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Teens Would Talk to Us About Risky Online Behavior — If We Calmed Down

"When's Sara's not writing you can find her hanging out with teenagers at her day job as a counselor and with her own son and daughter. With a B.S. in Exercise Science and a M. Ed. in counseling, she enjoys writing about health, wellness...

Why you need to check your emotions before having a conversation about social media with your teen

Teenagers are online an average of nine hours a day and tweens are on for six — and that doesn't include time spent using the internet for school or homework.

With that much time spent online, it's inevitable that kids are going to come into contact with questionable situations: bullying, sexual solicitations, pornography and more.

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When they do, the first instinct we want them to have is to come tell us what happened. But here’s the thing: Parents freak out. But the more we react emotionally, the less likely our kids are going to tell us about these encounters next time.

That seems to be the main point of a recent study that looked at how teens rarely talked to their parents about potentially risky online experiences. According to Pamela Wisniewski, an assistant professor in computer science at the University of Central Florida, parents and children often have very different perceptions of and reactions to the same online situations. Some of these situations may include cyberbullying, sexual exchanges and viewing inappropriate content online.

"There seems to be a disconnect between what types of situations teens experience every day and what types of experiences parents have online," said Wisniewski. "Teens tended to be more nonchalant and say that the incident made them embarrassed, while parents, even though they were reporting more low-risk events, emoted much stronger feelings, becoming angry and scared. For teens, some felt these types of experiences were just par for the course.”

"When you asked why teens didn't talk to their parents, a lot of times they mention risky situations, which they didn't think were a big deal, but they add that if they told their parents, they would just freak out and make things worse," Wisniewski said.

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But here’s the thing: Teenagers do need and want our guidance. The study found that when they did talk to their parents about what happened, teens often wanted help understanding or navigating the situation, but parents tended to misinterpret their intent, not realizing their teen was trying to open lines of communication. Something the researchers pointed out as a missed opportunity.

These missed opportunities happen to the best of us. But the more we're willing to check our own emotions at the door and truly listen and change how we respond to our kids, the more likely these teachable moments will have a positive impact for all involved.

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