That's right. Parents, we're losing the battle against the Internet when it comes to our children. Most of us weren't raised when the Internet was a thing, so this is all new territory.
With technology developing and evolving every day, using filters or parental controls isn't always the most effective way to keep our children safe. Not only that, but many parents have quit trying altogether.
According to the Pew Research Center, only 61% of parents regularly check the sites their children visit, or regularly look at their kids' social media profiles. Less than half of parents are "friends" with or "follow" their children on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms. Furthermore, parents aren't monitoring their teens' text messages.
"But, privacy!" you say. Okay... but, let's say your barely teenaged child wants to go hang out with people twice or four times his/her age. Alone. Perhaps at a park or the mall. You don't know this person, but, you want to give your child privacy. That's essentially what can happen with unrestricted Internet use. Do you still feel the same?
According to a New York Post article, "Today, though, we've continued to contract the physical boundaries, keeping our children from walking to the park by themselves. But through their tablets and phones, we're letting them go anywhere and everywhere. Given that the news is filled with stories of high school sexting scandals, bullying on Facebook and kids accessing hardcore porn and being contacted by strangers online, it's hard to imagine what these parents are thinking."
What are parents to do to protect their children with the Internet?
Monitor your child's online activity.
Even young children know how to access the Internet. We have to pay attention to what they are watching on YouTube, the things they are saying on social media, and what is being said to them.
My four-year-old started watching YouTube videos while I was working from home. It was fine, until I thought I heard a pretty strong swear word. I checked to see what she was watching: a "My Little Pony" video. Hmm. Harmless; I must have imagined it. A minute or less later, I distinctly heard the F-word. I shut it down fast. Some ill-meaning person used an innocent cartoon and turned into something vile.
YouTube so easily goes from innocent to inappropriate in one little click or tap of the finger. Posts and links on social media can take your kids to terrible places in an instant. It's a parent's responsibility to monitor and see what your kids are seeing. If, or rather when, your child stumbles onto something inappropriate, talk about it.
Discuss online boundaries and set family rules
Talk to your children about things that can be accessed on the Internet and what to do when it happens. For instance, when your child sees pornography—either by accident or intentionally—have a policy of talking to you about it immediately. They need to walk away from whatever device they saw it on and tell you. Refrain from becoming angry and ask questions instead. "How did that make you feel?" "What can you do in the future to avoid it?"
Make sure kids know what types of things to avoid online. Don't accept friend requests from people you don't know in person; never share personal information online—phone number, address, age, birthdate, school they attend, etc.
Also, keep computers, tablets, and other devices in a common room—not in bedrooms or behind closed doors. Have teens turn in cell phones at night.
Scan search histories, text messages and pictures on teens' phones and devices
This part feels like a violation, but we need to know what our children our doing so we can help them learn to navigate life in a safe way. Check the search history to know where your children have been on the Internet. Read text messages. Check phones for inappropriate images. Hopefully, it will all be innocent stuff, but you may be surprised what you do find.
Obviously, tech savvy teens may first clear search histories, delete messages and pictures. That's why it's important to teach our children how to be careful and safe on the Internet and to put up boundaries. We can't police everything they do, and they eventually have to be out on their own without us holding their hands. Give them tools to manage and navigate.
The Internet has many wonderful uses to enjoy, but we need to be aware of the pitfalls and dangers present to our families. Talk openly and bluntly about the dangers and how to avoid them. Kids need these boundaries. Help them understand what is okay and what is not and why. Keep your family safe by setting limits and teaching.
Wendy is a regular contributor for familyshare.com and does media reviews. Website: https://survivorshopeandhealing.wordpress.com/ for victims of sexual abuse. Blog: https://wendyejessen.wordpress.com Twitter: @WendyJessen