Is it bad that Siri thought that my 5-year-old wanted to text “F*#$ U” to her 7-year-old brother? YES!!!!! My 5-year-old recently inherited my old phone (I won’t let her have an actual phone), and we turned it into a “Skypad” (her name is Sky). We wiped it and set it up so it operates like an iPad. Since I am a Youth Advocate focused on social media and cyber safety for kids and teens, I thought I had set up all of the safeties on “Skypad,” but clearly, I missed something.
My 7-year-old said “she tried to tell Siri to text me “stop it,” then I got the full F U text.” I had forgotten to set up the safeties that prevent Siri from cussing! This is what I do for a living, and even I missed something! That’s what social media and cyber safety is all about: we have to be in hyper-defense against the secret app and cyber stranger dangers that are waiting to get our kids.
We are the first generation of parents who have to navigate the social media world with our kids. It can feel so overwhelming, but please don’t throw in the towel! For the sake of your child and all the other kids growing up in the cyber world, we have to stay on top of it. We can’t keep them out of the cyber-world, but we can educate them to be safe and kind on their devices.
The shocking truth:
52% of young people report being cyberbullied (imagine the number who don’t report). According to cyberbullyinghotline.com, 20% of kids cyberbullied think about suicide, and 1 in 10 attempts it. 4500 kids commit suicide each year. There are over 75,000 predators online that use gaming communities to contact kids. “More than half of young people surveyed say that they never confide in their parents when cyberbullying happens to them.” –nobullying.com. Minors can be charged with child pornography for sexting, and have to register as sex offenders. What can we, as parents, do?
Where to start:
1) Educate ourselves and our kiddos.
As exhausting as it is, stay up to date on what apps and sites your kids are on. What are their favorite apps? How are they using them? Do you feel comfortable with your child using the app or being in that gaming/ chat room community? Just because it’s a trend doesn’t mean it’s healthy for your child. When we are educated, we have the ability to teach our kids about types of communities, online chats and postings to stay away from. Don’t forget the why behind the what. “Because I said so” doesn’t work when it comes to social media. Kids, especially teens, feel we are so out of touch and don’t get it. Stay in touch, and when you explain to them why they can’t be part of something, they are more likely to feel respected and respond the instruction or correction. Be open about potential dangers and the importance of being the same kind person they are off their device as they are on their devices.
2) Set up safe boundaries that work for your family.
Work with your child to check the status and health of their online life. Write out the boundaries of online safety that work for your family-- a type of family cyber safety mission statement. Then apply the new rules practically to the privacy setting setups on all computers, devices and apps. On each device you can specify what sites your kids can and can’t visit, what ratings of apps, music, movies are appropriate, and if they can interact with strangers.Make sure you disable the ability for them to change the settings.
3) Start small and openly check-in, promote authenticity.
If your kiddos are BF (before phone), I recommend starting with a test device liek the “skypad.” Kids don’t usually take devices everywhere with them like they would a smartphone, so you can have set specific hours and places they can use. They can only text & facetime people you set up on their device, so you can easily monitor their actions. We use emojis with my young ones. For example, we say we can’t send poo emoji just like we wouldn’t send potty talk, etc. Feel free to include a social media ap, but set privacy settings, and follow them from your own account Monitor who they follow, as well as who follows them and what DMs come in. As long as you have created an expectation list and your child is aware that this I how you do social media, then after time it will become part of your parenting routine: check homework, check devices.
4) Don’t throw in the towel!
If your child has been on social media and has experienced cyberbullying, overexposure and stranger danger, and you feel you need to set boundaries or start over, you will receive a lot of pushback, but don’t lose heart. We are here for you! You wouldn’t let your child just drown in big waves at the beach, you would rescue them and teach them to swim before you let them go back out. Do the same with their devices. Start with the basics and work your way up. The goal is the equip our kids so that when it’s time for them to make their own choices they choose kindness, safety and don’t let “haters” or “trolls” bring them down.
Parents, we can do this! We have to join the conversation to help our kids stay safe and kind on their devices.