At some point, all our children become tweens and then teens who want develop a strong yearning to go out into the world and explore what’s out there. This can be a camping trip, going to the mall with friends or actively using social media. While this desire to meet new people is natural, their newfound curiosity must be cohesively integrated with your responsibility as a parent to keep them safe even online.
The best way to protect your children online, without blatantly invading their privacy is through long conversations and optionally some kind of parental control software. This way, they are free to make their own choices, but you are still in control, ready to spring into action if and when a problematic situation arises. Even though I work as an internet safety expert, I am also a father of three. Nowadays kids are so technologically savvy that they are using social media in elementary school, but I was able to conquer my fears and build trust and a stronger bond.
The Dangers of Social Media
Nowadays, social media has become the go-to place for meeting new people and receiving news and updates on the latest events. However, social media has also become a proving ground for cyber criminals. They assume fake identities, become “friends” with your children on social media and then lure them into face-to-face meetings. If you think that your child is not gullible enough to fall for any of their tricks-think again. With the rise of social media and chat rooms, meeting strangers face-to-face is not a big deal anymore to millennials. The internet, especially social media, has made the world so connected that it is possible to find out everything about a person without ever meeting them.
Furthermore, teens tend to give out a lot of information about themselves on social media. While sharing things such interests sand hobbies are ok, sharing addresses and dates of birth are not. In fact, most internet safety experts do not recommend even sharing the state you live in because this makes it easier for stalkers and pedophiles to find you.
Try to find parental control software that allows you to track their entire social media activities so you can monitor the things they post. One of the things that I always stress to parents and teens is that the things they post on social media are considered public, even if they originally intended to share it with a closed circle of people.
My main message to them: if you would not want the entire world to see this photo or video, then do not post it in the first place. However, with the help of parental control software, I let my teens post photos and other content on social, while monitoring their activities and additionally providing them with informative guidelines about the laws of the jungle that is the internet.
This is a good example of how you can use social media for educational and bonding purposes. You understand that, at some point, they will go off on their own and as adults they will have much more freedom than when they were kids. This is why giving them practical advice and instruction about the dark side of social media at an early age will pay dividends over the next decades.
Along with preventing pedophiles and stalkers from hunting for victims on social media, the next biggest threat law enforcement and internet safety professionals deal with is cyber bullying. When I was in school in the 80’s, the bullies were no more than juvenile thugs who yearned for attention by picking on weaker children to compensate for the lack of charm, charisma and overall pleasantness. However, the reach of this bully was largely limited to the school grounds. The bullies have evolved along with the digital age and now utilize social media to extend their reach all over the world.
Recently I was involved in a cyberbullying incident which involved sexting. One of my daughter’s friends sent lewd photos to her boyfriend and he threatened to share these photos online if she did not go along with what he wanted her to do. Thanks to recent laws passed after the tragic stories of teens all over the country who committed suicide as a result of cyberbullying, the boyfriend was held legally accountable but the damage had already been done. Even though, he was already able to share the photos and as I have already mentioned above, once they are posted on social media, they are on there for good.
Be aware that cyberbullying is not simply a result of sexting. Children pick on one another because of socio-economic status, race, religion, or even the clothes they wear. And since they have access to social media, they can bully your children anywhere, anytime. Also, as in most cases, victims of cyberbullying do not come forward and do not tell anybody about the problem, not even to their parents. They feel that if they tell their parents or school administrator then they are a snitch, which will exacerbate the problem.
Most parents found out about cyberbullying by literally going through their children’s phones and reading messages the received. However, sneaking around and digging for clues on your child’s phone sabotages all of the trust and good will that you have built up with them over the years. Plus, it is totally unnecessary. Thanks to modern parental control software, you can see all messages they send and receive on your phone, even deleted ones.
The big bonus of monitoring your children’s messages on your phone is that you can see that there is a problem right away and you can take the appropriate action right away. Most parents begin to notice the warning signs of cyberbullying in their children’s behavior, but at this point it is too late. The damage has already been done. The bully has managed to get into your child’s head and make them feel bad and depressed about themselves. But when you start noticing messages that are detrimental to the growth and development of your child, such software allows you to block all incoming phone calls and messages from any phone number you choose.
While all of these threats can seem overwhelming, you can make it easier. One of the best software I have seen on the market today which I can openly recommend is an app called Kidgy. It is actually used by school administrators to keep children from visiting inappropriate sites on school computers. It has pretty much everything you may need plus it has freemium plan where you pay only for extra features. So I guess it is worth a try. Also, you can try Norton Security, and Kaspersky Safe Kids.
First, make sure that your children are aware of all the threats that are lurking on the dark side of the internet and then trust them to make the right decision. This very important because if your teen does not feel this trust, they will start hiding more and more information from you. Finally, make sure you monitor what they are doing online be it with Kidgy, Kaspersky, Norton or something else. The goal here is not rote learning, but rather to prepare your child for the adult life over the horizon.
Over the long term, keep monitoring their social network activity and as well as things such as their internet history. As time goes by, you should start noticing a change in the content they share. If at first they were posting R-rated content, over time you should start seeing posts that are rated PG or G.
One day they will turn 18, move out and face the real world all on their own. This moment will arrive sooner than you think. Do whatever you can to prepare for this moment so when they become adults they will able to make more informed decisions and not be susceptible to digital risks.