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From One Parent to Another: The Challenge of Protecting Kids While Online

Bowling Green, KY. (June 19, 2019) - It is often said that parenting is the toughest job. Every child has different tendencies, interests, temperaments, and personality characteristics. So, there is no set parenting playbook that will ensure kids make good decisions when we are watching—much less when we aren’t.

Challenges evolve over time as there are changes in trends and culture that influence our kids. Never before have there been more outside influences to contend with than now. Children have access to technology that gives them the instant ability to communicate with anyone in the world—via text and multimedia messaging, audio and video calls, and social-media platforms.

How can parents begin to protect their children in an era where they can’t keep up with or even understand these evolving technologies? How can a parent avoid simply waving their white flag and conceding defeat?

Understanding the Big Picture
A Pew Research Center study from 2018 found that 95% of teens report to own or have access to a smartphone and 45% of teens say they are online nearly constantly. YouTube ranks as the most-used platform (85%) followed by Instagram (72%) and Snapchat (69%) and slipping to fourth on the list is Facebook (51%) among this demographic.

For all of the benefits of such a powerful and available resource, there are certainly many issues. The same study also found that roughly 65% of parents worry about the amount of time their teen spends online and the potential negative effects and uses of the technology. Meanwhile, kids tend to have mixed responses as

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to whether it has a positive or negative influence on them.

There are growing concerns about a generation of people who struggle with communication and the social skills to have effective face-to-face interactions. Other areas of concern could potentially be more damaging or dangerous: viewing pornography or graphic images, sexting, communicating with strangers, falsifying age and other information, and cyberbullying.

Kids tend to feel more confident in communicating behind a screen and may be more easily lured by a predator, allowing situations to escalate to a point they didn’t anticipate or can’t handle. They often don’t think about the long-term effect of their digital footprint and how the things they post today may be viewed later when applying for college, by potential employers, or others where it may cast a negative light on their character.

And it’s not just about teens: Harmful content may be viewed unintentionally by kids of any age. A study found that 90% of children ages 8 to 16 have seen internet pornography and 70% of children ages 7 to 18 encountered it accidentally through web searches or while doing homework.

Knowing that these are only some of the risks that exist today and that the technologies, platforms, and capabilities are changing and expanding constantly, it’s important for parents to identify effective ways to protect their children.

Handling the “Tech Threat”
Many parents take the approach to monitor their child’s online activity by checking their messages, viewing their social media posts, and limiting screen time. However, that tends to be more frequent in younger kids and becomes less so as they age. Approximately one-third of parents utilize parental controls or filtering technologies that are available. While those tools help, they shouldn’t be considered the ultimate solution and can often be confusing or complicated to set up and monitor.

Kids sometimes develop crafty and deceptive ways to cover their tracks for things they don’t want you to know about. They can delete messages and search histories. There are even fake apps that give the appearance of things like games or calculators, but are actually apps for hiding photos or other content in an unsuspecting manner.

Another concerning trend is the use of “spam” or “finsta” (fake Instagram) social media accounts. These are secondary accounts with disguised aliases that are only shared with specific individuals or friend groups. These accounts are often used to allow kids to post things in a more open fashion, without being monitored by adults.

So, while there are tools, services, and general awareness that can be helpful in the battle, the best way to protect your kids online is to talk to them.

You should start early and have discussions often. It’s important to have appropriate levels of communication as soon as your child begins using online devices. Be honest and upfront and provide an environment for them to do the same.

Though you may want to allow them a sense of privacy, it’s important not to be naïve. Let them know you are aware there are plenty of ways they can attempt to hide things they do on their devices.

That will, at the very least, demonstrate you are not oblivious or unconcerned. At the same time, let them know if their online activities bring them into contact with individuals or content that makes them uncomfortable, they can talk to you about it. Help educate them about the importance of being mindful of what they post and to carefully think about the possible near-term and long-term effects.

Also remind them things they delete can often be captured by others and resurface. You may consider other options such as placing the computer in a central location in your home or not allowing computers, tablets, or phones in the bedroom. This can go a long way to removing temptation.

Frequently reiterate the rules you have and the values you expect and how those apply to online activity as well other aspects of their life. You wouldn’t put them behind the wheel of a car or send them on an unsupervised trip without preparing them first, so consider approaching their use of technology with the same levelJohnson Ryan 01 Best 200x300 of diligence.

About the author: Ryan Johnson is Connected Nation’s Manager of IT Operations. Ryan manages, secures, and oversees the network operations center and systems at Connected Nation and manages the development and implementation of long-term technology strategies for Connected Nation and its programs and projects.