Technology might be the most significant battlefield we face as parents when raising children today. It’s important to link arms together as we battle our children’s growing dependency on technology.
It’s irresponsible as a parent to hand over a digital device to our minor child and stick our head in the sand. Instead, we must be diligent and learn how to best protect our children from various experts working in this field.
Here are 9 Ways to Protect Your Child Online
1. Delay the smartphone purchase
Digital devices are changing childhood for children. As a mom of six, I fully understand the pressure to give elementary or middle school children a smartphone. Yet, we must realize how distracting, dangerous, and addicting smartphones are and be brave enough to say “not yet.” Only you can decide when your son or daughter is mature enough to handle smartphone ownership responsibly.
Wait Until 8th is a movement empowering parents to wait until at least 8th grade to give children cell phones.
2. Set screen time boundaries and expectations
Parents cannot afford to be their child’s pal regarding screen use and must bravely take the lead in this area instead.
Technology gets good kids in trouble. Good kids make bad choices on their devices because it’s too easy. There’s nothing to ignore regarding kids and technology. Former Scottsdale Police Detective Tanya Corder said there should be no privacy regarding our children’s devices because our kids’ brains aren’t fully developed to always make the best choices, and we need to help guide them.
We must be diligent in the habits we create for tech use in our homes and not allow phones to go into bedrooms with our children. “As you would not leave your child in the middle of downtown Phoenix in the middle of the night, why would you allow your kids the same access to predators without your supervision?” said former Arizona Police Sergeant and the Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) Program Director Director Nate Boulter.
We have to take Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares’s words in this Town Hall to heart when he said, “Your child is much more likely to meet a predator online in their bedroom than in your neighborhood or at the mall.”
3. Create digital trust with a family contract
After talking with your family members about what boundaries are best for technology use in your home, create a contract stating your expectations. This way, everyone is in communication and understands the rules and consequences. So, when a mistake happens (and it will), you can use the contract as a means for calm discussion instead of your child being able to say they didn’t know or understand the rules.
“Having a contract for phones and social media use can be very beneficial,” said Sgt. Boulter. “If you are paying for the phone, you have every right to review it and take possession as needed. As long as you have created an agreement or contract with your child so they understand the boundaries and expectations.”
4. Monitor all digital devices
Be active and protect what your kids are doing online and in apps. Know the passwords to their devices and follow them on all social media accounts to see what they are posting. “Watch to see if your kids are posting their shortcomings and failures and seeking help from anywhere else but home and family,” said Sgt. Boulter. “Predators look for children who have needs to be filled and move in to fill them.”
This is where I thought I’d be overstepping the line with giving my children privacy. I thought WebWatcher and other monitoring software were over the top until I heard Detective Corder and Dr. Lisa Strohman agree that we must protect our children (and ourselves) by installing a monitoring keylogger on all devices. With a keylogger, you will be able to set up alerts to let you know if your child types certain words, whether it be in a chat messenger, text, or browser.
5. Spot-check downloaded Apps seasonally
Don’t let kids have their own Apple ID; instead, have a family sharing one so you know what apps they are purchasing and downloading.
Beware of secretive photo and video vaults. There are calculator apps that pose as a mathematical device but are a vault to hide secretive pictures and videos. (I had no idea about this and found this on one of my kids’ phones!) Do you know about the Snapchat My Eyes Only vault? Unfortunately, Snapchat is often the social media platform of choice for kids—another thing to sit down and discuss with our kids.
6. Follow the content rating system on video games
Parents need to be brave enough to say no to allowing their child to play video games or download apps that aren’t age-appropriate.
“The greatest advice I would give to parents is to follow the content rating system on games,” said Sgt. Boulter. “I play video games, and I can’t tell you how many times I have played Call of Duty or another “Mature” rated game and heard young kids all over chat and speaker. Not including any of the game chat, the material covered in those games is inappropriate for kids.”
7. Make it difficult to find information online about your child
- Don’t let your son or daughter use their face for their profile picture or use their real name.
- Make strong passwords, and don’t share them.
- Pause before you post anything about your child online. (READ: Sharents: Why You Need to Pause Before You Post)
8. Know who your child is interacting with online
Think twice about allowing your son to put on headphones and play video games with others who aren’t physically in the room. Playing video games where you talk with strangers online isn’t a problem necessarily, but it becomes one when kids chat with people they’ve never met in real life and move the conversation to another platform.
“Be proactive in who is friending your kids online and who is chatting with them. Video game chats are a well-known area for predators to seek out kids because they have a prime target audience,” said Sgt. Boulter.
9. Communicate constantly
According to Sgt. Boulter, if parents aren’t teaching their kids about the things happening online, then society and predators will. “These discussions need to be age-appropriate and ongoing, not a one-and-done discussion.”
Monthly family meetings are a great time to talk about screen use and digital discussions.
For example, does your child know what to do if they receive a nude image? Former Scottsdale Police Detective Tanya Corder said they need to delete it and should not forward the image to you or anyone else, as they are then distributing child pornography. If your kid doesn’t have it on their phone, they can’t be responsible. You must then report the incident to an appropriate adult so it can be taken down and handled appropriately.
Parents must be diligent when raising kids on screens today, and we must learn from experts and those who can encourage us to lead our tech-savvy children well.