It’s no secret that our kids are Internet savvy. Social-media profiles, e-mail and texts are as much a part of their daily lives as bikes and tree houses were to those of a generation before.
That means parents are on the front lines, in 2014, when it comes to monitoring what their kids do online. It’s not a one-size-fits all equation.
While more than 50% of U.S. adolescents visit a social-media site every day, and 75% of them own smartphones — according to a recent American Academy of Pediatrics paper — even tweens are online. Some 30% of parents polled told Parenting.com that they allow their 10–12 year olds to use Facebook. And, of children even younger, 80% of those who do go online are using the Internet at least once per week.
“Every parent raises their child according to their own values,” says Victoria Kempf, Internet safety advocate and co-founder of ScreenRetriever. “Parents need to go over a set of rules about online behavior with their child, and they need to have the same expectations of behavior online as they do offline.”
The bottom line for making wise choices about keeping kids smart and safe as they begin their Internet lives? It’s information.
Protecting your children online
The underlying parts of teaching kids good habits and skills for Internet safety is nothing new, if you think about. Parents have been coaching their children through risk-prone activities for a long, long time.
“No responsible parent would allow their child to learn to drive by simply handing them car keys,” says Jo Langford, therapist and educator to tweens, teens and parents. “We certainly shouldn’t do the same with the Internet. Like a car, it’s responsible and prudent of us, as parents, to be ‘in the passenger seat’ with them until they show a certain level of maturity, responsibility and good judgment.”
And so, let’s look at some tips from experts about how teaching and caring for our kids in the virtual world starts with some basic steps that you can take with good old-fashioned real-world conversations.
- Learn the sites your kids visit; know the apps they use. Understand that even games created for young kids can have a social-media aspect to them, such as allowing them to trade animals with each other. “Predators know this and target children using the same games,” warns Tyler Cohen Wood, cyber branch chief at the Department of Defense. “Teach them that just because someone claims to be a friend or good person, that is not always the case.”
- Work with your kids to create strong passwords. Emphasize the importance of using unique passwords for every site. And give your young ones a few guidelines — such as making passwords that are at least 6–8 characters long, with combinations of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. “Try the ‘first letter’ method when creating new passwords,” says Bill Carey, vice president of marketing for Siber Systems. “Take the first letter of your favorite expression, lyric, poem, or movie and put them together in a creative way. For example, ‘twinkle twinkle, little star’ would become TTLS.”
- Keep up with new technology to keep browsing secure. Biometrics may play an important role in how people, even young people, use social networking platforms. “As of right now, most sites require a username and password in order to sign in,” says Kirby Lorenzen, digital marketer at uKnowKids. “People may eventually use this technology in order to sign in to networking sites. Instead of typing in your username and password, you could simply hold your thumb over the sensor and be logged in 100% securely.” It’s already a reality, in some ways, as new devices feature fingerprint scanning. Samsung’s new Galaxy S5 employs biometrics as a key element of its access options, for example.
- Start small. If you feel your kids aren’t yet old enough, or mature enough, for everything out there on the Internet, use restrictions or filtering software to limit the apps, websites, games and music they can access. The S5 will allow you to do this also with its ‘Kids Mode,’ which (with an adorable UX design) provides fun, safe content like painting, camera tools, karaoke and games for young children — there’s even a Kids Store with free and paid apps that are age appropriate and fun. Additionally, you can limit the time your kids can use your smartphone. Expand these boundaries as they become more responsible and aware of what the Internet has to offer.
- Learn from mistakes. “By starting small and limiting how they may be using the Internet — such as with family, only, to start, or using a password-protected blog — they can practice using these online tools in a safe environment,” says Lynette Owens, founder and global director of Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids and Families program. “If they make a mistake, the impact is also small.”
Maintaining your own privacy
Something people often don’t talk about when discussing children’s involvement with technology is the need to protect children from the content that exists on your (the adult) phone, not just on the Internet. Whose kids don’t love playing around with their parents’ phones? To them, it’s just a shiny, new toy. Even if your child is too young to understand the information stored in your phone, it’s very possible for them to accidentally delete important documents or images — there’s a way to prevent this.
- Protect yourself, too The Galaxy S5 ‘Private Mode‘ lets you hide and protect certain documents, pictures, text messages, videos, voice-mails with either a secure password or your fingerprint. This mode makes it very simple to pick and choose which photos or files you want to sequester, and you can easily glance at everything you’ve marked private by scanning the ‘Private” folder within the “My Files” section of your phone.
It’s about family, after all. It’s absolutely crucial that for this process, as with any other family lesson, parents and children learn together: Begin with the basics and don’t wait too long to started on doing so.
“It’s important for parents to teach their kids good computer habits at an early age,” says Carey. “As with teaching your children other habits, teaching them good computer habits early on will help them establish and maintain those skills for a long time.”