Social media is a blessing and a curse to its users and the bane of every worried parent’s existence. There are so many dangerous things kids could come across in an online environment, and you won’t always be there to prevent or explain what they see. Luckily, there are a few strategies you can employ that will help protect your families from the perils of the Internet.
Have the “Internet talk” early and often
A new conversation has been added to the list of awkward “talks” all parents must have with their children: the Internet talk. And now that kids can access the Internet almost as soon as they have fine motor control, you’ve got to figure out how to teach them early that they must be cautious in their use of it. Use language appropriate to their age and revisit the topic often when they’re young, every time they ask to play on your smart phone, if you have to.
Come up with analogies they’ll understand. When they’re old enough to start getting their own accounts, teach them about password safety and touch on identity fraud. Don’t plan on one “talk” being enough. It will need to be an ongoing conversation.
Be your child’s co-pilot
It’s tricky finding a balance between helicopter parenting and letting your kids fly solo. Here’s an idea: be each other’s co-pilots for a while. Spend some time surfing social media sites with your kids. Let them show you their favorite sites and pictures of their friends, and laugh at a few YouTube videos together. When you know which sites they enjoy visiting, you’ll know better what to be on the lookout for.
Let your kids make the rules — and the consequences
Have you ever heard of the strategy of allowing kids to make their own rules? It might sound crazy, but here’s how it works: You explain to your children that rules are necessary to regulate their technology use, but you’d like their help in deciding what those rules should be. Get their input on how many hours a day, what time of day, what kinds of sites, what types of online interaction, etc. Suggest a few guidelines but let them have some control.
Once you have the rules set, let your children decide what the consequences should be for disobeying the rules. You might be surprised by what they come up with. Type up or write up the rules and consequences and hang them up somewhere visible, perhaps in several places around the home. They’ll be more willing to take the consequences for their disobedience when they realize they agreed to them in the first place.
There are some pieces of advice you dispense so often your kids can recite it in their heads and obey without even thinking about it. Look both ways before you cross the street. Say please and thank you. Be home by 9:30. Add one more to their litany: Go straight to mom or dad when you see something online that makes you uncomfortable. It’s inevitable, so make sure they’re prepared for the day when it happens.
Parenting Magazine adds, “Assure (your child) that you won’t overreact, blame her or immediately rescind her online privileges.” She might not approach you if she feels she’ll be punished for an accidental glimpse.
Work with your Internet service provider
To help keep your kids out of temptation, you can utilize your ISP’s available parental controls to make the Internet a safer place. The National Consumers League says some possible options might include getting a Web activity report, which will show which sites your kids have visited or attempted to visit; being able to block access to some Web tools using a timer function that limits the amount of time users can access the Web; or setting up a tamper alert that tells you when someone has tried to change the security controls.
Use an online safety app
There are a variety of safety apps you can choose from that allow you to monitor your child’s use of social media. The issue is that many parents feel this form of monitoring is invasive of their children’s privacy. A new free app called VISR has addressed this problem by creating alerts so you only receive notifications when there seems to be a real problem on one of your kids’ accounts. Its safety alerts works by screening for language or images that might signify bullying, explicit content, violence, drugs and 17 other types of problems. Instead of scrolling through every email and post your child sees, you only see things that might be issues.