Our teens (and increasingly our tweens, typically ages 10 to 13) are spending more of their lives online and on their texting devices than ever before. Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter make it uncannily easy for them to stay in constant contact with their peer group and to potentially hide things from their parents.
This all makes it harder for us parents to keep our teens safe online. But we have to do it.
Discussion of cell phone use, social networking and the internet is crucia to have with children – and it’s not just one discussion, it should be an ongoing dialog. Using examples from daily life or the news to highlight the dangers of putting private information, pictures, addresses and other stuff out there for the world to see is often an effective way to help teens and tweens understand the magnitude of what can happen.
Follow your child on Twitter, and be sure to be your child’s “friend” on Facebook. Send a “friend” request to your child’s best friend and let your child know you’ve done it. Band together with other parents and encourage them to do likewise to create a team of parents looking out for all of the kids. We know how to network too!
I think there are lots of reasons why young people should not have computers (or tablets or smartphones, for that matter) in their rooms. Let media be used in a public place at home where they know that anyone can see what they are doing. Consider installing a monitoring program so you can track where your child is going on the web. Make it a policy that cell phones are left to charge overnight on the kitchen table, where anyone can view text messages and internet usage. After all, there shouldn’t be anything to hide.
If you detect something you don’t understand, ask your child for an explanation. And let your child know the consequences for irresponsible behavior. Set limits on the amount of screen time permitted, and turn all media off at a reasonable time each night – that’s ALL screens, including the cell phone.
It’s all a matter of helping our kids recognize that we are trying to protect them. And though they may not like it, it’s our job.