Protecting Our Digital Generation: Essential Phone & Internet Safety Tips for Kids
by eric karls
What if I told you that the biggest challenge your kid is facing, the one they need your help with the most, they are probably facing alone? From my experience working with kids for over ten years, most use their phones more often and access more dangerous content than their parents realize. This can sound alarming, and it should, but thankfully there are resources parents can utilize to help navigate this tricky reality.
Kids have always been good at dodging their parents' rules. Does anyone remember wetting the end of their toothbrush to avoid spending 30 seconds brushing their teeth? Technology makes this game of rules and consequences infinitely more challenging. Parents give their kids devices that can access Pandora's box of material, lay down a few ground rules (with the best intentions), and then hope for the best. There is a common assumption that it will all go according to plan, and generally, there is little communication beyond the first talk. This leaves a majority of kids to navigate a dangerous online world alone.
Stats from Bark (bark.us)
- 88.5% of tweens and 94.1% of teens expressed or experienced violent subject matter/thoughts.
- 45.5% of tweens and 66.3% of teens engaged in conversations about depression.
Stats from Fight the New Drug (fightthenewdrug.org)
- Over 84% of teen boys and 57% of teen girls have viewed pornography, and a majority of kids have been exposed to porn by age 13.
- 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 10 boys, ages 13-17, have shared their own nude images.
These statistics are just the tip of the iceberg. What can parents do to help?
Model Good Behavior
Kids are not the only ones struggling with their phones. Adults are often equally addicted to technology. As adults, we can limit how much time we spend on our phones and what content we consume. Kids notice what we do and will follow our lead. My advice: Be honest with your kids and tell them you struggle. Set up boundaries for yourself and ask them to help you stay accountable. The battle against technology is easier when the whole family is all on the same team.
Healthy and Recurring Conversations
This one is the most difficult. Get good information. Bark and Fight the New Drug have great website information and guidance. Set specific expectations to help your kids differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate content. Talk about this subject in age-appropriate ways regularly during family time.
Ask good questions and realize that this topic is awkward for everyone. You will have to talk about pornography, inappropriate texts, nude selfies, cyberbullying, healthy ways to be on social media, etc. Generally, the most uncomfortable and challenging conversations are the ones your kids need to have the most. The more you talk about the subject and the earlier your start, the easier it will be.
Remember, you bought the phone. If you purchased the phone, you own the phone, and you get to set the rules. It is best to start this expectation early but don’t let a late start scare you from setting rules in the future. Here are some ideas.
1. No alone time with technology. Allowing your kids to take their phones to their rooms provides the opportunity for them to interact with content that is inappropriate for them. Have them leave the phone on the kitchen counter at night, and don’t fall for their excuses. This is a rule that is best modeled by parents.
2. Screen time limits. Look up the specific phone model and learn how to monitor and manage how much time your kid can spend on their phone.
3. Limit social media. The later you can introduce kids to social media, the better. This could be an article all by itself, but most problems I see with kids and technology start with social media.
Bark is an app that helps parents monitor and restrict content on phones and computers. Parents can download it to a device, set up preferences for each child, and get feedback about what is happening on the device. Bark even has its own phone that makes setting the restrictions easier and more customizable, making it harder for kids to find loopholes.
Canopy is similar to Bark, but it doesn’t have as many features. This app senses inappropriate content, warns the user that it will be sent to their parents, and gives them the decision to move forward or not. It is designed to promote healthy decision-making instead of just restricting everything.
There are other internet safety apps, but it is important to remember that all apps are flawed. It is important to continue conversing about the topic and never assume your child is safe because you have installed an app.
From experience working with kids and families around this topic, it is clear that many teenagers want a healthy level of guidance and limitations around technology. Navigating the online world can be overwhelming, and it can be challenging to communicate the need for help. Recently, a dad told me that his son wanted to get his phone taken away, almost as a way of asking for help. Since he took the phone away, his child engages more with the family and experiences fewer problems with friends.
The facts can feel overwhelming, and knowing where to start can be the hardest part, especially if your child has had their phone for years without good boundaries. But now is the time to start. You can do this!
Eric is a husband and father who loves to go on adventures with his family. He loves to learn and is known to pick up a new hobby every few months. Eric is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor Candidate (PCLC) in Billings. He has over 10 years of experience working with kids and teenagers in a school setting before starting his private practice.
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