It seems everywhere we look there are messages about children and technology. From kid’s books that stress the best things happen after the smartphone turns off and eSafety Gift Guides for internet-connected toys to reminders that toddlers need laps, not apps, there’s no end to the buzz about our constantly-connected lives.
Congressional case in point
Earlier this week, Google CEO Sundar Pichai testified in front of Congress on the tech giant’s use of consumer data. Many of the questions related to the potential political partisanship or bias of Google when it comes to search results. I was aware this was happening, but it wasn’t until late Tuesday, Dec. 11 that I started to pay attention after seeing a short clip in my Twitter feed (fast forward to 3:25:15):
Now, Wired describes the whole hearing itself as many things, including “a missed opportunity for both lawmakers and members of the public,” and “a foreboding reminder of Congress's continued technological ignorance.”
This Trepid Tech Mom’s take is that Rep. Steve King's (R-IA) statement is yet another warning that the internet, including how it works, remains a mystery to many. And it’s no wonder the consequences of our actions online are mostly unknown, especially as it relates to innocent bystanders like children.
Back to the question at hand.
The Congressman is asking why online content that is inappropriate for a child — a heated political image and message — appeared in his 7-year-old granddaughter’s “little game.” Politics aside, this particular question continues to cause quite the chatter online (as the Congressman from Iowa’s comments tend to do). Many will disagree on whether this was a valid question. That said, I hope we can all agree the Congressman’s inquiry comes with a lot of answers. And no matter what side of the aisle you lean toward, the fact that the Congressman’s 7-year-old granddaughter was exposed to inappropriate content while online is troublesome.
This Trepid Tech Mom is not here to answer why unwanted political subject matter showed up on a young child’s smartphone. Instead, I’m here to share how we, as parents and caregivers, can better protect our kiddos from inappropriate content. Let’s begin — and make sure to visit the websites of these valuable resources for more on how to keep children safe online!
How to protect young children from inappropriate content online
1. DELAY GIVING CHILDREN A SMARTPHONE | WAIT UNTIL 8TH
This tip takes the No. 1 spot for a reason. It’s a tried and true way to prevent kids from coming in contact with inappropriate online content, but perhaps the hardest one for us adults to follow. As parents, it can be a challenge to delay giving children a smartphone when it seems all their friends have one. Luckily, there’s the Wait Until 8th movement which empowers parents to say “yes” to waiting for the smartphone until at least 8th grade. Worried that without a smartphone kids can’t connect if necessary? Wait Until 8th says, “Every major carrier makes a basic phone that just calls and texts without a data plan if you believe your child will need to get in touch with you before 8th grade.” Visit WaitUntil8th.org to learn why smartphones can wait, take the pledge and get access to resources that will help spread the word to family and friends.
2. RAISE RESPONSIBLE DIGITAL CITIZENS | TREND MICRO’S INTERNET SAFETY FOR KIDS AND FAMILIES (ISKF) PROGRAM
Trend Micro’s report on Raising Responsible Digital Citizens notes, “As kids enter grade school, they will have opportunities to start exploring apps, sites and devices so it’s essential that parents embrace this.” They go on to say, “This [elementary school] is the perfect time to talk to kids about the massive amount of content and people on the internet – and how some of it is good for them and some is not. Kids should ideally use sites, apps, and services that are age-appropriate and safe.” The report also says parents and caregivers should set rules, be good examples and serve as trusted adults if children see anything upsetting. Learn more about in Trend Micro’s Raising Responsible Digital Citizens report.
3. REVIEW APPS | COMMON SENSE MEDIA
Common Sense Media provides a fantastic “App Review.” It allows parents and caregivers to search for apps by things like the child’s age, device, pricing structure, genre, and subject. Parents can even filter by what “parents recommend” and what’s “popular with kids.” Check out this handy-dandy resource via commonsensemedia.org.
4. USE PARENTAL CONTROL APPS | PC MAG
PC Mag identifies the best parental control apps for our phones. They say, “If you want to keep your kids safe online, parental control software on your desktop is a step in the right direction, but you really need a capable app for phones and tablets too." Visit Pc Mag’s website for top performers in their parental control app testing.
5. STAY CURRENT. KEEP PACE WITH NEW WAYS TO STAY SAFE ONLINE. | STAY SAFE ONLINE
The digital world changes by the second, and as we all know it can be challenging to keep up. But it's still our responsibility. We owe it to the next generation, at least in my opinion ... and that of the National Cybersecurity Alliance. They say, “Keep up with new technology and ways to manage privacy. Visit staysafeonline.org or other trusted websites for the latest information about ways to stay safe online. Talk about what you discovered with your family, and engage them on a regular basis to share what they know about privacy.” Click here for more parent tips from the National Cybersecurity Alliance.
6. HELP KIDS DEAL WITH INAPPROPRIATE CONTENT | NETSMARTZ WORKSHOP
Sadly, there’s some bad stuff out there on the internet. If a child runs into inappropriate content, as the Congressman’s 7-year-old granddaughter did, it’s our job as parents and caregivers to help them deal with the aftermath. NetSmartz Workshop tells us, “Teach them what to do if they see inappropriate content. They can turn off the screen, use the back button, tell a trusted adult, or report it to the website or app where they found it.” Visit netsmartz.org for more on what to do when kids come across something inappropriate online.
Now we know. Let’s go!
Here’s to being safe and thoughtful digital parents and caregivers! There’s no better time than now to start the conversation with kiddos, no matter how well-versed they are in the ways of the World Wide Web. Let’s all take these six tips and do our best to help protect young children in our lives from inappropriate content online. It’s our responsibility.
And by all means, if you have additional tips, please share them in the comments!
Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to imply the parents or caregivers in King’s 7-year-old granddaughter’s life failed. Perhaps they made every effort to prevent her from seeing “unwanted” content. The best privacy and security settings fail us. It is unfortunate this young child was exposed to such imagery and language, and this Trepid Tech Mom’s heart goes out to her.