A must read guest post from a mom of teens, who wishes to remain anonymous, about how she manages her family's access to social media and technology!
Technology changes quickly and it’s important to stay one step ahead of our kids, especially if you want to keep teens safe online.
The best thing a parent can do is foster open communication with their children; this is by far a parent’s best ally. A hostile teen isn’t going to be very forthcoming in sharing what’s happening in the lives of their friends. Be fully present when your kids are talking to you, put down your own devices. Eye contact is amazing. You’d be surprised at the little details you pick-up...If your child tells you about an app a friend has, you can assume they know how to use it too and even if it doesn’t show up on their device..they may even have it.
Barring that, there are a lot of things parents may not realize especially about phones, Kindles, tablets and iPod touch devices with Wi-Fi that may help.
1. Setup a password for your Wi-Fi router and know if your neighbors have. Ask your neighbors whether they understand that their Wi-Fi is accessible without a password (if they have open networks.) It does no good to have a password protected Wi-Fi if your neighbor's is wide-open.
2. Even if the kids don't have the password to your router, know that they can access Wi-Fi from the neighbors, coffee shop, school or even church. They can open separate email, SnapChat, Instagram and Facebook accounts you don't know about even if you’ve disabled that option on their device (there are work-arounds) or access them from a friend’s home.
3. Know about the trends. For instance, there are beauty contests popular among the jr high and elementary age set held on Instagram where pics of four girls are featured and then the least attractive is voted off until there’s only one girl’s photo left. Horrific! Sometimes the featured girls don't even have accounts. It's a form of cyber bullying/peer pressure. Talk to your kids, just because they don't talk to you about it, doesn't mean it isn't happening, that they don't have accounts, or aren't being targeted. Read more about those "contests" here. Instagram has just now added a video function, you should know about what's happening in the different platforms.
4. Use filters and spot check your kids' email accounts. Our kids' first emails were through our cable company and we filter it through parental controls (without their knowledge), but this can be arranged through gmail as well. We don't read everything, but we do spot check and if something smells fishy, it usually is. We try to use it as a way to guide conversations rather than as a way to clamp down on them. In fact, we found out by accident about Text-Plus because of a conversation about a friend and a new app.
We started watching email closely, and quietly waited. He was only innocently texting--phew! He never knew we knew. So keep those communication lines open.
5. There are programs (like Text-Plus) that allow your kids to text and send photos from an iPod without it showing up on your statement. It also gives them a phone number and they earn free minutes to talk with the more they use it to text. Teens like it because it only requires Wi-Fi to work and doesn’t show up on a phone statement.
You say, "But my child doesn’t have a phone, or they need my password to download apps, this doesn’t apply to me!" WRONG! They can just create their own account using, a new email, one of those iTunes gift cards they get for special occasions, and only ‘sync’ when they're at school. Ask me how I know.
6. Put age limits on social media, YOU have the password, and YOU be the one who signs them in. We don't let them have a Facebook account until they are 14, and we have to be the ones who sign them in. The kids don't know their password. Of course they could change it, but if at any time we can't sign in to their Facebook account, it's time to talk. My poor kids will probably not do anything wrong, for fear we will talk to them about it. Once they are 16 and have been responsible (e.g., only friending people they actually know, etc) they get to know/change their password. But while they live with us, Facebook is agreed to be accessed on the computer in the kitchen and they must share the password with us (of course they will check it at their friends' houses.)
7. Electronics are charged in our room at night.
8. Even if an application auto-deletes, there still might be a record of the activity. My girls have SnapChat (which I heard about via TodaysMama). Kids think they’re safe to send photos via this app because it auto-deletes after a specified amount of time, but the receiver can still save it with a screen shot. My kids have added me and snap bomb me constantly. Do you know guys use it to send pics of their poop to each other? I am talking full-grown men (not mine, of course). My girls have agreed to only have other girls on their friend lists--which I check--and it tells you if any friends take a screen capture of the pictures that have been sent. It does allow them to send videos if they hold down the image capture so be aware of that. We've talked about the types of pics people send/pressure you to send and that you need to always have your profiles set to private and actually know the people in person before adding them.
9. If your kids want to use an app, you should be using it, and you should know how to set the privacy settings. If my kids want to be on a social media app, great! That's my cue to start using the same social media app, they must friend me and we discuss privacy settings. Their privacy is also my privacy. Sending 100s of selfies to the world at large is not a great idea with all the pedophiles out there. Especially if their phone settings also post their location in the photo info (learn more about how to turn off location on photos here.)
10. We try to stay a step ahead. We talk. I get lucky and I listen to my gut, and bust them occasionally. Then we talk some more.
It's a fine line, because if they don't learn how to self-police then what happens when they hit 18 and/or move out? I learned the hard way because I had one kid who happened to figure out and memorize our extremely long router password and had Wi-Fi access for two years before I followed that gut feeling and figured everything out. Then I realized I couldn't parent by complacency, and stepped it up.
So now we talk, and we keep talking.
What are the technology and social media steps you've taken to protect your kids and teens?
More on kids and online safety:
Computer Safety Settings for Your Family