Thanks to KidGuard for sponsoring this conversation and sharing helpful guides for us parents to learn how to protect our children online.
The internet can be a scary place. Scratch that, the cyber world is a scary, dangerous place where predators hide and take advantage of children. I hate to put it that way, but we parents know it is true.
Most of us grew up using the internet in various capacity, and I can remember my teenaged chats with “online friends” where we shared too much and did not think about the consequences. Our children, however, are born in the internet age where cell phones are the norm, and no one leaves home without one. I don’t want to see the children of our generation being as careless as we were.
5 Ways to Protect our Children Online
Image Source: KidGuard
Teach our children Internet safety
First thing first, we need to parent our children by teaching them what is appropriate and warning them about potential dangers. Kids are using cell phones at very young ages these days, and are very innocent (and ignorant) of cyber bullies and internet predators. Warning children about the risks and helping them see the danger signs will help them keep themselves safe when we are not looking over their shoulders.
I have seen the idea of a cell phone contract a few times recently and think it is an excellent idea. Outlining expectations and acceptable use up front and agreeing on the proper usage times and consequences will help avoid (or at least reduce) power struggles later. It opens up the lines of communication right away between parent and child and helps maintain this flow later as any potential issues creep up.
Watch for children’s changed behavior
There are warning signs of a child being a victim of cyber-bullying or at risk of being targeted by an internet predator. If our children start exhibiting strange behaviors, are more secretive or are acting scared – we need to react quickly.
KidGuard’s guide on monitoring cell phone use contains a wealth of information on cyber-bullying and warning signs. Cyber-bullying can lead to eating disorders and depression, so it is up to us to protect our children and raise them to be strong and confident people who will speak up when they see bullying. I found the list of 10 steps to take to respond to cyber-bullying to be very helpful – these tips include printing out the evidence, blocking the bullies on the media/device, and going to the authorities if necessary.
There are also warning signs of an internet predator to watch out for – such as a “new friend” who your child does not know in person. Someone new and unknown but a person your child is spending a lot of time talking with is a red flag. I struggle with this topic because I have gained many wonderful online friends through blogging and group boards, but it is still important to teach our children to be careful and not share sensitive information online.
Image Source: KidGuard
Monitor your child’s text messages
Monitoring your child’s text messages does feel a bit like an invasion of privacy, but while children are minors and vulnerable, it is up to us to make sure they are not being targeted or bullied, and are not getting pulled into illegal activities. KidGuard has an excellent guide about “spying” on text messages and shares a lot of data and tips on cell phone use in teens.
If our children expect us to be able to grab their phones and check their text messages at any moment, they will be a lot more mindful in their communication – including avoiding using language they would not want us to see. I admire KidGuard’s point about building trust in this way – expectations are set forth and values upheld by these checks. One of the articles included in the text message guide shares tips on how to start monitoring and explaining to your child why this new household rule exists. There is also a really good article in the guide discussing sleep deprivation in teens, and using the phone late into the night is certainly a contributing factor.
Using an app like KigGuard to monitor text messages makes it more streamlined for parents to be able to perform these check-ins, as well as see any text messages our children may have sneakily deleted. While we can “spot check” their text messages on occasion, being able to know if our kids are outright trying to hide something is vital.
Monitor your child’s online activity
Apps are fun and popular, but some apps allow our children to get into vulnerable situations. Staying up to date with technology and knowing what apps our kids are getting into is a major step in keeping them safe. Some apps are built to be sneaky and hide files or photos under a seemingly innocent app cover. The KidGuard guide on cell phone monitoring includes a great article on this very topic – “vault” apps that hide actions and could be used to send and receive inappropriate content. I would recommend having a clause in that cell phone contract that such vault apps will never be loaded to the child’s devices.
Monitor your own online activity
While we’re keeping up with what our kids are doing online, we can’t forget what we’re posting either! One of my rules is I don’t post full-face photos of my child on any public forum (blog, Instagram, etc.). I only post on my private Facebook account for family use, because it is hard to avoid that option. I also don’t share our full names, at least as much as blogging will allow. Posting sensitive or private information on a public profile is easy to do by accident, so we need to keep mindful of what we are posting and the privacy settings on that post or account.
For example, don’t post that you are going on vacation, or at least don’t share specific dates of the trip – that’s just asking for trouble. Instead, post when you return. Your home and family remain safe, and you can still share all the fun you had.
Giving your child a cell phone does not have to be a terrifying experience. We parents just need to plan ahead and put measures in place to keep everyone safe.