Interests & Risks

Youth 13–15 years of age

At this age, youth are greatly influenced by their peers and have a “pseudo-maturity” which often makes them feel that they can handle more than they are developmentally ready for. They seek acceptance and belonging while also forming their own identity through experimentation and risk taking.

Apps

Apps not only provide teens with entertainment (gaming, music, videos, etc.), they are also a primary way to communicate with other peers. Texting, messaging and other social media apps keep teens connected to friends and family 24/7 and provide them with prompt reactions from other users in the form of likes, followers and comments. As a parent/guardian it’s important to understand the purpose of apps and how your child may be negatively impacted by using them.

  • Some apps give the user a sense of security that their information, images or videos are only being shared temporarily. However, there are ways for other users to capture shared information (i.e. screenshot on Snapchat).
  • Many apps use location services when enabled on the device to identify the location of the user of the app through GPS technology. Some apps encourage the user to “check in” or share their location, while others may share location without asking for user input each time.
  • Apps can be hidden on a device. Icons can be arranged discreetly, or placed into a folder on a user’s device so they are no longer visible at a quick glance.
  • While some apps are free to download, they may also feature in-app purchases (i.e. items that will aid in a game, special photo filters, etc.) that can add up quickly.
  • More specific risks related to gaming, chat, messaging and social networking apps can be found under the headings for these types of services below.
  • Become familiar with parental controls on phones and tablets. Some devices allow parents to limit access to specific apps, social media sites, Internet content and features available within the device. For example, on iPhones and iPads parents can “Enable Restrictions” under the “Settings” icon. Yet, understand by this age many youth can bypass such settings.
  • Download and sign up for apps with your teen. You may want to create an account for your child rather than allowing them to use your account. The birthdate entered for an Apple ID account, for example, restricts what a user can download based on the age ratings for the apps.
  • Become familiar with popular apps your teen is asking to download. Understand their purpose, how information is shared and what information is needed to sign up for the account.
  • Set the expectation that you will monitor your teen’s use of their phone and discuss how and when you will do this. It’s important you follow through on what you have told your teen, and as required, enforce consequences for any inappropriate behaviour/actions.
  • Work together to establish guidelines around texting, social media and gaming (who teens can do these things with and on what apps).
  • Remind your teen that it is easy to lose control over what happens to texts, photos and videos sent through apps.
  • Explain that apps should be downloaded from official stores like iTunes and Google Play. Illegitimate versions of the apps (named the same or similar) on other sites may contain malware or viruses.

Cameras

Teens are all about the selfie. Whether it’s a quick snap or an Instagram story, cameras are used to capture both a teen’s personal perspective and what they’re seeing in the world around them. While it’s fun to share experiences, parents and teens also need to understand they could be sharing content with more people than just their friends.

  • Some apps/services that utilize a device’s camera may give users a sense of security that their pictures and/or videos are only temporarily shared, but these apps/services may not be as secure as users believe they are. Shared pictures and/or videos can be captured and forwarded to others.
  • Content shared through a device’s camera on live-streaming services can be recorded without the teen’s knowledge.
  • Unless teens know the other person, there is no way of verifying who is on the other end. Pre-recorded content can be streamed in place of live content, giving the appearance that teens are speaking with someone “live.”
  • Enable controls and privacy settings on apps that limit who can see posted photos or videos. Many times, default settings in apps are on “public.” Switching a profile to “private” makes posts only available to an approved list of people, “friends,” or “followers.”
  • Monitor your teen’s use of cameras on their devices, as well as the posting and exchanging of pictures and videos online.
  • Explain to your teen once a picture is sent, whether through an app or message, they lose control of what is done with it. Images and videos can be easily misused (e.g., the recipient may show it to friends, send or post it online) or used to manipulate the other person to engage in an unwanted activity.
  • Have regular conversations about who your teen is video chatting with online.
  • Teach your teen that it is illegal for people to make, possess or distribute naked or sexually explicit pictures of children under 18 years of age. Explain they need to tell a safe adult if they’re presented with this situation.
  • Encourage your teen to be a leader and not to forward pictures of others they may receive.
  • Explain if they are ever threatened to make or share videos, they should stop talking to the person and let you know right away. Do not ever comply with such requests.

