By Vicki Little
I thought I had done everything right. I have parental controls enabled, filters on every device, and I monitor my kids’ online activity each morning — everything. So imagine my surprise when I picked up my son’s phone to find that he had searched for a word that shocked me to my core. After talking with him, I realized it was fairly innocent. He was simply searching for a word his friend had used on Words With Friends. But what I didn’t understand was how the sites I found in his history had filtered through all my parental controls. It taught me that controls aren’t enough — parents should be doing more to monitor their child’s screen usage. Below are 5 things you should do to keep your kids safe online, in addition to monitoring their activity.
1) Tell your children that you are monitoring them. You may be thinking that your rule-following children will never look at something they aren’t supposed to, but the fact is, young minds aren’t completely developed. They lack impulse control and simply don’t have the ability to foresee consequences they way adults can. More likely, it will be a matter of when, not if, you catch them doing something you don’t like.
When this happens, they won’t feel betrayed when you confront them with it. Instead of hiding it, tell them upfront that you will be monitoring their activity. It will be easier to build trust with your children if they know upfront that you are monitoring their online use – that you aren’t “spying” on them. If you are honest, they won’t feel like you tried to trick them to catch them doing something wrong. Having this knowledge will make them think twice before looking something up — a good habit to get into. Further, they will be hesitant to break the trust and open relationship they have with you.
2) Make the uncomfortable seem ordinary. It can be quite shocking what the filters won’t catch when a child is Googling certain words. Without knowing what they may run into, they will be inclined to research words and phrases they hear at school instead of talking to you first, especially if they think you won’t be upfront and honest with them. Instead, make topics such as sexuality become a norm rather than an embarrassing conversation. Have “the talk” at a quiet table in a restaurant or coffee shop, and be willing to answer any questions your child has honestly. Don’t judge your child because of the questions they have or where they got information from. It doesn’t matter which friend said what. It matters more that they get the right information from you. While we want to make sure our children aren’t “running with the wrong crowd,” if your child feels you are judging their friends, they won’t come to you the next time they face a difficult social situation. Further, if they find out their friend was way off base describing something, your child will be less likely to believe him or her the next time they make an outrageous claim.
3) Play their games. Agreeably, many games our children are playing are downright boring, or annoying, or a mix of the two. But unless you actually sit down and play the game, you will never understand everything that goes on in the game. Recently, a dad made the news when he decided to play the popular game Roblox. Many parents considered this a safe game, something similar to Minecraft. So imagine his surprise when he tried out the game and within minutes, he was in a situation where sexual acts were being simulated. Even if it doesn’t reach that level, playing the games will allow you to see how much interaction your child has with strangers.
4) Make certain rooms screen-free. The first step to having ongoing conversations with your children is to make sure that you are in the same room. Having the ability to glance over at what your child is doing is essential to effectively monitoring their screen-time habits. If your child is tech-savvy, he or she will know how to get around parental blocks. However, a child won’t try doing this while in the same room with you. Being able to hide in their room, with the door closed, gives a child the freedom (and time) to play those off-limit games and look up that questionable material.
5) And above all, talk to your children. As uncomfortable as some of the conversations may be, it is extremely important that you remain open and free of judgement when talking to your kids about the “big stuff” they will have questions about. If they feel comfortable coming to you with questions — big or small — they won’t need to Google what different terms mean. There simply isn’t an app or a monitoring website that can replace the value of open communication between you and your child.
Vicki Little is a work-at-home mom with two children. A Colorado native, she spends her time writing, sitting in the bleachers for her daughter’s gymnastics, and engaging in spirited debates with her son. In her free time…well, she is still waiting for some of that.
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