A recent study conducted by the Hart Research Associates for the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) found that when teens look to seek out information about how to stay safe online, nearly three in four (74%) turn to their parents. The study also found that parents and teens indicate similar levels of concern for a number of negative potential outcomes of teens’ online behaviors and activities.
In an ever-changing digital world where our children are more immersed than we’ll ever be, these findings are very heartening to read. What it essentially means is that the research we do as parents to stay on top of digital trends and safety issues is not fruitless. It means we can work more closely with our children to help them learn what it means to be safe online, and that our input holds some weight. Looking at this data, it becomes apparent that there really isn’t a better time to get involved in what’s going on in your child’s digital life.
All of that being said, however, in order to educate our children effectively we need to educate ourselves effectively, too. We all know how a person’s credibility can change dramatically when they give bad or outdated advice—this same rule applies to the way we converse with our children about digital safety. Reading articles and brushing up on statistics is only half the battle. As parents in the 21st century, we need to immerse ourselves in the technology and social media as much as possible. This means keeping up-to-date on the latest technologies and online trends by either using the services and products yourself, or by relying on information resources (like Yoursphere for Parents and Common Sense Media) to keep you in the loop on a daily or weekly basis.
Understandably, it can be difficult to keep up with the latest developments in technology and social media when you have to balance several plates in your life, and sometimes the idea of doing so can be overwhelming, but it’s absolutely necessary. As a starting point, I’ve provided a few general Internet-safety concerns below, along with the solutions that you can teach to your teen or child.
1. Social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram were created for adults.
- The content, culture and people on these networks pose very real safety and privacy issues for our children. Profiles are automatically set to public, personal information is requested and sometimes required to sign up, and very little to zero content moderation takes place. Images including nudity and porn, and violent/sexual games are pervasive. Social media is clearly here to stay, yet our children and young teens deserve an age-appropriate and healthier experience. This is why I founded Yoursphere.com. It was time to create a network created with the best interests of our children in mind, to give kids the best of social media, minus these pitfalls.
- First, know that it’s against a federal law called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) for any child under the age of 13 to be a member of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and any other social network or website that requests personal information from their users.
- Too many Facebook users rely on the social network’s default privacy settings, believing that they are sufficient enough to protect their privacy. The reality is, the out-of-the-box privacy settings give you very little control over who sees the content you post, the people you’re friends with and the personal information you entered when you signed up. Ultimately, Facebook doesn’t want your profile to be private; they want it to be as open as possible because it’s beneficial to their partners and business model. Guide to Facebook’s Timeline Privacy Settings.
- This is why we comply with COPPA at Yoursphere. Children under the age of 13 are able to join Yoursphere because of our compliance. In addition, user profiles at Yoursphere are always set to private, and we don’t provide an option to make them public.
- Cyberbullying can come from anyone; it isn’t limited to the scowling angry kids on the playground like typical bullying is. David Greenwood, a writer for the Huffington Post, defined bullying as “when a child repeatedly uses threats to control another child’s behavior”.
- We recently published a comprehensive cyberbullying guide which gives parents a five-step plan for combating and documenting cyberbullying. It also outlines the methods children use to bully their peers.
- Cyberbullying is a perfect example of why education about citizenship is key. As we teach in Yoursphere, children need to learn why treating others with kindness and respect is important.
- If you think your child may be sexting, try opening up a dialogue with them and keep it going on a regular basis. During your conversations, discuss the repercussions of sexting, the fact that once their photo is on the Internet it becomes public and permanent, and how these consequences could ruin their future plans to attend college or start their career.
- If your child doesn’t have a smartphone yet, consider holding off until you feel they’re mature enough to handle the responsibility. Bear in mind, a smartphone is a handheld computer that’s connected to a satellite in outer space!
- Lastly, take advantage of the cell phone monitoring tools available to you through your service provider. There are several good options that can give your family peace of mind and cost next to nothing.
Remember, FOSI’s research proves that your children are counting on you to help them navigate the digital world. It’s up to you to familiarize yourself with the issues and solutions, steer them in a healthy direction and to pass that information onto your children when the time is right.