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When you hear of keeping your child safe online, what comes to mind? Are you thinking of creeps lurking in chat rooms and gaming sites? Or maybe minimizing the number of pictures of your child online?
Or maybe you started looking into how to keep your child safe online because you’ve heard about numerous teen suicides that have been related to online activity.
Until now it’s been fairly easy keeping my children safe online, because they’re rarely online without me seeing what they’re doing. However now I have a middle-schooler and she is surrounded by classmates with smartphones. I realize that I need to learn how to keep my children safe when there is external access to getting online.
Here are a few eye opening things that I learned:
I listened to the audiobook, “American Girls: Social Media and The Secret Lives of Teenagers”. It is written by Nancy Jo Sales, an award-winning journalist known for her reporting on youth culture. This book is filled with interviews, statistics and examples of what middle school and teenage girls are exposed to. I borrowed the audiobook from the library and it was hard to listen to this book all the way through as it is incredibly disturbing. Here are a few shocking things that this book reports…
Boys are watching porn (even in school) and it has become somewhat normal (vs shocking) for them to be watching it.
Girls are asked to send nude pics to boys, if they don’t send them, they are put down as being “not cool”.
There are entire pages of nude pics for different schools, these pages are shared amongst students and they identify who the nude pics are of. Some of these pics are actual pics of the individual and others are photoshopped but are still damaging to the victims as others think the photos are real.
Boys send “dick pics” to girls in the hopes of getting nude pics sent back.
Exposure to porn, which typically shows violent and demeaning treatment of women, has skewed how young people view sex. It has also skewed what they find arousing and increased levels of sexual harassment.
5 Ways to Keep Your Child Safe Online:
1. Hold off on giving your child a smartphone.
Everything that I’ve found in my research for this post, makes one thing abundantly clear. Hold off on giving your child a smart phone for as long as possible. Giving them a smart phone, gives them access to the outside world and the outside world access to them.
Remember when you were in middle school and you wanted to talk to your friend? You had to get her home phone number so you could call her. Then when you wanted to talk to each other, you had to talk in the living room or kitchen. Some place that other family members could hear your conversation. This limited the amount of time that you could talk as well as WHAT you would talk about, because someone else could hear you.
With a smart phone, all of these safeguards are taken out of the equation. Your child doesn’t even have to give their number out for someone to find them. People can find them in many ways and reach them if they have a smart phone. They can be reached at any time and can expose them to anything because they have access to them without you “hearing” their conversation as it’s all online.
You’re not planning on giving your 4 year old a smart phone but placing a tablet into their hands also gives them access to the outside world. I get it, there are times that I have to get a lot done in a short time period and I succumb to the digital babysitter. I use a mini portable DVD player, my kids love it and they don’t have access to anything else. Plus, I select what they watch and they are not bombarded with commercials trying to sell to them.
2. Educate yourself – find out what life is like for middle schoolers and high schoolers
The book that I referenced above, “American Girls: Social Media and The Secret Lives of Teenagers”, is incredibly eye opening. Read this book and if you know of any middle schoolers or high schoolers, talk to them about social media and what they see happening in their schools. If parents knew what the “norm” is nowadays on middle school and high school campuses, they would be shocked. I know I was.
At the start of this book, I couldn’t comprehend why these young girls would even consider sending a nude pic to someone. As the book progresses, the author interviews girls across the country. The reader learns about various situations that put young girls in jeopardy, causing such stress and anxiety that they have switched schools (if they’re lucky).
Some have committed suicide; teens are addicted to their phones. Compelled to be online at all times so they don’t miss out on what is happening with other people and also to protect themselves if something is said about them. Many young women idolize reality TV stars and their luxurious life.
Increased social media exposure can lead to anxiety issues, sleep deprivation and body image issues. Like any other addiction, screen time addiction can lead to withdrawal from ordinary life in favor of screen time.
Knowing what I know now, I am looking into additional ways to keep my kids safe online. Read on to find out more…
3. Educate your child and give them tools to keep them safe
A great book to start this conversation with your child is “Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids”. This book explains the following to kids in a simple, but not childish, way:
1. Defines pornography & addiction
2. Explains that our brains have a “thinking” and “feeling” side
3. Shows how pornography tricks the brain into an addiction
4. Gives kids a plan for what to do if they come across pornography
This is all done in a relaxed, comfortable way as the reader follows the conversation between a mother and son. The authors of this book have taken into account so many aspects and questions that children may have on the subject. I highly recommend this book for children ages 7 and up.
The authors have another book for younger kids ages 3-6 which is: “Good Pictures Bad Pictures, Jr”. I have not read this book yet however based on the reviews on Amazon, it seems to resonate well with readers. I will update this post when/if I read this book.
Make sure that you read the book before your child does. Once your child has read the book, have a discussion with them and emphasize that this is an open dialog. You want them to come to you with any questions that come to them.
4. Get a contract in place
If you do decide to give your child a smart phone or any access online, lay out the parameters to your child ahead of time. Putting a contract into place before they get a device in their hands is a solid foundation for setting a clear understanding with your child. You can cover things such as:
- Limits on screen time, devices get turned into parents by a certain time each night.
- No devices at the table.
- Device will not be used in a negative way (i.e. bullying)
- Responsible for keeping the device in good condition and knowing its whereabouts
- Abide by phone etiquette rules while at school, library, movies, etc.
- Will not use phone to take embarrassing photos of self or others
- Cell phone usage is limited to ___ minutes. ___ texts, ____ data usage. Anything above this will be subject to removal of privileges.
5. Model the behavior that you want from your kids
If your kids see you on your phone or computer all day, they will think that this is the norm and that it’s okay for them to do the same. When my son was diagnosed with autism, I was on my computer a lot. I was researching different therapies, looking for answers to how to deal with behavior issues, etc. The result of this is that my older kids (youngest wasn’t born yet) saw this as normal and at the time they would do the same thing.
I realized just how much time of my attention was being focused on a screen and decided to change things. The result is that my girls love doing all kinds of pretend play, art and games together. They are almost 6 years apart but come up with all sorts of fun things to do together. When a device is not an option, kids will find fun things to do.
There are additional ways to keep your child safe online that I am looking into. There are some parent trainings and internet filters to help keep your children safe. Many products have conflicting reviews so I haven’t decided which one I want to try yet.
This post kept growing so I will post a part 2 in the future with what I learn. In the meantime, I hope the suggestions above are helpful. Please share with me your suggestions in the comments below, I would love to hear from you!
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