2 Guidelines for Keeping Kids Safe on the Internet

When I was a young kid, my family had one of the first computers on the block.  Eventually, we had TWO desktops, one upstairs and one downstairs and home internet.  It was high tech for the early 90’s.  Today, every home has computers, tablets and cell phones more powerful that that old Dell we thought was so cool.  Kids have their choice of devices to watch YouTube on.  Kids are on Facebook and Snap and Instragram all the time. Tech changes often, so parents (and me!) often feel behind the trends.  What’s Kic?  Who’s Slenderman? What is DeviantArt? What does THX mean?  

Parents are often shocked that their young kids know how to use technology of all sorts and do so very easily.  I learn things about my own technological devices from kids all the time.  A client taught me how to use my thumbprint to unlock my iPhone. It can be useful to have a tech-savvy kid around. Of course, it can also be scary to parents who hear about the dark side of the internet and imagine their child being exploited online. 

I have two technology guidelines for families that I encourage everyone to adopt.  First is parents decide the when, where and how of technology usage.  That means parents can decide that phones go off and to the living room to charge every night before 8.  That may mean parents say their kids can’t go on a computer in their room or that you have to wait to be 13 until you use Facebook (this is Facebook’s rule, but I think it might be the most broken rule on the internet).  But kids need to know parents set the rules about their technology and how, where and when they can use it. Obviously older kids who show good judgment can and should be rewarded with more freedom. 

The second guideline is that parents are allowed and encouraged to check up on what their child is doing online.  Parents should have their kid’s passwords to Facebook, Instagram, their phone and anything else the child uses.  Of course, if your kid is generally responsible and tells you about his or her life regularly, you don’t have to use that power.  In fact, if your kid is generally responsible, please don’t.  Let your lack of intrusiveness be a reward. 

On the other hand, if your kid is having a hard time and you are worried, you should do a spot check to be sure your child is safe.  Don’t go back and read every email/text/FB post/chat from the last 5 year, but check for obvious signs of struggles.  Then offer support to your child based on what you learned.  Don’t punish because of it- that will just push your kid further into hiding on the internet (and he or she can do that better than you’d expect).  Think of it as equivalent to your mom finding your angsty poetry when you were a teen.  Teen me was mad at my mom for reading that poetry, but also secretly grateful because after reading it and freaking out, she helped me and supported me in coping with my angsty feelings.

So that is it: two guidelines, lots of protection.  My other piece of advice is the same as the advice for planting a tree: the best time to institute tech guidelines is when your child is very little. The next best time, is, of course, today.  If you haven’t had tech guidelines in the family and kids have had unrestricted access to tech, it is never too late.  Start now in setting your kids up to be safe on the internet.