y González-Larrea, B. (2021). Privacidad en redes sociales: análisis de los riesgos de auto-representación digital de adolescentes españoles. Revista Latina de Comunicación Social, 79, 133-154.
    https://www.doi.org/10.4185/RLCS-2021-1528 

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