Chat, messaging and texting

Teens rarely pick up the phone anymore. Chat, messaging and texting apps are a quick, fun and creative way teens communicate directly with peers. It is also an effective way to stay connected to your teen while they are out. For youth, this form of communication removes the social limits deemed normal in face-to-face interactions. Without these limits, youth’s behaviour is less inhibited. Personal boundaries can be crossed earlier and easily, creating the potential for hurtful, inappropriate or intimate information to be shared.

  • A teen may engage in private conversations, share private information or private photos, unaware of the lasting consequences. Once private information or material is sent, control over what happens with the information or material is lost.
  • Teens may accept friend/buddy requests from people they don’t know in person.
  • Some anonymous messaging apps allow teens to engage in conversations with strangers easily.
  • The history of the communication through some apps may not be saved. Some chat and messaging apps may log the conversations but allow them to be easily deleted with the swipe of a finger.
  • Teens can be easily influenced and coerced into situations where they quickly find themselves in “over their head.”
  • Check to see that your teen’s chat or messaging program is set up so that no one can begin speaking to them without their permission.
  • Know your teen’s passwords, screen names and the friends they’re communicating with online.
  • Monitor who your teen is contacting, and the functions/applications being used to text and message with others.
  • Ensure your teen always uses a screen name that doesn’t reflect their age, location or interests.
  • Understand how easily teens can make mistakes and find themselves in a distressing situation. Have regular conversations about your role and be available to help them when things go wrong.
  • Discuss the importance of not responding to harassing, harmful or unsolicited messages and to save these types of messages.
  • Teach your teen how to get out of unwanted conversations. Some direct ways of getting out of uncomfortable situations include refusing to do something by saying, “I don’t want to” or discontinuing contact by not responding to messages and deleting or blocking the person as a contact. Indirect ways of ending a conversation include making excuses such as, “I have to go out with my family” or blaming parents, “My mom checks my computer randomly and would ground me.”
  • Explain the importance of establishing and respecting personal boundaries when using technology. The information, images or videos your teen has shared and that others have shared with your teen should be protected and handled with respect (i.e., not shared with others).
  • Discuss options for where they can get help when they need support.

Social networking

Social networking keeps teens connected to their world and allows them to share their personality with like-minded peers. Scrolling through friends’ feeds, liking (or double tapping) their favourite photos and posting memes are just some of the ways social networking can be fun. But this virtual world also blurs social limits and personal boundaries, allowing them to be crossed more easily, and creating the potential for hurtful, inappropriate or intimate information to be shared. It also opens teens up to a larger, potentially public audience where their “friends” may not be the person they claim to be.

  • When creating a profile, some services require certain fields be completed but allow users to choose the information entered into others. In most cases, there are no restrictions on what can be added to a profile, including personal information and photos/videos.
  • Teens may accept friend requests from individuals they have not met in person. Adults looking to victimize teens can quickly turn conversations sexual.
  • Teens may be bullied or stalked by peers or other users on social networking sites.
  • Once a message is sent or a post is made, control over that message or post is lost. Personal information, pictures and videos can be easily saved and/or shared with others.
  • Become familiar with popular social networks your teen is using. Understand their purpose, how information is shared and what information is needed to sign up for the account.
  • Enable controls and privacy settings on social networks in order to limit who can see posts, photos or videos. Many times default settings in apps are on “public.” Switching a profile to “private” makes posts only available to an approved list of people, “friends” or “followers.”
  • Know your teen’s passwords, screen names and the friends they’re communicating with online.
  • Discuss that it is illegal to threaten someone online or offline. Explain that threats are often used in an attempt to control the situation and get teens to comply with demands of a sexual nature. If someone threatens your teen, they need to tell a safe adult.
  • Explain to your teen where it is appropriate for them to have privacy (e.g. confiding in close friends face-to-face, writing in a paper journal, in their bedroom, etc.). Reinforce that there is no privacy on the Internet; the Internet is a public place.
  • Discuss the important qualities of a healthy relationship (being loving, caring, respectful) and compare this with examples of unhealthy relationships (one person who is persistent, manipulative, or uses guilt tactics). Without a clear understanding of what makes a healthy relationship, teens are more likely to tolerate relationships that put them at risk.
  • Be emotionally available and keep the lines of communication open. It is important to remind your teen they can always come to you for help without fear of getting into trouble, and reinforce it’s never too late to ask for help.

