Kids Rely on Us to Keep them Safe, Including on the Internet
I don’t know about you, but I feel like kids and technology is one of the things I talk about most frequently with my husband and fellow parents.
While I realize technology is important and something my kids need to be familiar with, it also scares the daylights out of me (I realize that phrase makes me sound SUPER old but, you know, GRKIDS likes to keep it clean!)
I’m no expert on the subject, but I have certainly learned a lot over the past few years, both through my work in the public school system and with my own kids. Here are a few tips for keeping your tween/teen kiddos safe online.
Kid’s Brains are Like Swiss Cheese – Lots of Holes That Aren’t Developed Yet
My first suggestion it to save your children from themselves.
My husband teaches biology and human anatomy and regularly reminds me that kids’ brains look a lot like swiss cheese. Regardless of how amazing your parenting skills are, adolescent brains are simply not done growing.
1 – Internet Safety Starts With a Good Home Internet Filter
The part of their brain that controls decision making/planning/judgment/consequences is a work in progress. Because they are not always able to think through the consequences of their actions, kids can make really poor decisions. This is why things like home internet filters and other filtering services are your first line of defense.
Many home internet providers offer parental controls and filtering services for no additional charge.
AT&T, Comcast, and Charter all claim to have strong parental controls that allow you to filter content and block specific websites on multiple devices. Circle is another great option that several of my friends have recommended. These are all great when kids are on devices at home, but those restrictions don’t carry over outside of your four walls.
2 – Set Clear Expectations and Consequences
Draw Your Line in the Sand… and Stick to it
Parents need to have clear expectations for their kids (for technology and everything else). Not only do we need to have clear expectations and consequences, but we need to enforce them. Rules that are not enforced do nothing to change behavior.
We are more strict than other parents when it comes to technology. Both my husband and I work in schools and see the negative impact of too much screen time on kids. Regardless of your stance on this, you need to have clear expectations for the following things:
- How much technology are your kids allowed to have?
- What websites/ apps are allowed?
- Where are devices used?
- Where are devices kept at night?
- What happens if any of your technology rules are broken?
There are many apps that help with establishing and enforcing these guidelines. Covenant Eyes, Bark, MM Guardian, and Our Pact are all ones that friends of mine have recommended, but there are many more out there.
Having a technology contract may seem a little too serious, but I think it’s very beneficial to have it all laid out. Here is the technology contract we have for our family:
3 – Don’t Scare Your Kids. Be Approachable About Questions
You MUST keep the lines of communication open with your kids in order to help them become responsible with technology. This is easier said than done with the unique species known as adolescents.
I subscribe to a weekly newsletter that is put out by the creators of the documentary “Screenagers.” They have something called Tech Talk Tuesdays where they discuss a different topic related to technology as a family once a week. Here are some examples of topics/ questions:
- How should we handle screens in the bedroom?
- How long do you think you should do focused study without taking a break?
- How should we handle devices during meals?
- What are best rules for video game time?
Keeping the lines of communication open and allowing your kids to have input into your agreement helps build positive trusting relationships with your kids.
4 – Be the Example and Get Off Your Phone
Are you constantly glued to your phone? If so, it’s pretty hard to get after your kids for having too much screen time. Even though I am the adult and I get to make the rules, I still insist that I need to model healthy technology habits if I expect my kids to do the same.
After going to a seminar on kids and technology, I downloaded an app called Moment that tracks the number of times you pick up your device and the amount of time you spend online. It was shocking. I consider myself to be pretty mindful of the time I spend on my phone, but I discovered I pick up my phone close to 100 times some days. Yikes.
5 – Keep Learning as Technology Evolves
Part of surviving this new tech world we live in is educating yourself. Protect Young Eyes has been one of the most helpful websites I have found. They are constantly posting new information about apps and websites to be cautious of. They also have great suggestions for setting limits, having conversations with your kids about technology, and much more. They also offer training sessions: I attended one in my school district and found it to be very beneficial.
There are also many great resources on the Screenagers website . I would also highly recommend watching this documentary if you have the opportunity.
I have also joined two very helpful Facebook groups: Family and Technology Safety Zone and Parenting in a Tech World. It’s great to learn from other parents and share resources. There are even more groups available so find one that’s right for you.
6 – Rely on Your Village
Even though I am listing this one last, for me, this is one of the most important pieces to successful parenting in general, but especially with technology and my kids. Being friends with the parents of my kids’ friends helps keep everyone on track.
I have made it very clear to my fellow parents that I 100% want to know if my kid is being a jerk. We have had many teachable moments with regard to technology and I am sure we will continue to have many more. Having your tribe there to help you out makes it a little less painful.
Good luck navigating this crazy new world of technology!