The smarter the tech, the more vigilant parents must become. I've personally struggled with making sure I'm a good mother that is aware of the information my children consume. Kids today have access to oceans of information that would have seemed unthinkable when i was a kid. That knowledge comes with a cost of responsibility, though, which means parents must remain cautious about how their children use technology.
I've spent some time this last year researching and testing what works best to keep my kids safe. Here are some tips to help other parents:
Keep an eye on time, not just content.
Many parents concerned about what their kids watch forget to consider when and how frequently their kids watch. Children, especially young ones, love predictable entertainment with bright colors and sounds. YouTube and other kid-friendly content sites are filled with years upon years of content to fulfill that desire.
It may be tempting to leave kids with YouTube for hours as they watch their favorite creators, but resist the urge. It is suggested that children under two years old shouldn’t use screens at all, while children ages 2-10 should get around an hour max.
Use parental settings and tools to help limit excessive internet usage for kids. For example, Plume, a smart home services company, lets parents control the age-appropriateness of content for specific profiles and set limits on Wi-Fi connectivity time. Look at tools that help with smarter browsing for kids who don’t have the maturity to monitor their own habits yet.
Teach them as much as you monitor them.
Explain your thought process so your kids learn to spot content and videos that may not be appropriate for them. Adults learned how to navigate spam and scams through trial by fire during the early days of the internet, but to children, all content exists on equal footing. Free iPads, bonus V-Bucks for Fortnite, sketchy-looking links filled with malware — things adults dismiss out of hand can prey on naïve children instead.
Involve your children when you perform basic security tasks so they understand the difference between safe technology use and potentially dangerous practices. Teach them to stick to websites they know by bookmarking sites instead of typing the name each time, where a typo could lead a child to dangerous waters. Turn off YouTube autoplay and help your kids choose their content deliberately so they don’t end up watching something they shouldn’t.
Never let children under 10 years old use the internet without parental supervision. Kids don’t have the necessary life experience to process some of the content they may encounter online, which could lead to psychological problems as they develop.
Share communications and practice safe posting.
Kids today regularly communicate with their friends across digital channels. Those opportunities can help children make stronger connections and improve their social skills, but not if unwelcome strangers join the chat.
Certain games have lax rules about how players communicate with one another. All parents fear their children speaking to predators online, but kids are far more likely to run into older people who use adult language or act like bullies. A child playing an online game with strangers could be subjected to all sorts of unwelcome talk if parents don’t take precautions.
Standard concerns with social media and direct online communication still apply as well. Share email addresses with young children so you can monitor their communications and teach them to recognize common scams, such as phishing emails. Don’t allow children to create their own social media accounts until they reach their teen years, and in the meantime, remind them constantly that anything they put on the internet becomes permanent. If your children want to start a YouTube channel, don’t allow them to post anything you haven’t seen first.
Build a foundation of trust.
As you monitor your children’s digital activities and teach them how to stay safe with technology, remember that your role is to guide and protect, not to invade their space. By the time children become teenagers, they begin to have conversations they would rather keep private from their parents.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Teenagers need privacy to develop social skills and discover their personalities and interests. If you do a thorough job of preparing your kids for the dangers of the wider online world, you won’t have to worry about their judgment when they’re ready to operate autonomously online.
Just because they grow up quickly doesn’t make them immune to mistakes or malevolence from outside parties, though. Talk to older children regularly about their online lives to stay connected and to spot potential problems. Continue to learn about your children’s favorite online personalities and websites so you can discuss issues and ensure they retain your lessons on safety.
The days of the Wild West on the internet may have ended, but that doesn’t mean parents should take their children’s use of technology lightly. Follow these tips to educate yourself and create boundaries. As your kids develop, your active parenting will provide them with a foundation of good judgment that will serve them for the rest of their lives.