This time of year marks a milestone for many. Millions of children of all ages will be advancing to the next grade. That means that many kids will be asking their parents for their first smart phone, tablet or even a laptop. While some children may actually be more comfortable using technology than their parents, this does not mean that they are capable of handling everything that goes along with using it. To help protect young eyes from seeing inappropriate content, there are several steps that should be taken by parents before they hand over that new piece of equipment.
Make sure it works! This is especially true if the device is a gift or if it might need a charge before the child can use it. We bought our nine year old daughter her first tablet for Christmas this past year. While it did have a full charge, I still needed to set it up for our wireless network, because as soon as she saw it, she went right to it, just like Ralphie Parker went after that Red Ryder BB gun! Imagine the disappointment on her face if the battery needed to be charged or if she had to wait even a minute for me to connect it to the network!
Next, be sure to adjust the privacy settings (sometimes called filters) on any and all search engines that the child may use. Go through as many of them as you can; just because you prefer to use Google, doesn’t mean that your child wouldn’t prefer Yahoo! or Bing. If you know which site your child would use the most, set that up as the default home page. For older children, I recommend using Google Scholar. I recommend it to all of my college students. If not as the homepage, at least bookmark it for easier access later. Not only will it avoid most, if not all of the inappropriate content, but it will also provide more reliable sources for their homework assignments.
Parents need to be involved with what is happening online to help prevent problems.
I recommend that account information, including passwords, for any and all online accounts be given to the parents. This should be followed up occasionally by checking to see which new sites/apps your children are using. While I do not recommend that parents regularly sign onto their kids’ accounts, if there is just cause to be suspicious, it may be the only way that parents can really see what is happening online. It will let you see direct messages that may have cyberbullying or hate messages, for example. It also lets you see which “secret” groups that they be members of online.
To track the activity of what a child is doing online and prevent threats from predators, parents should install protective software, such as Net Nanny or Cyber Patrol. For roughly $40 per year, both will help protect your entire family. Along those same lines, parents should use an online alert system to find out what is being said about their kids. Two of the more popular sites that do this are socialmention and Google Alerts. Both sites can track the Internet and send emails directly to your inbox when they find suspicious content online.
Once all of the above has been accomplished, that is not the end of it. Most importantly, parents need to be engaged with their child’s online activity. Parents need to be involved with what is happening online to help prevent problems. They need to do this before someone else, such as a predator, gets involved with them. Just as you would ask them how their day at school went, you should also ask them about what is happening online, especially with the younger children.
Here is a great graphic from the Cyberbullying Research Center about the signs of cyberbullying. When I shared it on my Facebook page, it quickly became the most viewed/shared posting ever made. This can help you find out if your child is either the victim or perpetrator of cyberbullying. Either way, parents need to know.
By following these steps, families can minimize the risks associated with kids using technology to get online. This is especially true for younger kids that are just experiencing online activity for the first time.
Cover image courtesy of Flicker.