Parents like me who had kids before Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube, and even Facebook were a thing, have been caught with our pants down, so to speak. We are digital parenting pioneers: navigating new apps, deciphering text speak, misusing emojis, and certainly embarrassing our kids as we muddle through a world that switched from analog to digital in the blink of an eye.
Raising kids today is tough, but luckily none of us has to go it alone. There is a wonderful, and growing, community of digital safety products available to help us. Most of these products have been designed by parents who initially just wanted to keep their own kids safe online, and in the process ended up keeping all kids safe. After all, it takes a village to raise a digital parent.
I learned about many of these products (and met their creators) at the recently held Digital Citizenship Summit in Connecticut, where educators, industry leaders, and others discussed the most important safety tool of all: “Digital Citizenship,” or lessons that teach kids how to keep themselves safe and productive online. While there are hundreds of teachers now teaching these important lessons in classrooms across the country and beyond, there are still, unfortunately, many thousands of schools where kids don’t receive lessons in online safety and more. So until Digital Citizenship becomes at least as important as Geometry, here are some much-needed tools that can help you parent your children online:
Lock2Learn: While today’s mobile devices have tremendous potential to help children learn, most of the time kids use them for entertainment-- watching movies, following social media, visiting websites, and playing games. Lock2Learn is an app that requires children to periodically answer age-appropriate questions from a variety of subjects, like Math and English, in order to unlock and use their devices. It even monitors device use and academic development with specialized reports, and you can set up Lock2Learn to ask questions as often as you like.
KidsEmail: When I teach Digital Citizenship (as part of Cyber Civics) in school I’m always surprised at how few students know how to properly compose an email. Surely they’re going to need to apply to college or for a job someday, right? Opening your child’s first email account together is a great way to get kids started online, and ensuring that kids use email safely is the mission of KidsEmail. This product monitors incoming and outgoing mail, allows you to set time restrictions, and even intercepts mail that fails your pre-set safety rules, ensuring that young junior will never receive an email offering him a mail order bride.
PocketGuardian: Two dads in Maryland, who also happen to be software developers, came up with this safety app that detects risky activity, like sexting and cyberbullying, on a child's mobile device and social media accounts. This app doesn’t invade a child’s privacy. In other words, it lets kids maintain age-appropriate interactions with their peers without you hovering about (no spying!). When inappropriate content is detected however, PocketGuardian immediately sends a notification to the parent or guardian stating that potentially dangerous activity was sent/received from the child's device, and provides tips on how to deal with it.
Frienedy: This new social networking platform was created by a Midwest mom after she experienced an unsettling personal experience: her oldest daughter, then age 11, downloaded Instagram to her new iPhone and attracted a follower who frightened her. Frienedy is a private online environment where users can connect with all their groups, and decide what to share with each one. It makes social networking suitable for all ages, with parental guidance tools available to help parents ease even the youngest users into the complex world of social sharing and communication.
Social Assurity: A team of experienced legal and investigative research professionals who knew firsthand how misrepresentations and questionable behavior on social media can harm otherwise perfectly qualified candidates for jobs or college, created Social Assurity. Their mission is to help high school and college students refine, enhance and manage the digital footprint on their social media and blog sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Instagram in order to stand out amongst their peers on their college applications and job resumes.
GoEnnounce: A compatible product to Social Assurity is GoEnnounce; this tool lets students create a profile page to showcase their interests, accomplishments, and challenges at school. By “ennouncing” things like stellar SAT scores or fundraising goals for a study abroad trip, students can receive encouragement, rewards, and even financial donations from relatives and friends who want to acknowledge their hard work and help them achieve their goals. Pretty cool.
This is in no way exhaustive list. There are many more great products out there that can help make digital parenting easier, and even fun. By combining tools, like the ones above, it is possible to safely guide your child through their digital development, ensuring they make it from first email to college application safely and positively.
We hope you’ll join us for our upcoming live online chat: “It Takes a Village To Raise a Digital Parent” on BLAB, December 9, 5 p.m. PST/8 p.m. EST, where we’ll talk to the makers of many of the products above. Also follow our #mydigiwish campaign on Twitter and share your own digital wishes and safety product tips for kids!
Cover image courtesy of Flickr.