This holiday season many parents will purchase technology gifts for their children or allow them to join social media networks. It’s imperative for us to set our children up for success by providing guidance, setting up safeguards, encouraging open communication and becoming active participants in their online lives. The gift of technology changes the game as it possibly gives your child access to the world and the world access to them.
A recent study revealed that 75% of teens said their parents almost never monitor they Internet use. Additionally, almost one-third of the teens surveyed said their parents would disapprove of how they spend their time on the Internet.
I have found that many parents shy away from monitoring their child’s online interactions, because they feel they need to be technical or know the techie jargon (so not true!) Below are a few technical and non-technical tips to keep your kids safe this holiday season and beyond.
1. Place your home computer in a common area. Although you may have implemented Internet blocks and filters there is no substitute for parental supervision. Keeping the computer in an open area, gives you an opportunity to know when your child is using the device and allows you to regularly monitor access. Often times when children have less privacy they are less likely to do something they don’t want their parents to see. I have also found that having the computer in the living room, kitchen or other shared area, opens up the lines of communication and fosters sharing.
2. Make setting up social media profiles and privacy controls a family affair. If your child is allowed to join a social network, work with your child to decide what information should and should not be shared on their profile and discuss privacy settings. Your child will feel empowered as they had input into the decisions, and it gives you an opportunity to set expectations.
3. Get Social. If your child is on Facebook, you should be on Facebook. Do you know what your child is tweeting? What photos are they sharing on Instagram? I have encountered many parents who became aware of their child’s behavior on social networking sites or potential dangers after an incident, some of which were life changing. The best way to understand the language and culture of each site is to join and interact. Be proactive!
4. Monitor cell phone usage and text messages. Smart phones are merely “mini” computers that without the proper safe guards open your child up to the world. Unfortunately when we talk about keeping kids safe online, we often overlook cell phones and the texting function. Ask your phone carrier about the ability to set-up parental controls, which will allow you to set limits on access and disable some functions. Randomly check text messages, review photos being sent and stored, downloaded apps, and incoming and outgoing calls.
5. Discuss the definition of “friend.” An “online” friend is someone you know in real life. My rule of thumb for my daughter is that if I have not met the friend’s parents, if they have not visited our home, and/or if I have not visited their home, she is not to interact with them online. We also have a rule where we discuss who she is adding to any friend list. If you don’t recognize a name, ask your child how they know the person and determine if they should remain on the list as a friend. Bottom-line: A friend is not a “friend of a friend” or someone you “kind of” know.
6. Monitor online gaming activities. While parents keep a close eye on their child’s computer usage and social media interactions, predators are also contacting children on their Play Station III, XBOX, smart phones and other gaming devices. Monitor your child’s friend list, and discuss the issues of playing and chatting with strangers and never disclosing personal information. Speak with your child about the dangers of entering chat rooms with strangers. There have been numerous instances where people have had their online identity stolen, and children believe they are interacting with friends only to find that they have shared information with predators.
7. Disable GeoTagging. It’s totally understandable that teens want to use their smart phones to take and share pictures. Geotagging is essentially a feature that broadcasts the exact location of where the picture was taking, which could potentially reveal your child’s location to predators. Unfortunately many devices are sold with the geotagging function automatically enabled. Take a moment to disable this function.
8. Discuss Cyberbullying. If your child is subject to threats, inappropriate messages, or simply finds that some online interaction makes them uncomfortable, it is important they know they can report it to you, a teacher, coach or some other adult. In my workshops I talk about how a child’s self-esteem is directly connected to their online behavior. It’s important to understand that there are two people involved; the child being bullied and the bully. My research has shown that most children who bully have low self-esteem and use their words to mask their own insecurities. Children with a lack of confidence will often take the words of a bully as their “truth” and allow the actions to negatively impact their lives to the point of withdrawal, depression, and sometimes suicide. It’s important for your child to understand that they are wonderful, just the way they are.
9. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Never underestimate the power of continuous open conversations. I ask my daughter about her day, what’s going on in her world, and usually will slip in a conversation about social media or Internet usage. It’s amazing how she opens up when I am interested in what’s important to her, and listen without interruption. Have a conversation about what’s acceptable to post, share, download, etc. Take time to set expectations and consequences, leaving little room for “misinterpretation.”
10. Get in their business. Some people feel that “spying” on their child will break the trust in the relationship. Let me be very clear about my stance: I do not spy; however I am very upfront with my daughter about my monitoring her technology interactions. I would rather her be temporarily upset with me for monitoring her activity than reacting to a situation that could have been avoided. Back in the day, my mom was my mom…not my “girl” or my friend and I appreciate that! If my daughter grows up and says the same, I will count that as a success!
Join my Blog or Social Media Sites: My blog and social media sites are constantly updated with “real stories,” and practical tips to keep parents and teens aware of what’s really going on. You are not alone, you don’t have to know it all and I am relentless about keeping kids safe Online. There are many ways you can receive update to information from me:
- Opt into my blog: www.marlinpage.com
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/marlinpage or www.twitter.com/chieftechmommy
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/chieftechnologymommy
- Youtube: www.youtube.com/marlinpage