How can parents help their children to be safe and smart with their digital devices?
While decreasingly the case, parents from an analog world have increasingly digital kids. Kids are almost born with handhelds in their little hands (let’s face it, that’s not true, it’s parents putting those handhelds into those little hands!) If you’re over 40, chances are digital devices came into your life when you were older. You can even remember back in the day when, gasp and pause for effect, a cell phone was not in everybody’s pocket.
So how, as a parent, do you help your child to navigate this online world where anyone is communicating with everyone all the time, even anonymously?
Parents need to get educated and talk with their kids about texting and online pitfalls.
Well, while not beginning to understand or judge your particular parenting style or relationship with your child, we would recommend starting with very frank conversations with your child about participating in the online world – about the benefits and risks. This is not one conversation. Rather, it’s an ongoing dialog with your child as s/he matures. Of course, this may involve, parent, getting yourself up to speed first. Learn what can be done online, and what your children and their friends are doing online (you’ve probably heard about Facebook and Twitter; how about Tumblr or Facetime or KakaoTalk?).
Talk with your child about online dangers, risks and benefits.
Imagine the unfortunate situation where a girl texts a compromising photo of herself to her boyfriend, who promptly forwarded it to his buds. Were they adults, perhaps no problem. (Though note what happened to the aptly named former U.S. Rep. Weiner of New York.). Because of the girl’s age, however, these teens may be engaged in the illegal transmission of child pornography (and of course, there is the very real potential for psyche-damaging social embarassment). With the ability to instantly capture and transmit anything to the entire world, kids today arguably have much less room than their parents did to make mistakes and let the mistakes gradually fade from memory.
Online monitoring services and activities for parents.
Monitoring your child’s activity online, depending on the child’s age, may be entirely appropriate. Parents could simply forbid online devices. Assuming this is not an option in your house, other options exist, such as limiting the hours of use, the location of use (only in a public spot in the house, not behind closed bedroom door), or the devices permitted to be used (desktop computer OK, iPhone not OK). Have you considered limiting online access to a single computer in the living room or kitchen? It’s hard to be secretive in public.
You may also wish to set ground rules such that your child is not permitted to install an app without your knowledge, or that any passwords and account names are shared with the parent.
Additionally, many wireless providers offer services for a fee to parents, such as cell phone geo tracking so you know the whereabouts of the child’s phone (but not necessarily the child), or texting restrictions. There are also services you can use, some paid, some free, that facilitate monitoring. A couple of decent services are:
- OpenDNS.com for a home network, which enables filtering of websites at the entry point into the house (note, parents, that if your child has a cell phone with wireless service, OpenDNS will not work to block services over the cell carrier’s network). OpenDNS.com is free for a home network. Another to check out is K9 Web Protection. (Here’s out to setup OpenDNS on your Linksys router.)
- Mobicip is a paid device-based service offering web filtering.
- MyMobileWatchdog.com which, for a fee, permit parents to monitor text messages to and from a particular number.
You may also find useful advice from the Federal Bureau of Investigations related to how to keep kids safe on the Internet.
Like any issue facing growing children, there is no one-size-fits-all approach here. What parents can do, however, is get educated, talk with their kids, stay involved, and adjust their approach to online activity as the child matures and online activity trends change.
A great article about controlling physical access to the Internet here: http://netsecurity.about.com/od/security101/a/8-Ways-To-Kid-Proof-Your-Internet-Parental-Controls.htm
[Update November 26, 2019 While a lot has stayed the same since this post was first written, a lot has changed. You might enjoy this guide on child Internet safety from the WeTheParents website.]