In this day of smart phones and selfies, how can parents ensure that their tweens are safe in this digital age?
Here are 10 tips for keeping your tweens safe online:
1. Set ground rules for usage when your child receives their first phone. Many kids have phones by the time they start middle school. Discuss rules for use at home and at school (many schools have an out of sight policy for phones during the school day but allow students to bring their phones in their backpacks for after-school use). Consider making the dinner table and your tween's bedroom no smart phone zones.
2. Familiarize yourself with their apps and require approval on all new apps. Become familiar with the apps your tween is using or wants to use and set up your own account so you can monitor their content. Many social networks provide helpful tips for parents navigating today's digital world. Instagram, for example, teamed up with Connect Safely, to produce a helpful Parents' Guide to Instagram.
3. Consider using parental control software. There are several monitoring products (such as Net Nanny) available for parents to keep tabs on their tween's phone use and online activity. At the very least, let your child know that you will be reviewing their activity regularly. 65% of children age 8-12 are aware and okay with their parents monitoring their smartphone. It's an important practice to start early and to have open conversations about.
4. Discuss digital etiquette. Talk to your kids about how communicating online differs vastly from face-to-face communication. For example, a comment on a social media post or a hashtag could be easily misinterpreted. Tone and inflection are often lost online. What might be intended to be humorous or sarcastic, could be considered hurtful or harassing if read the wrong way. Most schools have strict ground rules on bullying and this transcends to online communications outside school grounds.
5. Remind tweens of their digital footprint. Assure your child that anything they post online is never really "private." Text messages can be saved as a screen shot and instantly posted and online comments can be read by other adults, even teachers. Remind your child to think first before they post anything online, whether it's a photo or an emoji, and ask them if they would want the adults in their lives, from their parents to their teachers and grandparents, to see or read what they post online.
6. Learn the lingo. Speaking of emojis, brush up on your texting lingo so you can decipher all those text messages your tween or teen will be firing off to their friends. Follow the hashtags your child and their friends post and monitor the content and themes.
7. Know your tween's passwords. Make sure you know your child's phone passwords and any social media logins.
8. Discuss privacy issues with your tween. Talk to your child about the importance of not revealing personal information online such as their full name, their address, or their school. Help them establish privacy controls on social media accounts. Instagram, for example, offers a privacy control which limits who can see their posts.
9. Turn on notification alerts. Many social media networks, such as Instagram, offer alert notifications letting you know when certain accounts (such as your child's) post new content.
10. Set an example. Consider having regular unplugged nights or weekends at home or during family vacations. Show your child the importance of taking a break from screen time by going for a family hike or bike ride, playing a board game, or spending an afternoon at the library together.
We live in an increasingly digital world. Keep the lines of communication open with your tween and they will be responsible, safe and savvy when they start navigating that digital world.