A couple of articles have recently gone viral about childhood use of the internet. Every time I see articles like these or when I hear parents saying “oh I just don’t understand technology”… I die a little inside. If your child was diagnosed with an illness, wouldn’t you do all the research you can to find out every possible thing about that illness? Education on your part can help you best take care of your child who has been diagnosed, and yet so many parents decide that technology is too over their head to try and understand. It’s so sad that more parents aren’t out there researching everything they can about the latest technology trends especially with regards to children so they can find out how to best protect their kids and their family.
It kills me when women would rather pin cutesy projects that they will never end up doing, than finding out what apps their kids have downloaded on their phone. Obviously I’m not saying everyone is like this. There are a ton of parents out there that are doing a great job keeping up with what their kids are doing online and otherwise, and to them I say “Keep up the great work!”… it’s the other parents that I hear at the park talking about buying their kid a Mature rated game (not that they knew the title was mature rated or anything).
This is my call to parents. WAKE UP! Your kids aren’t using social media they way you are using it. They use apps such as Pheed, Ask.fm, kik, snapchat… do you know what these apps do? Have you checked up on what your teen is posting on these sites? Sure you may be checking up on their Facebook account that they never use, or even watching them on instagram, which they do use, but are you aware of the other plethora of social sites that the kids today are getting behind? Even prior to teen mobile app use… what sites is your 8 year old active on? What about your 3 year old? Do they know what to do when they see something they shouldn’t? Do they even know what it is that they shouldn’t be seeing? Since the age of 3 or 4 I have given my daughter the tools she needs to be aware of things online. As uncomfortable as it is, wouldn’t you rather have “the talk” with your child before they find out about it from stumbling upon a pop up that they shouldn’t be seeing?
The bottom line is that there is a whole lot technology out there. It changes constantly. Be involved with your children. Ask them about their online habits. Then don’t just take their word for it… CHECK ON THEM! A teens account that goes unchecked is just asking for trouble. When you are vigilant about keeping your children safe on technology then you can catch things early and have them delete, or correct their behavior for next time.
My 4 step solution to helping your kids stay safe online
1. Talk to your kids – whether it’s telling them about the birds and the bees (which I am currently thinking the REAL talk should happen around 8 years old… prior to that you can and SHOULD talk about things they could encounter online so they know what they should and shouldn’t be seeing), or just discussing with them their favorite websites and games, and what they like about them. Having regular open and honest discussions with your kids about their technology use is essential to raising technically healthy and savvy kids.
2. Use contracts – Create technology contracts your kids have to sign in order to use a mobile device, a computer, etc. Come up with the rules together. Some great ones are…
- Don’t follow or allow to follow you people you have never met in person
- Never make public, personal information such as phone number, address, even city you live in, etc.
- Never post anything you wouldn’t want people to see (if it needs to be hidden from certain people, do not post. Nothing is EVER completely private online)
- Certain hours and time frames they are prohibited from using devices
3. Monitor – Once they know the rules, also talk to them about what you will be doing to check up on them. Explain it just like when you check to see if they have done their homework or cleaned their room. If I don’t go in your room to see that you have cleaned your room I can’t talk to you about the things you may have missed (ex. the room is clean but they forgot to make the bed). There is a quote from Ronald Reagan that says “Trust, but verify”. Just because you are checking up on them, doesn’t mean you don’t trust them. It just means that as an adult you may see things they do, that they don’t yet understand they shouldn’t be doing. I will write another post on some great ways to monitor your kids next week.
4. Get informed – When you talk to your kids, or find out various apps they have been using, make sure you research what those apps are and what they can do with them. If your kid wants a video game, check the ESRB.com for the rating of the game, and make sure it’s appropriate for your child.
I am making it a commitment to further educate parents on the technology that they can use to make their lives easier…. AND the latest trends among children and teens. I promise to help you in your research to make it a little easier for you to navigate. Technology abuse is becoming an epidemic among our children, and it’s because of parents who just hand over a mobile phone, or a computer and fail to understand what a danger they could be. You wouldn’t hand over a gun to your child without teaching them about gun safety, right? Don’t hand over technology without proper instruction. I’m not saying NEVER hand over technology. It’s important and fun for the kids to use. It helps them further their education, and keep in touch with friends and family. All I’m saying is don’t do it blindly. Stay informed. Stay in communication with your kids… stay SAFE.
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Sarah Kimmel is a digital parenting coach and family tech expert. She has spent the last 16 years of her career as a Microsoft Certified IT Manager supporting over 100 small businesses. During that time she started Family Tech LLC to help families understand and manage the technology in their home. She has regularly appeared as a family tech expert on KSL News, BYUtv and Studio 5, and has been invited all over the world from tech companies like Lenovo, Verizon, Microsoft, Dell, and Samsung. Find out more on her website SarahKimmel.com