It’s a thin line I toe with The PreTeen. On the one hand, I channel my mother “As long as you’re in my house, I need passwords and access. You get privacy when you turn 18 and get your own house.” But I also know from my own time as a teen that the quickest way to encourage sneaky behavior is to be TOO involved in my child’s life.
Recently two events happened at his school that involved misuse of social media. Since both incidents involved children The PreTeen knows, I knew it was time to have a conversation about social media responsibility. The PreTeen squirmed uncomfortably and protested that he wasn’t involved in the mess. Once he ran out of steam and resigned himself to the conversation, I explained that it isn’t just HIS online behavior that’s at issue, but that of people he’s around. It’s not just a worry about guns and drugs anymore. What’s going on electronically?
With The Teen, I only had to monitor My Space and email. When Facebook and Twitter grew in popularity, The Teen had been through her emo stage (you know, posting EVERY SINGLE FEELING AND THOUGHT every time it popped up) but when I ran for office the kibosh was put on that. Even though it was a local office, I had aspirations to go further and didn’t want my child’s foul language to become a campaign issue.
Now, there’s Kik, Snap Chat, Vine, Instagram, and a whole host of stuff that can keep even the most up to date parent busy monitoring their child’s online activity.
I know from experience that what goes into cyber space never goes away. I know a young woman who was denied a job despite her stellar resume because she had a picture on Facebook with a beer and a red solo cup captioned that she was about to “turn ish up!”
Taking The PreTeen’s device, I explained that even though it seems anonymous, he still has to be careful WHO he interacts with and WHAT he says. People in cyberspace tend to find all kinds of ways to jump to conclusions and read more into a comment than necessary. Even if The PreTeen is COMMENTING on a post, video, or group message, he could be guilty by association.
Here are some ways to teach and maintain online safety and responsibility.
- Stress that your child understands that anything that gets posted online will always be out
there and can NEVER be completely deleted. A provocative picture meant for one person’s eyes could travel faster than you’d think. Set limits on WHAT can get posted and peruse your child’s photos on a regular basis.
Do not allow your child to have a computer with Internet access in their bedroom or any
area that is private. Move it into the family room or someplace where you can easily see
the activity. This one is sticky. I know The PreTeen spends hours watching You Tube video games walk-through videos and watches streaming TV as we’re moving away from cable to more Netflix and Hulu. The PreTeen has his phone in his room more than I’d like to admit. I do take the phone and other devices from him an hour before bedtime so he can have a chance to unwind and I also use parental monitoring and make sure I review his viewing choices.
Check the history on the computer and visit some of the sites. Many misunderstandings have been avoided by clicking through to a site that turned out to be a retro Mario Bros. game.
Spend time online together. Yes, it’s only so many Kirby fan videos a mom can tolerate, but it’s a bonding time. It also gives a peek into what The PreTeen is viewing.
Let your child know that it is okay to snitch. I joke that Snitches get Stitches,but best believe I have the Captain of the police department on speed dial. I am that person who tells in a heartbeat. For The PreTeen, he is given a pass to tell me if he sees anything that makes him feel uncomfortable, scared, or confused. No I don’t want him on triple X sites, but I’d rather he tell me so we can discuss then keep it secret. We also have a rule about unfamiliar email addresses. He knows that I have his email come through my own account, so this is not as much of an issue as it could be.
Watch the privacy settings on social media sites. One of the easiest ways children are exploited is because of lax privacy settings. I trust my child, but I do have his passwords just in case I need to do a spot check and also to see who is interacting with The PreTeen.
No private/personal information ever. When I explained why I call my family members by code names was because I felt they deserve privacy as well as for their safety, The PreTeen admitted he thought I was ashamed of him. Will kids EVER stop breaking your heart? I had to have that uncomfortable talk that there are some adults who pretend to be young kids so they can the lure the REAL young kids for less than wholesome reasons.
It’s a challenge to keep our children safe. I heard on the radio that there are apps that use GPS to erase devices as soon as a person goes near a police station. It’s a shame that something that can be so useful (Google Maps for example) can also be used for evil.
What tips do you have to keep your child safe online?