So, you’re going to take the leap and buy your lucky kid a new iSomething. An iPhone, iPad, or Android device can be an amazing gift. The entertainment and educational opportunities are nearly endless, but it also opens up the world of social media, cyberbullying, and other potential problems. Creating a safe and enjoyable experience on your child’s new device begins with preparation. It may seem overwhelming, but it can be done. Here are some first steps to get you and your child on the path to a safe digital world.
Set expectations and open lines of communication
First, your child’s device does not belong to them, it belongs to you. It’s no different than when your employer gives you a phone or computer for work. You keep it, use it, and are responsible for it. But, at any time, your employer can take it from you, inspect it, put filters or monitoring software on it, and confiscate it if you are using it inappropriately. This is the dynamic that you need to have with your child. Explain it to them explicitly before you hand them their (your) new shiny iPhone.
Second, share your expectations for what is and is not appropriate internet use/behavior with your child. This is also a great way to start an on-going conversation between you and your child. No matter what systems you put in place, sooner or later your child is going to see inappropriate behavior online, including your child possibly being a victim of bullying. An open line of communication will help your child feel safe about telling you what they are seeing or experiencing online.
One of the best tools to set expectations and start the conversation is my Internet and Mobile Device Usage Contract. Go over each point of the contact. For example, ask your child why “not giving out your personal information to a complete stranger” is a good idea. Ask them to give you examples of possible consequences for doing that. I would go down the line and do that for each point. Make it a two-way conversation. Lastly, explain what are the consequences or punishment for them (i.e., losing the device for a week) if they violate the contact. For the contract to mean anything, you must follow through on the consequences! Make them sign it and post the contract out in the open as a reminder of your expectations.
Enable parental controls
Enabling parental controls will help block inappropriate apps and other content from being installed on your child’s device. Unfortunately, every device and most apps (like Youtube) have discrete parental controls that you must turn on. Covering all the devices and all the apps that need to be addressed is beyond the scope of this article. My book, “Parenting in the Digital World,” will walk you step-by-step through the process of turning on parental controls on all the devices in your child’s world.
Social Media (Yes or No?)
Knowing when to allow a child to enter the social media culture can sometimes be a difficult decision. All studies and polls agree that social media (Instagram, Facebook, etc.) are teenagers’ preferred method of connecting with friends, even when they are sitting in the same room together.
If your child is under the age of thirteen, social media’s end user agreements have made it easy for you. Children under thirteen are not allowed to have social media accounts. Sure you could still set up their account, but you run the risk of sending the wrong message to your children: Rules don’t matter. If the website’s rules don’t matter, why should your family’s rules for the internet matter?
If you think your child is mature enough to have a social media account, you now have to take on the issue of cyberbullying and digital reputation. The permanency and unforgiving nature of social media is a difficult concept for children to understand. Your child must understand that every post, picture, or comment made on the internet is permanent. Inappropriate posts or photos can have lifelong consequences, damaging lives and reputations forever. Before you child presses the send button, they should be asking themselves, “Would my Mom or Dad be okay with this post?” Is your child a High School student? Did you know that a growing number of college admission officers, as well as corporate recruiters use social media to screen applicants?
Social media and technology is a moving target. Subscribe to Cyber Safety Cop’s free newsletter that will let you know when there is a new app or online issue parents need to know about. Attend a Cyber Safety Parent Seminar near you. If you can’t find a seminar near you, learn how to host a seminar at your school or organization. Get the companion guide to every device your child is using to connect to the internet and other people online – the step-by-step guide to making your family safe online, “Parenting in the Digital World.”