When I was asked to provide some insight into a discussion that was happening on LinkedIn about “best practices when monitoring your child/teen online”, I was happy to provide my input. After all, I talk about this topic with parents all the time, whether it’s online or in real life, as well as living the message I teach with my five children every day, so I was happy to share some knowledge.
The discussion, which was part of a larger question in the Parenting 2.0 group in LinkedIn, was chock full of great advice and viewpoints from a number of moms and dads. In fact, according to the group manager, it’s the most popular discussion to date with over 60 comments. And let me be clear by saying that the majority of the comments aren’t short; they’re long, well-thought-out comments from parents who obviously have a strong interest in a topic that more people need to be seriously talking about.
The question that was asked was “Is there an ‘acceptable’ age in which parents allow tweens/teens to participate on social networking sites?” As many of you know, now more than ever, this question holds some serious weight when it comes to the online safety of our children. So I’d like to share my advice with you. And I would love it if we could continue this discussion on YoursphereForParents. I feel that many parents feel very differently about their kids joining social networks, and I also feel that many parents can offer their own perspective on how they monitor their child’s use of the Internet.
One mom – “I think that monitoring a child's use of FB or any online activity is critical. Hopefully all here know how to check the computer history "places visited" etc...through temporary Internet files. It's not snooping, it's monitoring computer use and parents have a responsibility to do the best they can to stay on top of that. I would love to hear Mary Kay.”
Discussion starter – “Me, too, actually! Mary Kay, will you please chime in "best practices" with monitoring teen online usage?”
My answer - Best practices change based on the age of your children. But one thing is consistent no matter what the age: dialogue, dialogue, dialogue :) Three of my children are in elementary school, (one soon to be in middle school), one in high school and one in college. My college-aged son is an adult, so at this point we dialogue a lot about the subject, but I don't take the same online safety-approach as I do with my four other children.
For the younger children – 12 and under:
- Create separate user accounts for each child on the home computer.
- Enable strict content filtering on the computer.
- Install anti-virus, malware software, etc.
- Establish a select list of sites they’re allowed to visit. (We talk about the sites they want to visit, spend time on them together, and then I go through the sites and click through as deep as I can to understand the site content, culture, links, and ads, if they have them.) If I think they’re okay, then they're added to the list.
- Enable YouTube Safe Mode on all web browsers (no matter what the age of user). Remember, you have to enable the safe mode per child, per account set up.
- Set time limits on computer use just as you would with TV or video games.
- Restrict online gaming (unless you play directly with your child and know the other people in real life.) So that means no Xbox Live premium membership or playing games on the Wii connected to the Internet.
- Use Google SafeSearch as their search engine (no matter what the age of the user)
- Use third party monitoring software that flags/detects any concerning phrases or words.
- Talk to your kids about what you learn/know is going on related to kids and technology (We talk about cyberbullying, sexting, kids being mean to others. Ask them what they think, what they'd do so you will have listened and learned. Then provide your advice. Practice role playing with your kids.
- Teach your kids what to do if someone isn't nice to them online: "don't respond, tell your mom, make a copy".
- Teach your kids about the importance of not sharing their personal information online. (last name, school, phone number combined with address)
- Talk to your children about the importance of being kind & respectful to others online.
- If your child has a cell phone, the rules are: open cell phone policy; phones stored at night. Add a service like "Smart Limits" from AT&T, which makes it easier for your children to follow your rules (i.e. you can turn the cell phone off at night, during class, etc.). Preferable cell phone for kids 12 and under = non-smart phone.
- If your child doesn't follow your rules, make sure there are consequences. Technology is a privilege, not a right. Have your children help pay for services such as their cell phone or memberships to special sites. They learn to appreciate what they have.
Children ages 13 – 17: Most of the same advice and guidelines apply, except:
- The list of select sites allowed to visit will expand. As kids get older, particularly in high school where they need to access lots of sites for homework, it's really hard to keep the list of sites to a select few. You'll know when your child's homework requires that access to information be increased.
- As the list of sites your teen is exposed to increases, check the browsing history and be sure to go 5 - 10 pages deep within the site. Often what's behind the home page is different. Know the content, culture and people your child is exposed to.
- Know your children's friends on the social network they belong to. It’s important to delete anyone they don’t know in real life.
- Know their password, log into their account. If applicable, be their "friend" on the network. - Do not allow your child to provide websites with their personal information. This is usually requested by adult-intended networks like Facebook (i.e. first name + last name+ DOB + school+ cell phone + exact physical location + IM + email.) While a birth date and email may be needed to sign up, it shouldn't be displayed.
- Disable Facebook Places and photo geo-tagging.
- Talk to your kids about the photos they post. Ask them what impression a photo they post gives another person that may or may not know them. It's a good way to open up dialogue and to help them think beyond the moment or tomorrow.
- Sign up for Google Alerts with your children's names.
- Remove your family contact information from sites like Spokeo, Pipl and Zaba Search.
Got kids 18 and older? Your child is on the way to college and starting to live their own life. You will need to continue to support your family values through conversation and action. Ultimately, though, by this age they need the opportunity to be on their own on the Internet, but grounded in the up-bringing we've provided. That said, the dialogue continues.
As originally posted on www.yoursphereforparents.com
Looking for an age-appropriate alternative to Facebook for your children? Check out www.yoursphere.com