Raising a child in this digital time is certainly a challenge. It seems that apps change faster than parents can keep up. But keep up we MUST in order to protect our kids from cyber bullies, predators and even themselves.
My daughter is a freshman in high school and got her first cell phone at age 12, when she was starting middle school and taking part in more activities independently. Despite whining and carrying on “that all her friends had phones” even earlier than that, we stuck to our guns until a more appropriate (in our opinion) age. When we gave her the phone, we also set a bunch of ground rules, some of which have evolved but all of which I feel are in line with what “experts” recommend for kids with digital devices. Here are the Top Ten:
- LOOK THROUGH THEIR DEVICES. This is not an invasion of their privacy.. they are CHILDREN and not known for making the best decisions. See what apps they have, READ their posts and texts, LOOK at their pictures! Be aware of what your children are posting and seeing!
- MONITOR APPS. You decide what apps a child can and cannot have on their device. LOOK into those apps. Seemingly “innocent” apps like Music.ly, are unable to keep up with technology and have been linked to kids being exposed to pornography and other inappropriate content.
- REVIEW PRIVACY. In alignment with the Child Privacy Act social media sites require kids to be aged 13 or older to join so that their information is protected. If your child is under that age and has a social media account, you must be aware that that account was obtained using false information.
Be sure to check all privacy features of allowed apps to make sure profiles which may include personal information are private and not open to the general public.
In addition, check your HOME internet privacy settings to help limit what kinds of content kids and teens can access.
- SET BOUNDARIES. Once your child has access to social media, it is important that you discuss WHAT is acceptable to share. Be sure kids know that it is NOT ok to share last name (sign up with middle name or fake last name) location, phone number. Be aware that some apps with geotagging may inadvertently share locations, making it easy to pinpoint where a child lives, attends school or hangs out. Be sure this feature is turned off. Be aware of WHO is looking at and liking your child’s photos. I was shocked to see some of my daughter’s friends Instagram accounts with thousands of followers. These are STRANGERS and many of them are strange MEN. This shouldn’t be a popularity contest. Teach your child that their self-esteem should not be wrapped in on how many LIKES, FRIENDS or FOLLOWERS they have on Social Media.
- MONITOR ACTIVITY. Make sure you are a contact/ friend with your child (and their friends) on ALL social media apps. Check what they post, read the comments, watch the activity on their accounts. If there is little to no activity on an account there is a good chance your child may have a secondary/ secret account. Check their devices!
- CONTENT. As mentioned above, monitor content. LOOK to see what is being posted. Talk to your kids about the image they are conveying. Would they want You to see it? Grandma? A potential employer?
Posts that are provocative, portray a lot of partying, drug use, criminal behavior, or other “unsavory” images can come back to haunt the poster later. The Internet, while digital, is permanent and these kinds of posts have been known to affect college applications, employment, and more.
- LIMIT ACCESS. It is not unusual to sit down in a restaurant and look around and see entire families with faces glued to phones. Kids seem less able to carry on an actual conversation these days. Do yourself a favor a LIMIT the time they (and you) can have their phones. Most carriers offer options for you turn off internet to devices during certain times such as school hours, after bed time or other times. Set rules about putting phones away during dinner time, homework time, family time or whatever works in your household.
- PUBLIC. Put computers and devices in public areas. Allowing your child to hide away in their room is just asking for them to push the boundaries of what is appropriate to view or engage in. They’re teens, pushing boundaries is their game!!
- TALK ABOUT BULLYING. Cyber bullying has taken bullying to a whole new level. It is a real and growing problem for both kids and adults alike. Talk to your kids about what it is and what to do if they encounter it or witness it.
- PLAN. Let’s face it, it’s not always the easiest to talk to your tween/ teen and vice versa. Stuff happens.. have a plan for “stuff”. Make sure your child knows where to go for help in the event that things get out of hand they don’t want to come to you. Identify school staff,, coaches, family members or other trusted adults that your child can talk to if they get into an uncomfortable situation online. Make sure they know you support them and are there when they need you.
In my next post I will cover some of the more popular apps for teens and why they may or may not be safe.