Would you drive down the interstate at 90 mph with your toddler and baby in the front seat, with no car seats, and unbuckled? Of course not. Parents need to look at the real dangers of the internet in the same way. The dangers of the internet and technology with our kids are not as physical as much as they are mental and emotional. We need to take precautions, much like we would with car seats in the vehicle, to ensure that our children are safe on the web. We are as much responsible for our children’s’ emotional and mental well being as we are their physical well being. Technology poses risks that are not necessarily brand new to us, but they weren’t around when most of us were kids.
Most of us raising kids today did not grow up in this era of advanced technology. Our version of technology was a digital watch or the original Nintendo. With the internet being at the tips of our fingertips at any moment of the day, our children are also growing up in this new era of being connected to the web and other people all the time. This can be a scary thought, because there are some frightening people in this world and dangers on the internet that we don’t want our children to be exposed to or involved. There are some practical ways that you can protect your child, as well as some conversation points you need to have with your children in regard to technology. Below are those tips.
Limiting Time To Prevent the Disintegration of Family
Technology is a real force in the home. If you don’t set reasonable limits, it will naturally take over your family time. Whether it is television, video games, or surfing the web, it all takes time away from the family. When time with the family becomes scarce, there become a distance between parent and child. Children need quality time as well as quantity time. If technology, whether by use of parent or by child, takes priority over family relationships there is a problem.
The Huffington Post reported on this issue of family being disrupted and even destroyed by the overuse of technology in the home. The following was stated in their article:
Rather than hugging, playing, rough housing, and conversing with children, parents are increasingly resorting to providing their children with more TV, video games, and the latest iPads and cell phone devices, creating a deep and irreversible chasm between parent and child.
Set limits that are appropriate
There should be limits set in every household for technology usage. If anything goes policy, then technology will likely win. There are risks to overuse of technology including sleep problems, interference with homework being completed, taking time away from family interactions, reduced physical activity (which can lead to obesity), and even potential addiction to technology. Here are some tips on how to set limits:
- No technology in bedrooms. Tech including smart phones, televisions, or game consoles is not allowed in bedrooms of anyone who is not an adult.
- No technology at meal time. This includes both parents and children. Set your phones in a basket it another room, so that they are not even visible. Allow for meal time to be a time to connect with one another and not to be a time when everyone is continually checking their smart phone or glancing at a television in the background.
- Set screen time limits. Set specific daily or weekly limits for your children. This is easier with some devices (such as the Kindle Fire for kids which I use for my own children), as parents can set the time limit on the device. When they reach the screen time limit the device locks.
- Have specific rules that are written for your children regarding technology. These become your house rules for technology. Once they are able to read, the rules should be written and posted. Kids of all ages need structure and they appreciate knowing the do’s and the don’ts of the household. Technology is no exception, so make your household rules clear in this area.
- Have consequences for breaking the house rules regarding technology. Most often the easiest and most effective punishment is taking away time and/or access to a device.
Keep Monitor of the Content
The internet is knowledge at your fingertips, but it can also be a cesspool of illegal, illicit, and immoral activity if you go to the wrong sites or engage with the wrong people. If you can get it on the internet, then just think, your kids can get access to it too. There are some ways you can prevent your child from being exposed to bad content. You can also help reduce their likelihood to be exposed to or influenced by people that pose an emotional, mental, or physical threat to your child.
Devices that can help filter content
There are a variety of devices that parents can utilize to filter content for kids in their home. One of the more popular choices is the Disney Circle. There are other software and hardware options on the market. Do your research and find one that best fits your family and your needs.
Don’t expect a filter device to do your job. You still need to monitor what your children are viewing online. You need to go to the websites that they go to, so you can check it out for yourself. No filtering device is foolproof. They can still get access to things you would not like them to view, so you have to be an aware parent even while utilizing a filtering agent.
Sex trafficking can start online
One of the real dangers for teens online is the exposure to people that mean to use them and harm them, especially for monetary or sexual gain. Internet Safety 101 discussed this topic and explained how teens can be lured into a sex trafficking situation:
Much like the grooming tactics employed by sexual predators, sex traffickers lure their target into an online relationship, with the ultimate goal of meeting in person. Traffickers use a deliberate process to identify and recruit their victims. It happens in three main phases: Scouting, manipulating and trapping. Victims are often showered with love, romance and promises of a better life. Others are lured in with false promises of a job, or given expensive gifts. The end game of the trafficker (or pimp) however, is to force or manipulate their target into prostitution.
Sex trafficking is a real problem here in the United States. It is now the second fastest growing criminal industry. Drugs is still at the top of the list, but sex trafficking is now in second place. The need for parents to protect their teens is real. Prevention starts first at home, by having good relationships with your kids and teens so they can talk to you about what is happening in their life. The second component of that protection is to monitor their internet usage.
A transparent view of the kid’s devices
The policy with a child in your home, of any age, whether they are 6 or 16 is that they allow parents to have all passwords and view-ability of their electronic devices. This means that if a child in your home has a smart phone, you as a parent, have the right to commandeer that device and look into their activity at any given moment of time. Does it mean you need to be jerky about it? No, of course not, as it will hinder your relationship. You do however, need to make it known before the device is even purchased, that you, as the parent, have the responsibility to check up on the activities that your child is engaged in online for their own protection.
