There are a lot of options about modern technology and how much we should let our kids be exposed to it, what is harmful, and what is good for them. In this post, I will write about my point of view on some very important topics about how to keep our kids safe online, which I recommend every parent to reflect on. The information age is here and your kids will grow up in it. It will be totally different to grow up today compared to your own childhood.
I think the first thing any parent should do to prevent your kids from seeing things they shouldn’t, is to set parental controls on the broadband. That goes also for the mobile network on smartphones. Just go to the settings menu and set up the user profiles as you want them. It is good for each family member to have their own login. That makes it easier to have adapted settings for each profile.
Step two is to set up your devices safely, i.e. use the device settings so that only you can download age-appropriate apps and games. Then it is highly recommended to set up password control or disable in-app purchasing, disable location services so that your kids don’t unintentionally share their location with others, and download the age-appropriate games and apps you are happy for your child to use.
Step three is to talk to your kids about staying safe online, which I will write more about in this post.
Remember, software programs are not substitutes for communication or adult supervision!
To be able to offer freedom within limits, I think it is very important to reflect on what boundaries you want to have. I think, if you supervise and don’t engage, it will backfire. It is important the kids feel, that the limitations are fair, and they know why the boundaries are there. Engage, join your kids when they are playing video games, watch movies, create movies, find new interesting apps with them, and so on. That will help you to understand and see what your kids are exposed to. If you engage in your kid’s world, they will engage in yours. The boundaries should follow the maturity of your kid, and get wider as they grow up. We as parents should always be a good role model. I believe that trust goes in both directions.
Unfortunately, there are people around that can’t be trusted to have the best intentions for your kids. You would never leave your kids by themselves in an unsafe area in a town or in the woods, right? I guess, you also tell your kids never to talk to or follow a stranger anywhere. But how about tricky people on the web? One thing that is super important, is to tell your kids that if someone contacts them on the net, they should always let you know, especially if someone is telling them to keep it a “secret”. Creepy… This is why you should teach your kids to ONLY message and accept friend and contact requests from people they know.
Teach your kids to be careful of what they post online. Even if you try to erase something, it is basically impossible. As an example, I have seen several school projects on Facebook where they want to teach the kids how quickly and how far any picture can get on the web. One thing that I think kids will have trouble grasping is the fact that the net is global and the number of people, that can see what has been posted, is huge. I think even adults struggle to see this. And yes, the tricky people are everywhere. Just imagine that a picture of you, which you are not proud of, goes viral! The only way to protect yourself is to never post anything, but then again, that will be quite boring. We all like to get likes on our posts, right? 😉
One thing I will definitely tell my kids is that: If you can’t say what you have written to the other person when she or he is standing in front of you, and look them in their eyes at the same time, then you should NOT click on send!
Unfortunately, the drawback with 24/7 access to social media, is that the bullies will follow your kids home. There are no “bully-free zones” anymore. This is why it is really important that you talk to your kids about proper online behavior. Also, let them know what can be done if they are exposed to bullying, i.e. report it to the teachers, the principal, or even the police if they break the law. The law applies in the schools too! Harassment and abuse are never OK.
There is a girl here in Sweden who runs the Instagram account assholesonline.com. Her name is Linnea Claesson, and she must be one of the strongest women I know of. She publishes the messages, that have been sent to her, on Instagram. I must say, I’m stunned by what some people think is OK to write to another person. As I mentioned earlier, one rule of thumb, I will teach my kids, is to think: Can I tell this to the other person when she or he is standing in front of me and look them in their eyes at the same time. If the answer is no, then you should not write it! If yes, then it should be OK to write.
Do you know why it is important to have a strong password? Well, here I go again about the tricky people on the net. There are people that use different computer programs to try to fetch passwords to be able to hack and take control of your accounts. If your password has been revealed somewhere, then there is a big risk that they will be able to access your other accounts with the same password. The shorter password you have, the faster the program will be able to reveal it. This is since the program will test bit by bit to see what fits, and they have access to a database with already revealed passwords, dictionaries, and number combinations that have been used. Therefore, my tip is to have a LONG password. As an example, a password like “H3j2@N” would take the computer program approx. 52 seconds to reveal. A password like “HelloYourCatSpinns!” would take the program closer to six milliard years to hack, since the program will have to test a lot more variables.
Be friends with your kids on social media. This will help you to know which people your kids have around them, and also what kind of information they do share online. Talk to your kids about tricky people with no good intentions, that will try to contact them by masking as people they are not, and how they want to “infiltrate” their “inner circle” to win their trust. This is why you should teach your kids to ONLY message and accept friend and contact requests from people they know. Also have a discussion about that the number of contacts of friends your kids have, really doesn’t matter. The quality of the contacts is far more important than the number of contacts, in the aspect of being safe online.
Supervise and ask about unfamiliar email addresses for the same reasons as above. You should teach your kids to ONLY message and accept friend and contact requests from people they know.
I guess you have heard of the Internet of Things (IoT)? This is an area where the development runs very fast right now.
So, why should we keep an eye on the Internet of Toys? Well, the companies behind the toys will be able to track, record, and analyze your kids’ data, which raises concerns about the potential threats to children’s data protection. This means that your kid’s personal information is recorded, datafied, and stored on corporate platforms. Both children, and we as parents will know very little about how our personal data is treated. I recommend you to read the article “The internet of toys” written by The London School of Economics and Political Science to get more familiar with this topic.
Do things together with your kid! The only way to really know what your kids experience around tech is to talk to them and ask a lot of open questions like: “I notice that you wish to get your own smartphone, what would you like to be able to do with it?”, “I noticed you really enjoy to play video games, how long time do you think it is OK to sit and play without a break?”, and “I understand that you would like to create your own account on social media, why do you think there is an age limit?”.
Be curious, communicate, and get engaged. I could not have said it better than Jordan Shapiro, Ph.D. says in his article The Truth About Parenting And Smartphones:
“With or without devices, most of the parents I see could engage more with their children. And it is not just about quantity of time, it is also about quality of time. Play video games with your kids. Watch animated movies with your kids. Read chapter books to your kids. They are little people, and like all people, when you engage in their world, they become interested in engaging in yours”.
Do you know which “rules” other families have regarding screen time, what games they allow their kids to play, and so on? The only way to know is to ask other parents, communicate with them, and get some insights. Bring it up for discussion next time you meet another parent with kids of a similar age as your kids are in.
Just as I wrote earlier about offer freedom within limits, one excellent way to do it is to write actual contracts for devices with your kids. I believe your kids will impress you with the level of responsibility they will be able to take and are willing to take. The best thing is if you ask your kid to write the contract, then you can discuss it and come up with an agreement that gains both of you.
The responsibility to help your kids to keep the devices unbroken lies with us as parents. No matter how much you tell your kids to be careful with the devices, accidents will happen. To save energy and money, make sure to have protection on your devices that can handle kids that play. Choose tech they can’t break.
Keep in mind, software programs are not substitutes for communication or adult supervision!
Please feel free to write a comment below with your opinions in this area. I would love to hear what you think.