Unfortunately, there is no shortage of stories today reminding us how dangerous it can be for kids online. And as the parent of a both a teen and a pre-teen, I have to admit that one of the most challenging balancing acts I perform each and every day is the one that includes their access to the Internet and social media.
Smart phones, computers, the Internet, etc. are marvelous tools, but any tool, if used inappropriately, can cause a lot of damage.
Proper training and supervision should take place when using any potentially dangerous tool until the users can prove they will not use the tool incorrectly and possibly cause harm. You’re not going to be able to monitor your kids forever, so teaching them how to stay safe online early and while under your supervision is vital.
In talking with my kids, I’ve come to realize that I’m a lot more strict about their Internet access and monitor them a lot more than many other parents do their kids. I’m not the least bit sorry for this, either. I’ve seen what many of their friends post (and the responses) and because I have, I remain solidly in the strict camp.
How strict? Our 12-year-old daughter is not allowed to have access to any social media. The only thing she is allowed to use her phone for is texting and calling approved contacts. This will change over time, with age and maturity.
Now you’re probably thinking that because she’s 12 and many social media platforms have guidelines restricting anyone under 13 from using them that she wouldn’t be allowed on them anyway, right? Wrong. There is little to no age verification on these platforms and it’s not uncommon for kids as young as 10 to be posting on Instagram or SnapChat.
Would you allow your 11- or 12-year-old to be in a room of complete strangers unsupervised for hours at a time? Likely not, but when you allow your child access to social media, you are in fact allowing complete strangers to have access to your children — your beautiful, precious, wonderful children. And many of these strangers use social media to target and harm kids.
Age alone doesn’t make your child mature enough for the Internet and social media. Yes, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc., all have stated age restrictions, but just because your child is of age doesn’t mean they’re prepared or ready to access those platforms. We don’t give our kids car keys and put them behind the wheel at 16 with no training or supervision just because they’ve reached the legal age, do we?
So how do you keep your child safe online? The only way to avoid any chance that they’ll be exposed to something harmful or use the Internet improperly is to never allow them access in the first place. But in today’s world, that’s just not realistic.
There are no universal guidelines that work for every child because every child is different, but there are ways you can reduce the negative effects of the online world.
1. Make a Social Media Contract with Your Child
Does your child know what’s allowed and what behavior won’t be tolerated? If not, how can he be expected to abide by your rules? Creating a social media contract between you and your child can help.
- Make a list of approved sites your child is allowed to visit and interact on.
- Keep a list of their logins and passwords and let them know that you will be checking them randomly to ensure their safety and proper use.
- Note what sort of behavior won’t be tolerated. Examples could include swearing, bullying, sharing pictures that include nudity, etc.
- List the time per day your child is allowed to spend online.
- Make sure to include consequences for not abiding by the rules.
Hold firm to your rules and consequences. Your child will benefit from learning boundaries and safe online practices. As your child proves he/she can use the Internet/social media appropriately, expand the options for other sites/contacts.
2. Use Filtering Software
Even if your child isn’t seeking out inappropriate content, chances are it’ll likely find him or her. Using an Internet filtering software can give parents more control over what their child sees or runs across in their searches. They’re inexpensive and many allow you to set the sensitivity levels for the user. PC Magazine has a pretty good rundown of many of the options available.
3. Monitor Your Child’s Online Activity
How often? That depends on your child, the age, and how you see them using the access and privileges they have.
- Watch who they’re conversing/sharing with most.
- Read what they post to others.
- Check the pictures, videos etc. that are on their phone and their pages.
- What do they post in response to inappropriate activity? Are they “liking” it, sharing it, or making approving comments?
- Enlist help from other adults. Oftentimes other parents see things that you might miss. Talk with them about what your rules are and theirs too. Work together to protect each other’s kids.
4. Talk to Your Child Frequently About Their Internet Usage
This may be the most important step in ensuring your child’s safety online. Don’t know where to start? Here are a few ideas:
- Ask them what they’re seeing and what their friends are talking about online.
- Ask them to show you something they saw that they thought was funny, or amusing, or sad.
- Open up a dialog with them about what they’ve seen that they know was wrong or that concerned them.
- Praise them for making good choices when you see it.
- Share posts with them that show the effects of both proper and improper Internet and social media usage.
- Encourage them to use their social media presence to share positive stories or words of encouragement whenever possible.
- Keep reinforcing that your rules aren’t arbitrary. You love them and want them to be safe.
No parent can be everywhere all the time and we can’t possibly monitor every interaction our kids have, but setting boundaries and enforcing the rules will go a long way toward helping your child avoid potentially life-changing mistakes.
How are you helping your children be safe online?
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