It wasn’t that long ago when monitoring your kids’ online activity was fairly manageable; you were aware of all the popular social media sites and could simply “friend” your child and insist on knowing his or her password. Your biggest challenge was ensuring your child didn’t go behind your back and create an account in a different name which you were unaware of. Today, however, kids have an abundance of options when it comes to choosing which social media apps they use. Suddenly, like a Facebook relationship status, the task of keeping tabs on your kids has shifted from simple to “it’s complicated.”
A recent Associated Press article, entitled Influx of social media sites making it harder to monitor kids online, points out that, “Facebook for teenagers has become a bit like a school-sanctioned prom — a necessary rite of passage with plenty of adult onlookers — while apps such as Snapchat and Kik Messenger are the much cooler after-party.”
And, if the vast selection of social media sites didn’t make a parent’s job of monitoring their kid’s online activity hard enough, the arsenal of internet-connected devices kids have on hand makes it that much more difficult. According to a Pew Research Center report called Teens and Technology 2013, 78 percent of teens own a cellphone, 23 percent have a tablet computer, and 93 percent have a computer or access to one at home. What’s a parent to do?
Education and communication comes first
First and foremost, you need to educate yourself and your kids. Keep yourself up to date on the latest sites and trends but, more importantly, talk with your kids. If you happen to have a naturally chatty child, lucky you. If, however, your kid is like mine – who has his parents under need-to-know restrictions – then make sure you ask a lot of questions. Find out what their favourite and least favourite social media sites are, why they like and dislike these sites, what usernames they use, whether they’re aware of the consequences of posting inappropriate content, and so on.
Speaking of consequences, another survey by the Pew Research Center highlights that 69 percent of parents are concerned about how their teen’s online activity could affect their future academic or employment opportunities. The same percentage of parents are also concerned about how their teen manages their online reputation. The obvious conversations to have with our children are ones which teach them not to post personal information online or photos and videos that they wouldn’t want their grandma to see. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to teach a child that anything they put online, whether it’s public or “private,” should only be posted after asking themselves, “would I be okay with grandma seeing this?”
Something that perhaps a lot of parents don’t think to discuss with their children, however, is the consequences of online bullying and harassing. Take, for example, the case of two teenage girls from Ohio who have been arrested and charged with aggravated menacing after using Facebook and Twitter to threaten a rape victim. Although this is an extreme case, kids must understand that online harassment is just as bad as threats carried out in the real world. It’s also important to teach kids that the simple act of sharing information and passing along photos online can also have severe consequences, like the possibility of being charged with distributing child pornography. So, it goes without saying, educating your kids is vital.
Whether they’re using Facebook, Snapchat, Tumblr or another social app, there are several other steps you can take to keep tabs on your kids and their social media use:
If there are specific sites you do not want your kid visiting or if you want to block social networks all together, there are a number of free and low-cost options available. OpenDNS, for example, is completely free, easy to use, doesn’t require any software installation, and enables you to restrict access to specific websites, set the filtering level, or select the type of website you wish to block – social networking or photo sharing, for example. Although you can separately configure each device you wish to set restrictions to, you can also configure your router to use OpenDNS; the advantage to this is that the restrictions you put in place will automatically apply to every device that connects to your home network, making it easy to keep tabs on your kids’ online activities, no matter whether they’re on their smartphone, tablet, or computer. This also means that when your child has a friend over, their devices will also have the same restrictions.
Of course, as soon as your child leaves the house, the OpenDNS restrictions will no longer work on their device. If this is a concern, consider using a cellphone service provider that offers parental control features. For example, Bell Parental Controls are included in most of their internet packages and will block your child from accessing certain websites from their cellphone. You can also monitor any attempts your child makes to visit a restricted website, which opens the door for some great discussions with your kid. Parental Controls is password-protected so you don’t need to be concerned about your kids being able to alter the settings.
There are numerous programs available that allow you to monitor your child’s activities. One option is Bsecure Online. This program monitors which social networking sites your child is using and, if you have more than one child, the program will identify who is visiting where. Bsecure Online alerts you in real-time via text message or email if your child engages in suspicious activity, and you have the ability to automatically log into your child’s social networking account without the need to know their username or password. Note, however, that Bsecure Online is only available for Windows, so you’re extremely limited on which devices the software is used on.
Unplugging the Wi-Fi
A lot of programs offer features which allow you to restrict the times your child has internet access. Similarly, many routers can be configured to block certain devices from accessing the internet during certain times. If you don’t have this option, however, an easy solution is to simply pull the plug on your router – this will ensure that your child isn’t logging into their favourite social media account when they should be reading, doing homework, or sleeping.
Keeping the computer in a “high-traffic” room
As your child gets older, it won’t be so easy to keep tabs on their internet use, as they’ll likely have access to more internet-connected devices. With that said, if you have young children, it’s a good idea to keep your computer in a family room or living room so you can closely monitor their internet use. Kids will be less inclined to get up to no good if they’re concerned their mom or dad is looking over their shoulder.
Staying in the loop on what your kids are doing online or, more specifically, on social media sites, takes a bit of work. If you only take away one thing from this article, it should be that education and communication are so important. Never stop talking to your children, always ask questions, and keep yourself and your children educated on current trends, laws, and news. And hey, if all else fails, you can always make your kid sign a contract.