When kids are little, you can count on every parent having the conversation about “stranger danger” with their little ones. Kids are taught from a young age to never go anywhere with a stranger. Never take candy from a stranger. Don’t so much as make eye contact with a stranger. Parents talk until they are blue in the face about this topic when their kids are little, but many don’t talk with the same sense of urgency (or at all) about the dangers lurking on the internet as their child gets older.
Many parents have the FALSE notion that if they had “the talk” with their kids as littles, they will know to stay away from strangers as they get older.
The problem is that strangers look a lot different and appear in different forms as kids get older. True, there are still strangers that could physically approach them, but as times have changed, so has the way predators prey on their victims and often times it’s done anonymously online.
The reason this should be so scary is because as parents, you aren’t overseeing every site that your kids visit. You aren’t on their apps acting as them. You don’t know who they are talking to. We assume it’s their friends but that term is used loosely online and a “friend” isn’t someone they necessarily ever met.
Sometimes, kids take friend requests or strike up conversation with someone that they think is someone of the same age when in actuality, it’s a 50 year-old man who lives in another state or country. They end up sharing pictures with this person, not realizing they aren’t talking to who they think they are. It can get dangerous, especially if they try to meet up with them to hang out. A situation that your teen thinks is innocent can take a turn for the worse in a flash.
This is why it is so important to have a grown-up version of “the stranger danger talk” with them. They need to have their eyes open to the dangers that live on the internet and how to use it safely. Teens are notorious for living on the edge and feeling invincible so having this conversation with them in a serious manner is important.
In addition to having a serious talk with them, there are things you can do to empower yourself and keep a better eye on your teen and their internet behaviors.
New technology seems to come out daily so it can be overwhelming to stay on top of all of it, but you have to try. Even if you see no reason to personally be on Facebook or have an Instagram account, get one! You actually do have a personal reason to be on social media – because your teen is! Familiarize yourself with them at least a little bit and start following your child. You will be able to see what they post and monitor their friend list just by being on there.
Staying informed isn’t just about keeping up with social media. Knowing the devices they are on is also crucial. Do you know how to work a smart phone? How about their tablet? These handheld devices are always at their disposal and are most likely the way they will be accessing the internet so you should be familiar with them.
Parental controls are your friend! These can be set up on most devices ranging from TV’s to phones. These controls allow you to regulate which content they are allowed to view, what they can download, what times they can use the device, the list goes on and on. Use these to your benefit. You should also update your password every so often. Kids can be sneaky and they will at some point figure out your parental control password. Keeping it fresh and new will keep them from overriding the limitations you put on.
Did you know that you can hide apps in plain sight!? That’s right! There are actually apps that allow you to download icons that are used to mask the original icon as a way of making the app look harmless to the naked eye. A simple Google search will yield tons of results on the various apps that provide these icons as well as things to look for to see if your teen is using them.
Public profiles are a huge no-no, especially for a teen because they mean just that – the public can see them and everything they post. People usually post pictures of things they are doing, trips they have been on, them hanging out in their room. They even post where they are in real time by “checking in.” These are things that are ok for their friends to see (and by friends, we mean people they actually know) but you wouldn’t want these pictures or information out in the public. It’s back to the whole stranger danger thing. You don’t want the wrong info getting into the wrong hands.
Ways to Monitor Activity
Many parents don’t want to feel like they are spying on their teens but when it comes to their safety, there’s nothing wrong with monitoring their online activity. It doesn’t need to be secretive. Be open and honest about why you are concerned and how you will be monitoring them. Let them know that it’s for their benefit and to keep them safe. They will probably be mad at first but if they have nothing to hide, they’ll get over it. There are many different types of monitoring software out there and it would require some research on your end to determine which one fits your needs best. Monitoring isn’t the right option for everyone but we want you to know that it is a possibility.
Let’s face it, kids these days are going to be online. They will have a social presence. They almost have to in order to succeed in today’s virtual world. It’s better to have a handle on their activities now while you still can and teach them the ways to be smart and safe online. Preparation and knowledge are key. Talk about safety and the dangers out there before they are venturing out on their own and into adulthood.