Nov 05, 2018
As our children get older and approach the pre-adolescent age, they begin to interact more with the outside world and societal expectations grow. While this is a very exciting time for our children who want to have access to more opportunities, it’s a scary time for parents who want to keep them safe.
Did you know that 95% of all teens are online? Among children 8 years of age and younger, 21 percent use smartphones*. These stats need to be considered as we teach our tween-agers the most appropriate, safe, and respectful ways to interact with their world as they get older.
The internet offers an array of positive and educational opportunities for our youth. Sadly, it also offers a relatively new threat that we need to safeguard our children against. So Mom and Dad, add this to your list right with “Don’t hitch hike”, “Don’t do drugs”, and “Don’t talk to strangers”…..“Be safe online.” The problem lies in the fact that teaching them to be safe online isn’t easy. When we were having our first child we frantically read every word in the book, “What to expect when you’re expecting”. But now that our kids are older, there isn't a manual to prepare us for what to expect in the digital age.
Parenting tweens in the digital age requires some education, tools, and a lot of patience. While tweens want to be independent and have choices, they don’t always have the life experiences or impulse control to make the best choices online (or in life). As hard as it is to think about, the realities of online dangers are affecting more and more children every day.
How can we prevent these dangerous situations from happening? Educating ourselves about what kids are doing and how they are interacting online is imperative. We know that our teens use social media platforms to keep in touch with their friends. But did you know that they also use these platforms to make NEW friends. In fact, in a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 57% of all teens have made new friends online. This is a very uncomfortable fact for many parents who did not grow up in the digital age. The image below, from the same study, shows that ⅓ of teens who meet new friends online ultimately meet them in person. This practice has inherent associated risks!
What precautions are most effective in safeguarding our children in today’s digital age?
- Be aware and stay involved
Pay attention to the communities your teenager is involved with online. Know what sites he/she visits, what groups or chats he/she may be involved in, and what social media platforms they are using. Browse the internet with them and understand what they find interesting. If a questionable situation arises, attempt to use it as a teachable moment, the same as you would if it occurred in a face to face interaction. No matter how strong and open your communication is with your child, their online activity needs to be monitored. A 14 year old girl may not know she’s talking with an online predator or planning to meet up with an adult who she thinks is another teenager. Often, these “predators” are coaches or teachers at school that friend them online. Bottom line: They need our assistance as parents to help keep them safe.
- Safety education
Educate your child regarding the realities of online dangers. Remind them never to post personal information on public sites or to interact with people they don’t know online. This includes sharing with friends. A recent study shows that up to 50% of teens share their passwords with friends. This practice puts them (and your family) at risk. Consider if they then get into an argument with the friend who has their social media passwords - this opens up strong opportunity for cyber bullying and other problems.
- Keep a clean machine
Protect your whole family by keeping your computers safe and clean. There are many options available (firewall, anti virus, privacy settings, etc) that will update automatically to keep your family safe from viruses
- Set clear expectations
Explain to your children what online behavior is acceptable for your family and what is not acceptable. If you need help with rules, download our digital family contract to make sure everyone is on the same page.
- Set limits
Talk with your children about what appropriate amounts of online time looks like. When possible, keep computers in a centrally located area in the house, such as the kitchen or the family room. This helps to limit overuse, improve supervision, and encourage family interaction. You can also use parental controls like Net Nanny® to easily limit your child’s time online.
Don’t be overwhelmed. The fact that you care enough to read this article shows that you’re a caring, thoughtful parent who wants to put your kids in the best possible situations. Fortunately, we have tools today like Net Nanny® which allow us to safeguard our children and give them opportunities for freedom and accessibility while blocking inappropriate content and sending us personalized alerts when something unusual occurs.
Annemarie Lange is a licensed professional counselor in the Philadelphia area that utilizes mindfulness and meditation to help her clients deal with a variety of challenges.