Online gaming

Your teen may be “crushing” candy on their phone or building epic worlds on their gaming console. Whatever the genre, online games provide a fun distraction for teens and are another avenue to connect with friends. Online games can be played through a console, downloaded as an app for mobile devices or played directly on social networks. Many offer chat or multi-player functions that can expose teens to other users who they may not know.

  • Many online games have a chat component where users can talk to people they do not know in person. Teens can easily be exposed to inappropriate conversations or redirected to inappropriate content on other sites through the chat. In most cases, records of these chats are not saved.
  • Some mobile gaming apps utilize the device’s GPS during gameplay, allowing the location of the user to be identified by other users.
  • While some games are free to download, they may also feature in-app purchases (i.e. items that will aid in a game, etc.) that can add up quickly.
  • For consoles, set up parental controls and create passwords for the parental control features. You can control online access by using the block and/or restrict features available on most video game consoles.
  • Seek games that offer the ability to block or restrict individuals who can play with your teen and allow you to mute other individuals from chatting with them.
  • Learn about how the game works and play along.
  • Know your teen’s passwords, screen names and the friends they are playing against and chatting with online.
  • Review the game’s guidelines and see if there is an option to report inappropriate activity.
  • Explain to your teen they should never meet in person with someone they’ve first met in a game without a parent or guardian present.
  • Remind your teen opponents online are not necessarily who they say they are and not to believe everything a person tells them online. Remind them to block and report anyone who is inappropriate or offensive in games.
  • Have regular conversations about games they are playing and the opponents they play against in the games.
  • Discuss with your teen not to share their password with anyone, and not to enter any information into pop-up ads or websites they’ve been re-directed to.
  • Ensure your teen understands they can talk to you about anything online that makes them feel uncomfortable without fear of losing Internet or gaming privileges.

Video-sharing sites

Teens want to post their latest gaming review or make-up tutorial with friends online, and video-sharing sites can be a great outlet for their creativity, as well as a place to get lots of “likes.” They also enjoy browsing the thousands of clips uploaded by other users. Yet, on some video-sharing sites, teens can easily view or upload inappropriate videos, and comment sections can open them up to harassing statements.

  • Many video-sharing sites do not provide the option of restricting who may view certain video clips.
  • Teens can inadvertently give out personal information. Backgrounds stating their school’s name or mentioning landmarks could allow someone to track where the teen lives.
  • Comment sections open up users to harassing and/or inappropriate responses to uploaded videos.
  • Be aware of who’s connecting with your teen on the site and what information they are sharing in their videos.
  • Check out your teen’s favourite videos and the channels they’re subscribed to. These can give you clues about what they’re watching on the site.
  • Review where and how to report inappropriate content found on the site.
  • Learn about the video-sharing site’s comments section to see if comments can be turned off or if they need to be approved before they are posted.
  • Discuss what information your teen should and should not be revealing in their videos.
  • Encourage your teen to protect their privacy by setting personal videos to “private” or “unlisted” when possible.
  • Talk about what YouTube® sets out in their Teen Safety policy as the grandma rule. “Is what you’re filming or posting something you’d want your grandmother, boss, future employer, parents or future in-laws to see? If not, it’s probably not a great idea to post it.” Teen Safety, Policies, safety, and reporting. Available at: Youtube.ca
  • Show your teen how to report inappropriate videos and comments.

For more information, see Additional Information.