Youngsters’ online lives

The vast majority of teenagers spend a large part of their lives online. They talk to their friends, play games, listen to music, and learn things. But there are also risks in the online world that you, as a parent, need to know about and teach your teenager how to handle.

BE CURIOUS AND INTERESTED

It’s all OK as long as your child is at home, isn’t it? Well no, not necessarily, because young people spend a substantial percentage of their time online.

Many parents are happy because it makes it easier for their children to socialise with friends and to explore new interests, but they’re also concerned about who their children are talking to and how accessible everything has become. Which is why, as with everything else when it comes to living with a teenager, it’s important to engage and show interest in your child’s online life.

Photo: Pablo Frisk

Haters are going to hate if you say no. They’ll take the piss out of you on social media, and stuff like that.

Emanuel, aged 16, Umeå

GET TO KNOW THEIR ONLINE WORLD

Three out of every four high school students say that their parents don’t know everything about what they do online. And this can mean they avoid turning to adults if they run into problems. Try to get involved and talk about what your teenager does online, just as you ask how their day went at school.

You can also check out the places where a lot of young people hang out and familiarise yourself with how these platforms work. By all means ask your child for help – it shows that you’re interested and that you’re there for them if something goes wrong. Remember that even if your child knows more about the online world than you do, you’re still the one who has the greatest experience of norms, rules, and what is – and isn’t – OK. 

HELP YOUR TEENAGERS LOOK AFTER THEMSELVES

Virtually all millennials use social media on a daily basis. Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok are the most popular apps amongst both high school and upper secondary school students in Sweden – Facebook, less so. Many young people also play games or watch other people playing – boys commonly do this on a daily basis.

Talk to your child about how important it is to protect their integrity and not allow themselves to be hurt – or to hurt anyone else. And about how they shouldn’t, for example, write nasty things about people, post pictures of someone else without their permission, or do things in other people’s names. You should also make it clear to them that not everything written and said online is true. 

REMEMBER THAT EVERYTHING IS POTENTIALLY PUBLIC

Social media keeps on expanding and different platforms cooperate with one another. Which means that you can share your pictures and thoughts with a virtually unlimited number of people.

Anything you post online can stay around for a very long time and it’s often difficult to remove it. Even if a picture is deleted, for example, you don’t know whether someone else has used it or shared it. That’s why it’s so important to understand what publishing pictures and other things actually means and why it’s a good idea to discuss with your teenager what is – and is not – appropriate.  

SET THE RULES

More parents than children believe they have set rules about their child’s online behaviour. Be clear about what you think is appropriate and which social media channels and websites are not suitable. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with how different sites and social media work, and what you can do if your child runs into trouble.

A lot of social media sites require some personal information to work, so it’s a good idea to talk about the sort of information they should share, and what they shouldn’t. It might, for example, be a good idea to decide that your teenager is not allowed to provide details such as their full name, address, school, or phone number, or to post videos or pictures of themselves, without checking with you first. 

IF YOUR TEENAGER GETS IN TROUBLE

Many young people seek affirmation by posting pictures and texts about themselves online. This makes them vulnerable and incautious, which can be exploited by others. Children and young people can become the target of unpleasant comments or be groomed by adults who initiate contact with young people in order to commit sexual abuse or assault. This can happen on social media, on websites, or in games with chat forums, and both girls and boys can suffer from this.

If you find out that your child has been exposed to or the victim of something online, try to stay calm, even through you’re actually very angry and upset. Teenagers are often filled with regret when something has happened and they realise the consequences. Listen to your child and make it clear that you’re there for them and that it’s not too late to ask for help – even if something has already happened. Try not to judge or guilt-trip them. If what has happened constitutes harassment, or is illegal, you need to report it. The majority of social media have a means of reporting pictures, video clips, or comments. If what happened involves something illegal, it’s important that you report it to the police. 

USING ALCOHOL TO BUILD AN IMAGE

Partying and alcohol are common themes when young people are creating their image on social media. For many people, showing themselves in settings with alcohol signals that they have an outgoing, successful lifestyle. And as a result, teenagers who follow famous people on Snapchat and Instagram, for example, often encounter posts where young people are drinking alcohol.

ALCOHOL-RELATED ADVERTISING AND MESSAGING

The Internet offers massive opportunities for anyone marketing beer, wine, and spirits, and social media has given alcohol-related advertising and messaging new ways to reach out to young people.

Teenagers are often exposed to alcohol advertising, in spite of it being illegal to target people under the age of 25 in this way. The Swedish Consumer Agency is the authority responsible for supervising alcohol advertising, and you can approach them with your questions or to report advertising.  

ILLEGAL SALES VIA SOCIAL MEDIA

A fairly new but worrying trend is the illegal sale of alcohol, often smuggled, via social media. Posting a request on Snapchat, for example, can quickly result in ”help” from someone who knows someone. A 2021 survey shows that 12 per cent of 16-17 year olds have bought alcohol via a private person on social media, and that eight per cent have done it in the past year. It’s almost twice as common amongst girls as boys, and varies by geographical location within Sweden.

There are also anonymous accounts, e.g. on Instagram, run by dealers who sell spirits and beer to young people. If you come across an account like this, you can report it directly to Instagram. Talk to your child, too. Explain why you don’t want them to buy from these accounts and that people who do are supporting criminal activity and exposing themselves to substantial risks.

More to read about the same topic

Useful contacts and more info

It can sometimes be good to talk to someone who knows a bit more about teenagers and alcohol, or about anything else, for that matter.

If you want to do more

There’s a lot you can do to support and be there for teenagers. Maybe you can take part in night-time patrols, or make it easier for them to say “no”, or help promote a smarter approach to alcohol in some other way.

Other important topics to read about

When parents are not around

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