In the past, the Internet was regarded as a fad. It was the new TV, or the new video game; just a new-fangled way for people to entertain themselves. And when something bad happened online, whether it was sexual harassment, death threats, or cyber bullying, the tendency was to shrug and tell the victim that it was just the Internet, it’s not like it happened in real life.
The Internet is real life, though. It’s the tool that lets us communicate with our families, and choose who we’re friends with. It lets us buy plane tickets, trade stocks, and work from home. It gives us our news, and lets us find entertainment. The Internet is also home to mature content, financial scams, and it’s used as a recruiting tool for unsavory people ranging from sexual predators to terrorists.
It’s natural to want to protect your kids from all that… but they’ll need to learn how to keep themselves safe sooner or later.
Let’s focus on social media, which is one of the most commonly used types of websites for young people. In the old days, as we all know, kids made friends with their peer group that they knew from school, the neighborhood, or other social activities. This limited the pool most kids had to choose from, but it also meant that kids generally had friends in their own age group. Other kids from their own school and grade, from the same team they played on, etc. Today, though, social media acts as a gateway to the rest of the world. So anyone, but especially kids, can join a social media site, and seek out where those who share their interests congregate. Maybe it’s forums dedicated to anime, or a FB group about a favorite hobby, or comic, but whatever it is, anyone could be there.
This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, unfettered access to social media is going to lead to your kids coming across things you’d rather them not be exposed to. People post all kinds of things on social media, and it’s possible that being inundated with the wrong messages can lead kids to accepted a twisted kind of norm. Things like bullying, slurs, and other negative behaviors can be common in corners of social media, but outside of that small group, those behaviors are likely to result in school discipline, job loss, and possibly even criminal charges, depending on how far someone takes it.
On the other hand, trying to shelter your kids from the existence of these things is doing them a disservice. Covering up their ears won’t make hateful words go away, and making them close their eyes won’t remove things you’d rather they not see. And when you’re not there to act as a shield, your kids will need to be able to handle their own online behavior, as well as the behavior of others.
In this case, a middle ground approach is probably best. I always recommend using a parental control software on your kid’s mobile devices. However, when using a parental control software it is still absolutely crucial to communicate with your kids and teens regularly about internet safety and the dangers associated with going online. Also, remind them often that what they post will stay there forever. It is important that they understand not to share personal information or speak to anyone in a way that is rude or hurtful.
I always encourage families to make sure that they instill balance on their mobile devices. Start by taking a look at a service like Netsanity. Their Timeblocker scheduler, used on a regular basis, helps set up regular social media breaks. Often you will find that there are certain apps that you may want to block based on your child’s age. Netsanity’s Appblocker can be used to block apps such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and others, on demand, if you find that your child is not old enough to use them yet, the app is inappropriate or if you just feel that your child or even your teen is not ready for the responsibility associated with certain apps.
Additionally, many parents choose to follow their kids along on their social media apps that they use such as Facebook or Instagram. I always remind parents that with today tech savvy kids this might not be foolproof since they could set up two accounts – one that you follow along with, and another that they may keep hidden from you. I discuss this in detail on a previous blog about hiding apps.
Finally, always keep in mind that a parents opinion and example is often the strongest contributor to a child’s decision-making process, even when that’s not apparent to you! Honest conversations about staying safe online will do more to keep your child safe than virtually any other action you might take!
Netsanity was made by parents for parents. With easy to use software designed to give control and sanity back to parents, Netsanity enables a safer and healthier mobile experience for kids. See for yourself with a free trial!
Netsanity is available for both Apple and Android devices.