In a Digital WorldIt used to be parents needed to warn their children about stranger danger - the guy the kids don’t know who offers them candy at the park from a van with no windows. We also had to teach them to “just say no”, when approached by a teenager or young adult offering free drugs. While we still need to warn our children about those real world dangers, there’s a whole new dangerous world for children and teens online today. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of constructive and useful information online, and screen time is not automatically bad. In fact, most of the time your children can be perfectly safe watching online videos or playing games, but kids are curious creatures by nature, and they like to explore. Exploring is a good thing in a controlled environment, that’s how they learn, after all. But some online exploring can easily lead to dangerous situations with pedophiles pretending to be kids or exposure to some seriously twisted porn. There are numerous studies that have documented the detrimental effects of porn on the developing brain - go ahead and google it. I’ll wait. Remember when we would get teased at school? We could go home and get a break from it. Today’s teens can’t, and the constant exposure to peer pressure is also causing depression and suicidal tendencies in teens and preteens.
I’m not trying to scare you into not allowing your child to have a phone, tablet or any other device with online access. Quite the opposite! My message is more of an “everything in moderation” cautionary tale. My goal is to educate you, the parent, that the risks to your children are so very real, and how you can create a safe digital environment, just like you do in your child’s physical environment. I want to arm you with the resources you need to keep your child safe in this digital world we now live in. Many parents have no idea how to set up parental controls on all the devices and systems in their homes. Guess what? There are places you can go to find out that information - even if you are not comfortable with technology.
Does your child play games on a gaming system, such as PlayStation or Nintendo? They can easily be exposed to strangers and porn online. Does your child have his or her own phone or tablet? It’s constantly connected to an unfiltered Internet and peer pressure. Does your child have devices in his or her room? He or she is getting no break from peers and app notifications, and is most likely not getting enough sleep to develop and function properly. Tech addiction is real. So what’s a parent to do?
- Parental Controls: Protect Young Eyes has a guide to setting up parental controls on all devices. These include: Amazon Echo, Android, Apple iOS (iPhone/iPad), Chrome book, Google Home, Kindle Fire, Mac book, Windows Laptop, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Roku, Smart TV, Wii, Wireless router, and Xbox. Another resource is Bark-o-matic, which allows you to enter any system your child uses and will find instructions for setting up parental controls.
- Apps: Not sure what apps are appropriate for your child? Protect Young Eyes also has reviews for too many apps to list here - if your child wants to use it, they have a review on it. Common Sense Media also has reviews on apps, as well as websites and games.
- Media: What are your children reading and watching? Common Sense Media has reviews on Movies in theaters, Movies on DVD/streaming, TV Shows and YouTube channels.
- Alerts: If you’d like to be alerted whenever your children are having risky conversations (sexual content, violence, self harm) in any app on their mobile device, Bark! Is your friend. This is not free, it is a subscription service, there is a 14 day free trial, HOWEVER if you have signed up for Family Alerts through ASA, you are eligible for a 20% discount. What are Family Alerts? Because ASA uses Bark! for schools to monitor student activity in their ASA G Suite accounts, you can sign up to be alerted whenever your child is having those same risky conversations using their ASA G Suite account This is free, and you can sign up here for Family Alerts. It is especially beneficial for you to do this during school breaks when ASA personnel are not available.
- General Resources: I would encourage you to explore the following websites, sign up for blogs, participate in parent trainings, watch the videos, etc. Knowledge is power!
- Common Sense Media: Reviews on apps, games, movies, TV shows, etc. There is an entire section on what parents need to know by age and topic.
- Protect Young Eyes: Find reviews and instructions on just about everything your child will use. There are videos to watch with your children, and even when to start discussing sensitive topics with your children. Sign up for the blog to stay up to date and follow them on social media.
- Screenagers: If you haven’t already seen this movie, find a screening on their website. Follow the Tech Talk Tuesday blog and look through the resources.
- ASA Weekly Parent Message: The last two or three articles every week are about parents keeping their children safe online.