Can we just get an extra five hours tacked onto each day so we can stay on top of our kid’s online activity? That’s the rhetorical question most parents carry around unspoken. With all the to-dos of parenting, isn’t there a shortcut on all that social media stuff we don’t have to bookmark or save to read later (but never do)?
We hear you and, more than that, we feel you. The struggle between knowing and doing is very, very real if you are a parent in the digital arena.
We’ve learned that despite knowing the risks online, kids still engage in risky behavior and routinely hide it from their parents. We also know from a McAfee study conducted in 2015, that 46% of youth engaging in risky behavior online say they would change their behavior if they knew their parents were paying attention — a fact that slathers on even more parental remorse if it feels like you’ve fallen behind.
Becoming more involved in your child’s digital life doesn’t have to overwhelm or scare you off. So, while it’s not perfect, here’s a cheat sheet that will at least help you gain a sense of control over the place your kids spend most of their time. Most of all, this is all doable for busy parents.
10-point family safety cheat sheet
- Fire Up the Ground Rules. Success begins with a plan, and online safety is no different. So we start with establishing a plan or family ground rules. Caution: Do not skip this step. Why? Because life moves at warp speed and a child’s perception of reality and ‘what was said’ isn’t always going to match yours. Establish your ground rules, which includes in-home media, and set both expectations and consequences. Not sure where to begin? Here’s a primer on ground rules. Make the revisions to fit your family and post the final standards in a place where everyone can reference.
- Relationship Over Rules. Sometimes we simply do not realize that somewhere in the busyness of life we began to parent out of fear rather than a sense of faith in our kids and ourselves. This is where relationship becomes the #1 Internet safety tool a parent can possess. Connect with your children. Talk casually and frequently with your kids about what’s happening in their life, what’s up with school, friends, problems, and anything else important to them. Along the way, you’ll find out plenty about their online life and have the necessary permission (and trust) to work your concerns about online safety into any conversation.
- Restrict App Purchases. Skip this step, and you may discover a leak in your family finances to the tune of thousands of dollars. When so much of today’s purchases are “buy-with-one-click” take the few steps needed to put purchasing restrictions in place. Set consequences.Coach your child along the way. It’s easy to yell “sure, go ahead,” from another room when asked about a download. The wiser thing is to sit with your child and go through individual transactions. To prevent unauthorized app purchases, go into the Settings on all your mobile devices and PCs and set up in-app purchase restrictions. Every purchase attempt should require password confirmation. If your child has his or her phone, just be sure not to share your password or credit card information.
- Monitor Digital Devices. This step depends on your family ground rules, the age of your child, and the expectations you’ve set as a parent. Issues of privacy come up often in parenting circles and rightly so. However, monitoring comes down to being able to answer this question honestly: Has my child proven that he or she is responsible? If you decide to monitor, oversee the following: Inappropriate apps, vault apps, text messages, direct messages within Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Yes, you will need passwords to check all of these so be sure to put password sharing a requirement in your family contract. Starting early with the practice of random monitoring will become the standard as your kids get older. If you begin when they are teens, you may be in for a dogfight (so hang on tight).
- Ask Great Questions. Building trust with kids starts with asking great questions. Instead of deleting apps and getting angry about your child’s decisions, ask your child “what do you like about this app and why?” Instead of drilling your child on what he or she has seen online, ask “What would you do if you saw something inappropriate, dangerous, or frightening online?” Instead of restricting social media altogether if a digital conflict arises, ask “Tell me what you’d do if someone started bullying you online” or “How would you respond if you saw someone else being taunted or threatened online?”
- Secure Mobile and Home Devices. Research security standards before purchasing new devices. Compare devices paying particular attention to safety standards. Read customer reviews and Google security issues. On your child’s set Location Settings to private. Do this for personal safety reasons as well as privacy reasons. Some apps have the ability to access GPS information and transfer personal data to third parties. Set up a family location tracker such as Find My Friends so that you know where your child is at all times. To deter theft, set up a device tracker such as Find My iPhone. Depending on age, trust level, and online activity, require kids to share personal passwords with you and how to safely change passwords every few months.
- Secure Your Home Network. Limit your circle of trust when it comes to your home network — doing so protects your whole family physically and financially. Be sure to name your home network something other than your family name and don’t be casual when it comes to giving out your password. Treat your network password the way you would a house key. Think about creating a guest network so visitors can connect without gaining access to your family’s other networked devices or shared files.
- Know Those Apps! One of the biggest threats to a child’s online safety is his or her choice in apps. Apps run the gamut of risk and range from educational and uplifting to inappropriate and dangerous. Go on your child’s phone regularly and check for risky apps. Google the app and read app reviews. Look at age restrictions and customer reviews so you will be better equipped to evaluate whether an app may be suitable for your child. App risks include cyberbullying, predators, sexting, hacking, and illegal behaviors. Dangerous apps include Kik Messenger, Yik Yak, Whisper, Ask.Fm, Tumblr, and any other social network that allows anonymous users.
- Safe Search and Filtering Software. Most every popular search engine will have a Safe Search feature on the platform’s home page. You can quickly turn on Safe Search features on popular sites like Google, YouTube, and Netflix. This is an excellent way to weed out the inappropriate images, content, movies, and videos. Safe search is a start but only skips a rock across the problem. To seriously guard your child against the potential of inappropriate content, research internet filtering software for both PCs and smartphones.
- Befriend Your Kids’ Friends. You won’t find this in many how-to safety blogs, however, outside of your relationship with your child, the biggest influence will be his or her friends. Those friends will significantly influence the decisions your makes online and off. For that reason, it’s critical to stay connected with your child’s friends. Know who they are, know their parents, and how they behave online. You don’t have to “follow” or “friend” other kids to gain a clear understanding of the influence they may have on your child.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family. (Disclosures).
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