THE BLOG
05/19/2014 10:49 am ET | Updated Jul 19, 2014

Cyber Restriction: When Your Teen Abuses Their Digital Privileges

Tim Macpherson via Getty Images

Most families have implemented boundaries and rules that their kids and teens have to follow when it comes to their gadgets. Hopefully, parents today understand that digital citizenship is as important to their children as potty training was to them as toddlers.

We see many articles on tips for cyber safety, security and online bullying. We also can read a lot about what you should do when you witness abuse online or believe you are a victim of a scam or a predator.

Today, there is an influx of articles that will help you manage your online reputation and many more services, like Reputation.com, that will not only assist you with your virtual image, but can also help you protect your family's privacy online.

What I haven't read a lot about is what you can do if your teen abuses their Internet or cell phone privileges.

What would I consider digital abuse?

• Posting inappropriate comments, pictures or videos
• Participating in unsavory chat rooms
• Purchasing items online without a parent's permission
• Over-sharing personal information
• Cyberbullying, harassing or teasing others online
• Sending mean text messages or sexting
• Sending abusive tweets
• Posting or texting anything with an intent to harm or hurt someone

Parents, you can add more to my list, but I am assuming most of us think alike when it comes to teens and digital abuse.

What you need to keep in mind is that this is not about being a mean parent, it is about protecting your child's future. It's a fact, your teen's name will go through the "Google-wash-cycle" before they are admitted into a college or hired by a future employer. You are safeguarding their future by being firm on your digital rules.

I speak with parents on a regular basis who struggle with consequences for their teenagers when they defy their digital boundaries. Initially, they want to simply remove all the gadgets, but we all know that isn't the resolution. Let's face it; technology is on every street corner and every friend will have a gadget they can borrow or use, so removing their technology will definitely stress them out to a point, but they will find a way to get back into cyber-land.

Of course each case is different and depends on the circumstances of the situation -- the age and maturity of the teen combined with their actions will determine how the parent should handle the situation.

If you discover your teen has crossed the family's online boundaries, it is time to sit down and analyze what happened with your teenager. Hear them out first, then give them the reasons why there will be consequences -- explain clearly how they abused their privilege. It is important they understand their missteps so they can learn from them.

When it comes to actual punishment, we have seen some extreme cases, such as the father in North Carolina who took a gun to his daughter's laptop or the mother who felt that having her daughter publicly shame herself on social media would give her a better understanding of how the Internet can affect your virtual image. However, I am not sure everyone agrees with these methods.

I recently read an excellent post on McAfee's Blog Central by Family Safety Evangelist Toni Birdsong entitled, What Should the Consequences Be for a Teens' Digital Slip-Up?

She outlined some excellent points that parents should consider when teens slip-up online.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Be clear on the "why." Explain the risks associated with the behavior and why it's not allowed. If the topic is sexting then explain the privacy risk of trusting another person as well as the legal risks of possessing or sending sexual photos.
Be consistent. If you say three weeks without a phone, keep to that "prison term" no matter how hard it may be for you and your family's digital lifestyle. If you stick to the consequence, you are likely to curb or stop the behavior and send the message that the rule will be enforced going forward.
Write an essay. It sounds old school, but essay writing in this world of impulse clicking has worked in our house. Parenting is all about teachable moments, so use this opportunity to educate. Have your child write a paper on the dangers of the behavior. Be it bullying, sexting, suggestive texting, racism, profanity, or gossip -- there are huge lessons to be learned through researching and writing. Remember many tweens and teens are simply naïve to the power of the technology they hold and they simply don't know what they don't know.

Using the Internet and having a cell phone are privileges, not rights. Teenagers need to understand that when they abuse their privilege there will be consequences. From the moment they give their child any form of technology, parents have to be clear on what the boundaries are and what the consequences will be.

Communication is key in all forms of parenting and it isn't any different with it comes to digital parenting. Be consistent, be firm, and always be a parent first.

Takeaway tips:

• Digital parenting begins offline with face-to-face communication
• Learn from online mistakes, always find teachable digital moments
• Be clear on the expectations and the cyber-consequences you have set for your teen's online behavior
• Never stop talking about digital citizenship, it's that important