Teenagers today live technology-centric lives. Few things happen that do not involve Facebook, Twitter, or texts in some capacity. Some of this communication takes place with people that parents know, but probably not all of it. What about cyber-bullying, sexual predators, and other online hazards? Parents should consider the following steps to help keep their children safe online:
- Have the technology “talk” :: Develop an “acceptable use” policy for your home, perhaps with input from your children. Make sure that your kids clearly understand your rules and expectations for their technology use, and that if they don’t abide by your rules, they lose the ability to use it. Be mindful that tech-savvy teens may find ways around your built-in controls and that no app or setting can keep them safe online. You should check their phones and computers on a regular basis, both in front of them and behind their backs, to ensure that they are following your rules.
- Use parental settings wisely :: Macs have Parental Controls preferences that enable you to control your kids’ access to the computer and the Internet and even to specify times that they can and can’t use the computer. While iPads and iPhones have fewer parental controls, you can still control your teen’s ability to install apps, make in-app purchases, and prevent access to age inappropriate movies and music, as explained here.
- Friend your children on social networks :: The best way to keep an eye on your children’s activity on social networks is to “friend” and monitor them. They should understand that anything they do or say online is highly visible, lives forever, and can never ever be erased. Take steps to ensure that only their friends can see what they’ve posted on Facebook, and explain that tweets live on in cyberspace forever. Give your kids examples of real people whose reputations have been damaged by something posted online. Basically, if they wouldn’t say it at the dinner table in front of you, they shouldn’t say it online.
- Be the holder of the passwords :: When your children understand that they have waived any expectation of privacy, they will more easily accept that you will know all of the passwords for their email, Facebook, and other social media accounts at all times. Being friends with them isn’t enough, as they may attempt to block you from seeing certain posts. You can decide how often to log in and read everything, but they need to know that you can at any time. One idea that’s become popular is to change the wi-fi password in your home every day and only give it to the children when they’ve done their chores, complied with your rules, etc. Another option is to configure your router to set restrictions on a per-device basis, as explained here for an AirPort wireless network.
- Don’t let your teens sleep with their phones or computers :: A lot of trouble starts after the sun goes down, so don’t let your children be a part of it. Set up one central location where phones and laptops are charged overnight, and impose punishment for their failure to comply. Also, consider whether it is a good idea to allow your kids to have desktop computers in their bedrooms. If they must, then you should configure access privileges to control nighttime use, or even take the power cord away at night. You will obviously want to make a point of checking their computer regularly so that you know what your child is doing.
- Be a good role model :: If you have a rule that prohibits cell phones during certain “family time”, then that rule should apply to parents as well as the children. The central charging station idea referenced above can apply to parents too. Perhaps even consider establishing a daily “device-free time” of just 10 or 15 minutes at the breakfast or dinner table to see if it has a positive impact on your family.