Keeping Virtual Play Dates, Hang Outs, and Video Chats Safe for Everyone

By on Apr 18, 2020

Every day we discover (or stumble over) new ways of coping and connecting during this unique chapter in family life. Still, as every age group under your roof finds their favorite virtual play date and hangout apps, parents may need to add a few safety rails to make sure the fun stays fun.

IRL community resurfaces

virtual play date

While this health crisis is devastating in so many ways, it’s also put a spotlight on the many heartwarming ways to connect in real life (IRL). We’re placing teddy bears in our windows for solidarity, creating scavenger hunts for neighborhood kids, serenading shut-ins, publically supporting first responders, celebrating birthdays and graduations with drive-by parades, and so, so much more.

The ongoing infusion of true, human connection has softened the uncertainty. Still, kids of every age need to maintain an emotional connection with peers. Here are a few things to think about as kids of every age connect with friends online.

Pre-K and Elementary Virtual Play Dates

Since health experts have put restrictions on familiar fun for little ones such as playgrounds, sports leagues, sleepovers, playdates, and even visits with grandparents, parents are relaxing screen time rules and looking for ways to have virtual playdates. Free video tools such as FaceTime and Zoom are proving lifesavers for group art, play, and learning, as are safe websites for young ones and phone apps. (If you run out things to do, here’s a great list of fun to tap and great learning sites for every age group).

Keep Them Safe

  • Share online experiences with young children at all times. Sit with them to teach, monitor, and explain the context of new digital environments. Also, keep computers and phones in a common area.
  • Try to keep screen time brief. Even young kids can become too screen-reliant.
  • Maximize privacy settings on all devices and turn on and safe mode or search on websites and apps.
  • Introduce concepts such as cyberbullying and strangers in age-appropriate language.
  • Start family security efforts early. Consider the benefits of filtering software, safe browsing, and encrypting your family’s digital activity with a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

Middle and High Schooler Virtual Hang Outs

While screen time has spiked, digital connection while homebound is also essential for tweens and teens for both learning and peer relationships. Kids finding their new virtual hangouts on social networks, group chats, and video games. They are also playing virtual board games using sites such as Pogo, Let’s Play Uno, and Zoom. Netflix Party has become a fun way to watch Netflix with groups of friends.

Keep Them Safe

  • At this age many kids (own or will soon own) a smartphone. With increased time online, you may want to review the basics, such as privacy and location settings. This includes gaming devices.
  • With increased internet use and most schools closed for the year, using parental control software and gaming security software can help parents reduce online risks for children of all ages.
  • Be aware of and talk about trending, risky digital behaviors, and challenges that can surface on apps such as TikTok, and WhatsApp.
  • Review and approve games and apps before they are downloaded and consider monitoring your children’s devices as well as social profiles and posts.
  • This age group is quick to jump on public wifi, which puts your family’s data at risk. Exploring using a family VPN is critical for this age group.
  • Discuss the danger of connecting with strangers online. Also, discuss the risks of oversharing personal information and photos, even in seemingly private chats and texts. Don’t let boredom lead to bad choices.
  • Discuss cyberbullying and how to block and report accounts that express hateful, racist, or threatening behavior.
  • Coach your kids on using strong passwords and how to verify legitimate websites and identity online scams.

There’s nothing normal for families about this time, but there is something special. Grab it. Keep talking and laughing, especially on the hard days. Have a daily “heart check-in” with your teen if he or she seems to be isolating. Give one another space for topsy turvy moods. And, don’t forget parents, before this is all over, be sure to nail that TikTok dance with your kids and share it with the world!

About the Author

Toni Birdsong

Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist for McAfee. She is an author, speaker, and cyber savvy mom of two teenagers (much to their dismay). As a family safety evangelist for McAfee, she focuses on online safety and often speaks to educators, parents, and teens about dodging the dangers online. She is the co-owner of ...

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