It’s hard to keep your kids safe from the dangers outside your home, but it’s even harder to protect them from online threats. Social media isn’t going away any time soon, so you need to be on top of your kids’ social media activities. Brain development is not fully complete until adulthood. Boys develop later than girls, sometimes not even until the age of 22 or 23. What may seem like common sense to us as parents is just not obvious to our children. It’s very difficult to be the parent of a teenager – if only we could pay a security company to do the job for us.
Every few months there is an outlandish story in the news about students involved in online bullying. the truth is, these incidents started out as smaller issues that quickly spiraled out of control due to a lack of parental oversight. We all trust our children, but they need us to step in and lend guidance when their judgment fails them. Here are a few important tips to keep your kids safe online:
Be in control
Let your children know that you are in charge, not them. Set ground rules and consequences for breaking the rules – and then follow through. Your kids may hate you for taking away a cell phone or telling them, “No Facebook for a week,” but it will help you keep the situation under control. Hating parents is a rite of passage for every teenager, so don’t worry – you’re not alone.
Don’t allow your kids to spend unlimited amounts of time online. Make sure they get together with friends in real-life and make new friends in person. They need to learn how to navigate the real world and handle relationships, which is only learned through real social interaction.
Be a good role model
As an adult I find it easy to get sucked into the virtual world for hours at a time. You don’t want your kids to develop bad habits. Put your cell phone, laptop and iPad away during dinner, conversation time, and while driving. Your kids watch everything you do and mimic adults constantly.
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Let children earn trust
Establish a ground rule in your home that your children cannot have an email or social media account unless you know the password. This is a good rule to have with children who are younger than 16. At that age, and if you’ve taught them well and they have earned your trust, they can begin to have more privacy.
Use passwords to check their accounts often
You aren’t spying, you are checking to see if your child is bullying or being bullied. Also make sure you check the trash and draft folders. Sneaky children will hide messages there. When it comes to Facebook, keep an eye on who your child is “friends” with. Make sure your child knows these people in person, and that they are age-appropriate friends or relatives. Again, read private messages, and keep tabs on the type of interactions your child has with others.
Be aware of the sneaky things kids do. Some children set up fake, personal Facebook accounts for their parents, and then use another one with an assumed name as their real one. Make sure your child keeps personal information private online, and never ever let your child be mean to others. Some families write up contracts for their children to sign, as a way of making sure that the rules or their punishments are truly understood. A security system will only keep the bad out of your house, not off of your computer. If you teach your children how to use social media respectfully, you’ll help them stay safe, secure, and happy too.