Have you considered your family’s internet safety lately? When I worked in the middle school I was shocked at how much my students knew about skirting the rules when it came to the internet. Did you know that with some internet routers if you directly connect with an ethernet cord it can bypass your password protections? One of my seventh graders bragged about how she would use this bypass to get online when her parents weren’t home. Each new generation has more exposure to technology and is quicker to learn the ways of a tech world. These kids are use to inputting passwords and navigating numeric codes. Now is the time to consider updating all your personal passwords, I prefer fingerprint passes wherever possible.
Technology is evolving quickly, this includes apps on cell phones. Below is a chart from the Center for Cyber Safety and Education from March 2019 and even it is outdated! Vine is no longer a company and TikTok, the leading social app, is not even listed. TikTok has over 800 Million monthly users and 41% of users are aged between 16 and 24. Safety online is important, but so is exposure to the online world. I think the best way to handle online safety is through discussions, rules and monitoring.
Sit down with your kids and talk about what you expect from them when they are online. Start these discussions as soon as they start participating on an electronic device. Talk to your toddlers and pre-k kids about always asking for help when they need it. Talk to them about asking to change apps before moving to another area of the device. As your kids get older add in more to your discussions. Discuss bad pictures and websites. Talk about not filling out submission forms or giving away personal information. Teach them that no one online needs to know where they live or go to school. If internet safety becomes a regular conversation and open discussion you will have better success at ensuring their safety. I like to guide on the side of open discussions and asking questions versus a one-sided lecture. You can even hold sessions of “what would you do if” and present your kids with different scenarios and discuss how they should handle them.
Layout rules and expectations clearly. We do not allow social media apps in our house, except for YouTube. Our oldest is allowed a YouTube account, but I have all the login information and check his viewing history and notifications regularly. YouTube no longer allows Direct Messaging so that really helped me to be open to allowing it. Our kids are mostly too young for the social media age limits anyway, so that is an easy rule for our kids to understand. We do not allow games or apps that have a DM feature. My kids can message through texts and that is it. If a game has a guild and a chat feature within the platform it is a no-go for the phones. Roblox is one that we do not allow on a phone, but do allow on a computer where the whole family can see the content. All gaming and messaging apps are set to block at a certain time, bedtime. If you are in bed there is no reason to be texting at night. Our rules might seem strict, but we have had one child overstep them and have decided to buckle them down more. Luckily most phones now have easy-to-set parental controls! Your rules probably will look different depending on your age and maturity levels.
It’s pretty common for us parents to set expectations and not follow up. A lot of empty threats get us through some days. Monitoring needs to never be an empty threat. Take to regular checks, but keep them unpredictable. Don’t check every Wednesday night, because a kid will know when to clean out their phone. Make sure to check the recently deleted section of their photo albums, look at their most used apps and spend some time poking around within those apps. Be diligent in checking in on their safety. I also require all contacts to have real names, and not nicknames, and check the contact list regularly. Don’t expect to find a whole lot in messages. Kids know early on to delete messages they don’t want to be seen. You will need to be more creative and dig deeper into other parts of their devices to see if anything inappropriate is going on.
We may take a stricter stance on online safety compared to some. I definitely don’t think our way is the only way, but I hope that by getting a glimpse of our attempts at safety you get ideas to improve your own. Don’t underestimate your children, they are brilliant little poops sometimes!