Our children are the first generation of digital natives. The first to not remember life without technology, social media, WIFI, mobile phones or computers. Heck, some don’t even know what a CD is, let alone a cassette or vinyl?! And while society’s foray into the futuristic world of robots and Bluetooth is seemingly right on track with what we hoped to achieve, it’s become obvious we didn’t plan for the negative effects that come along with it – especially with regard to online safety for kids.
Here are 11 tips to help keep your children safe from digital backlash:
1) Discuss Online Safety
The internet is an amazing resource for information, learning and fun, but with all that content and all those people it’s important to discuss online safety for kids:
- Don’t give out personal information.
- Establish which websites are okay and which are off limits.
- Don’t talk to strangers or accept their friend requests.
- If someone makes you feel uncomfortable or bullied, say something immediately.
2) Sign a Social Media Contract
Think of this as your family’s Digital Constitution. Involve your children in the discussion and create a social media contract together. After all, they are the tech and social media experts. Talk about what pressures they feel and what negative effects too much social media time can have on their everyday lives. Let them set their own consequences if they break the rules. Kids will feel more invested as they are responsible for setting the guidelines. Stick to the contract, but leave room for amendments as your children get older or prove they can make smart decisions about online safety.
3) Establish Screen-Free Zones
It seems that no place is safe from electronics these days, but you can change that. Set clear boundaries with your children about where they can and cannot use their mobiles, computers or tablets. Having these screen-free zones allows you to engage with your children and encourages them to break free from their devices. Some suggestions:
- At the dinner table: You don’t need to answer that text – instead, talk about friends, homework or family issues.
- In the car: Your bestie will still talk to you when you see her in five minutes at school, honey. Use car time to chat about school, play Carpool Karaoke or enjoy the view.
- In the bedroom at night: Not only does a screen’s light trigger your brain to stay awake, but the anxiety of waiting for a social media post or comment is causing some people to wake up in the middle of the night to check in.
But Moooooooom. It’s my phone! It’s my bedroom! Stay strong. Of course, you’ll be met with resistance at first, but over time it will become habit and you’ll be happy knowing that family time is still sacred – at least in some places.
4) Educate Yourself
Admit it. Your kids are way more tech savvy than you. This is all the more reason to take time to understand how they are using the internet and which applications are most popular. No, you don’t have to download Tinder or Snapchat, but ask your children to show you how they work. At least you’ll be able to have informed discussions about responsible usage and online safety. Even better, see if you can find an application that the whole family can use together. Set up a group chat on WhatsApp and keep a constant conversation going.
5) Install Parental Monitoring Software
You can’t be everywhere all the time – nor should you be. It’s important for kids to have their space and to understand that you trust them. It’s also important to have tools in place to ensure they are safe, because they aren’t always looking to talk about personal matters, Mom and Dad. Parental monitoring software, like FlexiSPY, can help be your eyes and ears when you aren’t there.
Tell your children you’re installing the software. Receive alerts when certain words are used, inappropriate websites are visited or apps meant for adults are downloaded. You’re not invading their privacy. You’re not reading their conversations. You’re simply setting the expectation that they need to make healthy decisions, practice online safety and avoid dangerous situations.
6) Monitor Social Media Posts
Does a stranger really need to see your teenage daughter and her friends at the beach? Is it necessary that the world knows your son is at the mall? Today, social media and teens are synonymous. Ask to see their accounts. See what they are posting and who they are talking to and hanging out with. Encourage your kids to be kids – be silly, take pictures, have fun! But also explain that what’s on the internet lasts forever and come to an agreement about what is appropriate and inappropriate to post.
7) Check Privacy Settings
Look through browser and application privacy settings and disable any unnecessary tracking features and cookies that may affect online safety. Set your child’s profile to private and ensure only friends and family can see what they are posting. Explain again that it’s important to be themselves online, but that it’s not necessary for strangers to also know so much about them.
8) Practice What You Preach
That’s right parents, it’s time to put down our own phones and live in the moment. Set a positive example and hold yourself to the same standards as your children. Honor the screen-free zones, seek out tech-free activities and make an effort to be fully present during family time. Your kids will see you spending less time online and will follow suit.
9) Set Time Limits
Remember the days when our parents limited us to 2 hours of TV time a day? This doesn’t have to change simply because our devices are portable. Before mobiles reached the masses, kids happily spent time away from technology. Set tech-time limits for your children and enforce them. But moooooooommmmmm… BUT nothing. You’re the parent and you make the rules.
10) No Underage Access
Did you know that social media sites have age restrictions? Most applications are for those 13+, while some require users to be older – Whatsapp (16+), Tinder (18+), YouTube (certain videos are 18+). Did you also know that most sites don’t verify if the user is actually 13+? This is where setting those boundaries is so important in deterring young ones from logging on to sites not meant for them. Use parental monitoring software to verify that your kids are being responsible and following the rules for online safety that you set together.
11) Don’t Judge Their Mistakes
We need to set examples for our children, but we also need to know when to take off our mommy and daddy hats and make them feel safe and not judged. Kids will make mistakes. We made them, their kids will make them. It’s life. One of the worst things we can do as parents is make our kids feel like they can’t talk to us. Let them know that no matter what, we will listen. Don’t say, ‘I told you so.’ Say, ‘Honey, I’m sorry this happened. Let’s look at what we can do differently next time.’ The moment they stop communicating is the moment we close the door on knowing what they are actually up to. Trust is gone and silence becomes our lingua franca.
Youth have access to more information and are more connected than ever before. And while this is contributing to a global society, broadening horizons and sharing cultures, it’s also exposing our kids to cyberbullies, content way too mature for their age and, unfortunately, predators. So, let’s take a step back from our own tech-filled lives and look at how we can support our children in balancing their real lives from their virtual ones. Hopefully, we can set a strong example of online safety and navigate this digital wasteland together.