“When can I have my own cell phone?” “When can I play online video games?” The same questions pop up over and over again as parents battle the appropriate age for children to have their own cell phones and play online video games.
Living in a world where any information we want is only seconds away with the click of a mouse is great when it comes to work, research, DIY, travel, and more. However, there is also plenty of inappropriate information and sites out there that children should be guarded against.
If you feel your teen is ready for their own phone and the online world, there are several precautionary measures to take, information to learn, and conversations to be had.
Be prepared! The most important thing to do is to research online safety, stay informed, and understand the evolving twists and turns of the online world. Teach your children to recognize signs of inappropriate online behaviors and how to identify possible bullies and predators.
Tips to Keep Your Teen Safe:
- Be Aware of Online Threats
Cyber Bullying – Gone are the days when bullying and teasing weaved their way through school hallways, only to be left behind school doors at the end of the day. Now, it follows teenagers to the safety of their homes through social media, texting, and chats.
Cyberbullying has led to unfortunate suicides over the years, so it is important to talk daily to your child about their social life and be aware of any changes to their behaviors or signs of depression.
Online Predators – These people are professionals. They pose as peers on social media and in gaming chats. They find ways to connect with your child, knowing the right words to say to make your child feel special, valued, and important when your teen may not be feeling that way or in a vulnerable state. Predators gather personal information from their prey once they have gained their trust. They are known to groom their victims for exploitation and trafficking, appearing harmless until it’s too late.
Sexting/Chats – Platforms such as Snapchat promise a safe place to share messages and pictures privately and then disappear forever. Texts can be deleted. However, it’s important to teach our teens that once something is sent, anyone can take a screenshot and have that picture forever, with the power to share or post on the internet. It could show up unexpectedly one day and cause damage to a person’s reputation, or even worse lead to pornography charges against the teen or even the parent who owns the device.
Identity theft – You may be thinking, “my kids don’t have credit cards, so why worry about fraud or identity theft?” It only takes someone finding out enough information to open accounts or cards in your child’s name. This could create a challenge and affect their chances of renting or buying a car when the time comes.
Talk to them about the threats and let them know they know they can come to you any time they feel threatened or unsure of a source or email sender. Explain to them you are not trying to invade their privacy, just trying to keep them safe.
- Set Up Rules and Boundaries
Be clear with your expectations. Which social media platforms can they use, and which ones to stay away from. Have them accept you as their first “friend” so you can keep an eye on activity and behavior, as well as keep an eye out for any potential danger or threats. Check-in regularly. Have a list of passwords and access to online accounts.
Tell them not to accept invitations from strangers, not open emails from senders they don’t know or use public wifi. Make it clear that sharing personal information, passwords, and email accounts are not safe.
- Keep Devices Out in the Open
Have computers or laptops in a central room in the home where activity can be monitored and boundaries enforced. Devices or computers in a bedroom or closed room are not ideal.
- Use Parental Controls and Safety Settings
Using parental control filters will limit what your teen is exposed to, as well as alert you to potential red flags. Be sure that all devices have privacy settings enabled and that your teen knows how to secure their device from hackers or other threats.
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