As parents, we are often very cautious when it come to the movie and televisions shows that we allow our children to watch. We are just as careful when it comes to friends and after school activities. However, even with all the safeguards we use to keep our children safe, a subtle danger may be lurking closer than we think. Smartphones and tablets offer many fun activities and learning experiences, but when our kids have access to apps and websites beyond their age range, these activities can become risky and even downright dangerous. Consider these important tips to guard your family against inappropriate social media and internet use.
(NOTE: We started Netsanity to help keep Internet and app access “age appropriate” in our own families, we invite you to start a 14-day free trial of our service to see if it’s a good fit for yours)
Setting Age Limits
It’s becoming commonplace to see children as young as 2 and 3 easily navigating their way around a mobile device. Some parents feel that technology is the perfect babysitter while they clean the house or while their child sits in a shopping cart at the store. While not all social media and technology is wrong in and of itself, specific age limits should apply. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) academy recommends that for children 2 to 5 years of age, screen time should be limited to one hour per day. For kids ages 6 and older, parents can determine the restrictions for time spent using screen, as well as monitor the types of digital media their children use.
entertainment “screen time” should be eliminated for children 2 years and under; for those 3 to 18 years, 2 hours of “screen time” is a healthy range. This may seem like a harsh or unrealistic goal. However, this study also discovered worrisome effects of too much technology such as increased risk for childhood obesity, behavioral issues, and irregular sleep habits.
Parental Controls and Filters
Peer pressure is an enormously powerful motivation for children and even older teens. Many feel a strong need to join social media outlets and regularly visit certain websites simply because “everyone else is doing it.” While social media outlets such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have a 13-year-old age requirement, this barrier is sometimes ignored or bypassed. As parents, it’s vital to ensure that the websites and apps your child participates in are age-appropriate regardless of how many of their friends are already doing it. Take time to invest in trustworthy parental controls and filters for all of your child’s mobile internet devices. Install programs that specifically guard against websites and apps with mature content your child has no business participating in. Using mobile parental controls that give you the ability to block specific websites and apps that you identify beforehand, is a good first step.
Some children and teens naturally fight social media and technology rules imposed by parents. Rules feel restrictive and mean. Regardless of how badly your child my hate these rules, fight to keep the lines of communication open. Talk with them and explain your reasoning and desire to keep them safe. Try to help them see the risk of online “stalkers” and predators. Even relatively harmless pictures on social media can be stolen and photoshopped into horrible material and pornography. Although it may be a struggle initially, consistency and patience succeeds in the end. If your child sees that love is the motivation behind your rules, they are less likely to fight against them.
Certain guidelines should still exist even if you feel you can safely entrust them with smartphones and other mobile internet devices. While you may feel they are mature enough to handle the responsibility, remain vigilant and keep these safeguards in mind:
- Impose “technology guidelines” before bedtime
- Download a family technology contract to ensure that the entire family is on the same page
When it comes time for bedtime, set family guidelines ahead of time so that your child knows what time is tech-free and when it is time for bed. The later it gets, the more tempting certain dangers can be. Even harmless games and apps prove harmful if your child pulls an all-nighter trying to beat the next level. This is when features like Netsanity’s Screenlock or Hideapps work well. We know many teens who like to fall asleep to music while using their smartphones as an alarm to get up the next day!
Perform Periodic Safety Checks
Every now and then, randomly check your child or teen’s smartphone or internet device. Take time scrolling through the texts and instant messaging apps. You also want to examine their internet and search histories, as well as which apps they’ve installed. This may seem harsh, and an invasion of their privacy, but many horrible consequences have begun with internet predators or unresolved cyberbullying. By periodically checking your child’s technology, you are not only keeping them safe but their friends as well. Your child may know about a danger their friend is experiencing, but feel they can’t talk about it. Doing periodic checks will help on both fronts.
“Follow” their social media account
If your teen is old and mature enough for a social media account such as Facebook or Instagram, be sure to “follow” or subscribe to their account to regularly see what they post and share. Just keep in mind that some children set up secret or hidden accounts so if you are not checking the device itself on a regular basis you may not have access to all the accounts your child is using. If your child or teen is aware of your supervision, they will be far less likely to share inappropriate or “borderline” material.
Social media is ever-growing and more and more children and teens are trying to find their place in this chaotic, technology “jungle.” Although we must eventually let our children and teens branch out and learn, we must also remain cautious about the very real danger of inappropriate material within the internet and app store. As they age and mature, allow them more freedom but always exercise caution!