Technology allows us to be constantly connected, and no age group knows this better than our children and teenagers. In fact, a recent Pew Research study showed that 95% of U.S. teens have access to smartphones and 45% are online almost constantly! It can seem overwhelming to think about how to manage the devices, the safety, the screen time, as well as all the other things happening in life. Start with the basics! We’ve put together a few ideas and resources below that can help you set a solid foundation for online safety in your home.
Set rules, and stick to them.
Maybe this looks like a contract whenever there’s a new device or at certain intervals, like starting a new grade. Discuss appropriate screen time limits (school vs personal), appropriate consequences for breaking rules, and stick to those limits and rules. The rules apply to us, too – make sure you are setting a good example and following screen-time limits yourself, as well! If you can’t, explain the reason: “I’m expecting an important work call this evening, so I need to be keeping an eye on my phone during dinner.”
Utilize built in (FREE) safety options!
We mentioned screen time limits above. Great news! Your phone has built in options for screen time limits, limits on certain apps, and even the option to approve the apps your child downloads. Set up parental approvals with Family Link for Androids and Family Sharing for Apple devices. On the devices themselves, you can set parental controls to help create appropriate boundaries.
How do you know if an app is appropriate to approve? There are great resources out there to help you learn about popular apps and games! One of our favorites is commonsensemedia.org; they provide parent and kid reviews of popular apps, as well as summaries and talking points for discussion.
Teach them what to do.
We teach our kids what is appropriate and inappropriate activity; this is no different. Set the standard for appropriate online interaction and activity and teach them what to do if something makes them feel uncomfortable or “funny.” It could be as simple as having them tell you, but you may want to teach them how to report abuse through the app or game, depending on age and understanding of your child.
In addition to reporting abuse through the app or platform, you can also report incidents involving technology-facilitated crimes against children through the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s CyberTipline at www.missingkids.org
Remember, technology is very beneficial, and we can even use technology to help us manage technology! Also, remember that our kids are not doing anything new…they’re exploring and learning. They’re just doing it on wider-reaching platforms, with potential for a wider audience. Check out resources, like our biweekly Protect Kids Online podcast and our interactive parent/child e-module to learn more about safety info on the go, and when it works for your schedule: www.ProtectKidsOnlineWI.gov
In the end, the biggest influence on a child’s online behavior is frequent discussions with their parent or guardian about their online lives. Technology isn’t going away, so start asking your kids to teach you about their tech - who knows? Maybe you’ll find a new app or game that you can’t put down. Stay safe!
Dana Miller is an Advanced Program & Policy Analyst with the Wisconsin Department of Justice – Division of Criminal Investigation in the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Dana holds a B.S. in both Criminal Justice and Biology and a M.S. in Criminal Justice from the University of Wisconsin -Platteville, and has worked extensively in education and harm prevention surrounding technology throughout the state of Wisconsin.