Aura Insights

March 15, 2022
Teen Relationships: The Good, The Bad, & How Parents Can Help in a Digital World

The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) and Aura held a panel of industry experts to discuss empowering young people to better protect themselves in online relationships.

To mark Safer Internet Day and Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, Aura joined the Family Online Safety Institute to convene experts in online safety to talk about how to empower young people to better protect themselves in online relationships.



Aura Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Ryan Toohill was joined by Center for Internet and Technology Addiction (CITA) Founder and Clinical Director Dr. David Greenfield, National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) Safety Net Project Director Erica Olsen, and Vice President of External Affairs Rita Smith. Stephen Balkam, Founder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), moderated the conversation.


The experts discussed how parents can support their teens’ safety as they navigate increasingly digital lives and relationships, including: 


  • Data detailing how teens use social media and perspectives on tech’s impact in their lives
  • Warning signs that could indicate a teen is being victimized online or participating in online abuse
  • Guidance for building trust with your child while supporting their desire for independence and freedom, especially in romantic relationships
  • How new online safety tools can help families establish healthy boundaries and maintain ongoing conversations about safe online relationships


In the spirit of Aura’s mission to make the internet a safer place for everyone, Toohill and panelists explored how the private sector and parents can enhance protections for teens online.


Balkam cited recent FOSI research findings, and said that most Gen Z users find managing their online safety to be overwhelming, and 60% of parents say that they can’t keep up with changes happening online.


“While many young people have unfavorable views about parental controls, a majority are enthusiastic about online safety tools that are in-app and designed to be used by teens and young people to remain safe, secure, and private,” said Balkam.


Toohil shared that Aura seeks to optimize settings across apps like Instagram and YouTube to make it more simple and accessible for parents and teens to set security controls for the content with which they interact and that they share.


The experts also discussed the role of consent and trust in protecting teens as they form relationships online, including the role of offline communication between parents and children and how this contributes to healthy digital behaviors. 


“Consent, both online and offline, is a really important factor of both being able to establish privacy and safety,” said Olsen. Smith of also suggested engaging with teens in a way that keeps them talking to us, rather than withdrawing more.


Toohill asserted that without open conversations between parents and teens, tech-based solutions can’t help. “There is just no technological solution that will solve the communication problem.”


The panelists also emphasized that use of technology must have clear boundaries, especially for teens and children, and that parents can set an important example.


“One of the things that we [at Aura] are trying to solve for, is less about better controls and making it easier for both the teens and the adults to make the right decisions,” said Toohil. “This is an overwhelming and incredibly complex space - we can make that significantly easier.”


Olsen warned that in using invasive parental control tools to moderate teens’ behavior online without their consent and knowledge, they can blur boundaries in the future for understanding what is acceptable in situations where the same tools are abused by controlling partners.


“The idea is to create a moderated use, or a more mindful use of technology, said Dr. Greenfield. “Because the internet is so huge and intrusive into our lives now, if we don’t set limits on the technology and we don’t manage that technology, that technology will manage us, and not just in terms of safety, but in terms of our time and eating our lives.”