I was recently asked to speak to parents about online safety for kids and after reading the first safety article in my research, I felt compelled to crawl into the fetal position; the internet can be a scary place for kids.
Let’s get the scary stuff out of the way first: online predators, identity thieves, and online bullies top the list of dangers. The risks come in a myriad of forms from click-bate deliberately designed to convince kids that by clicking they’ll get “free slime” or a “second life” in a video game, to people who misrepresenting themselves with the intent to harm.
Did you know that photos have addresses stored in them? Scary, right? That means that when a kid posts of a photo of themselves at home, they’re also sending their address to anyone how has access to that photo. I found this quick little tutorial for how to set up some basic security measures on your phone–these aren’t add-ons or apps you need to buy, it’s barebones safety measures in the settings section of your phone that limit location settings and in-app purchases.
The real take away from my research was finding commonsensemedia.org which allows adults to preview books, television shows, and movies based on more than an opaque “G” or “PG” rating system. CSM provides a brief synopsis, their recommended viewing age, along with the age recommendations suggested by both kids and parents. Parents will need to be especially careful on platforms like YouTube and Facebook were ratings are not readily apparent and notice if their child becomes particularly unruly following exposure because that might indicate that it isn’t appropriate.
In addition to the other dangers, we’re also letting our kiddos use devices far more often than has been suggested by the American Association of Pediatrics, by a huge margin. A recent study suggested that kids between 8-12 years of age should have less than 3 hours of media exposure per day, however, the study found that they’re averaging 6 hours per day and our teens are averaging about 9 hours per day. Many kids lack self-regulation skills, which is why clear limits need to be put in place by adults before access to a particular device is granted.
Technology is constantly evolving and the benefits seem to outweigh the risks, but we have to have open conversations with kids about how to treat others in person and online and what to do if they see someone or something that frightens them or makes them uncomfortable. Encouraging open dialogue is a key component of keeping kids safe online and something that has to be repeated frequently. Feel free to access and use the notes from my talk: Tech Safety For Kids.