For children in the household who do not yet have smart phones a good policy for online usage is to have it only allowed in a certain area of the home such as the living room or kitchen. Set up the laptop or computer so that it is visible as you walk by the child when they are online. This way you know what they are looking at while online and can glance over and monitor their activity at anytime.
A conversation could save their life
Kids and teens lack real world experience and they are naïve. They often feel invincible. Most honestly believe that they can handle any situation that can come their way. If they meet up with the wrong person in an abandoned parking lot and they have a gun to their head, they won’t be able to “handle” that situation. They will be in a world of hurt and in way over their head.
Parents need to sit down and have a chat with their pre-teens and teens to discuss the potential dangers that are on the internet to prevent their child from meeting the wrong people online and getting in over their head. It is appropriate to explain to them that there are bad people out there who mean to harm. These strangers can portray themselves online as a potential friend, using fake photos and aliases, to lure teens into trusting them. Your job as a parent is to monitor their devices to help prevent contact with the wrong people.
As a parent, you should also set rules about which apps and social media sites they are allowed to be on. The goal is to protect your child and get them through their youth as unscathed as possible. It doesn’t mean you bury your head in the sand and ban all technology, because that’s not a logical solution and it does not help prepare them to be young adults who can function in today’s world. You do need to help prepare them to protect themselves online and use technology in a safe and emotionally healthy manner.
Here are some things you should discuss with your pre-teen and teens in regard to technology:
- What you put out on the internet is out there forever. This is especially important to recognize with photos. Things can be deleted, but they cannot be taken back. They are out there in cyber world.
- The portrayal of lives on social media makes everyone look happy, fun, and successful. People, in general, only put the good parts of their life on social media. It can make teens and young adults feel like they don’t measure up to the lives of others. They need to understand that what they are seeing on social media is only a small sliver of the lives of others and it is almost always the best sliver.
- Typing things into a screen makes it easier to say things you wouldn’t say in person. In heated moments of anger or passion people can type things that they soon deeply regret. Teach your child to set the device aside if they feel like saying or typing something that they may regret. If it needs to be said, it can wait a few minutes or a few hours for the emotions to calm, so that rational and logical thought can lead the way rather than emotions.
- Friendships online do not replace real life relationships. They needs to have real, face-to-face interactions with their friends in order to have meaningful relationships.
- Talk about reputation and privacy. Just because something is happening in their life does not mean the entire world or all of their social media friends need to know about it.
- Stranger danger is real online. Not all profiles are legit. In addition to the dangerous people entangled in the world of sex trafficking there are also people out there who are known as Catfish. A Catfish is a person who is pretending to be someone online who they are not.
Once you have established rules that you want your teen to follow in regard to their technology usage, in particular with a smart phone, you can develop a contract.
Before you let your child or teen take ownership of the phone under your watchful care, you write up a contract with the rules for usage. If you don’t want them to use snap chat or other specific apps, then put that in the contract. Keep in mind that new apps are always being released, so any apps that they want to download need to be approved by you, as the parent, first. Go over the contract and before they sign they must be in agreement with following these rules, or the device is taken away.
It is about protecting them emotionally, mentally, and physically. Present the contract in a way that helps them see you are being their protector, not the enemy. Treat the contract and conversations about their technology usage in a kind, open, sincere, and heartfelt manner. Don’t approach the topic with an iron fist, or you are more likely find yourself up against a rebellious teen.
Common Sense Media
A great resource for parents on age appropriateness of apps, media, technology, and more is Common Sense Media. Here is the mission statement from their website:
Common Sense is the leading independent nonprofit organization dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology. We empower parents, teachers, and policymakers by providing unbiased information, trusted advice, and innovative tools to help them harness the power of media and technology as a positive force in all kids’ lives.
You can go to their free website and find a plethora of information on technology and media as it pertains to kids. For example, if you are unsure about whether a particular app is appropriate for your teen you can enter the name of the app in their search bar. Go to the page for the app and you can find reviews from both parents and teens. Even more helpful is the “what parents need to know” segment on the page for each app. This helps parents make informed decisions about apps that they may otherwise know nothing about.
You Can Just Say No
Your kid does not need all the newest technology, games, phones, or devices. When it comes to smart phones, the longer you can hold out the better. It is like opening Pandora’s box once they get a smart phone and there is no turning back.
The pressure to fit in is real though, and it becomes more difficult for parents to say no to the smart phone the older their teens become. There is a campaign called Wait Until 8th that is encouraging all parents to sign a pledge to wait until their child is in 8th grade or age 14 to get a smart phone. This campaign outlines great reasons for holding off on the smart phone purchase including smart phones being a distraction from academics, they are addiction, they impair sleep, they interfere with relationships, and more. Check out their website above to learn more about the campaign and why you should consider holding off on a smart phone for your teen until they are in 8th grade.
Teach Them to Be Smart Online
Even with all the precautions such as filters, time limits, and monitoring apps, the best way to keep your child safe online is to teach them to actively think critically about their choices and how to be safe online. They should be aware of the do’s and don’t and your household policies regarding technology.
Teaching responsibility with technology is of great importance and will help them make better choices in the long run. Making responsible choices with technology and the internet should not be a one time conversation in your household. It needs to be an on going conversation, as technology is always changing.
Featured photo credit: Picjumbo via picjumbo.com