June is known as Internet Safety Month but these days it’s important to teach kids to be safe online and on mobile devices. Since we use our mobile devices to go online more with than we do with computers, internet safety IS mobile safety. iPods, tablets, and mobile phones put the power of personal computing in the power of one’s hand through highly portable devices whose use can always come with risks if we don’t take the time to teach our kids how to be digitally safe at all ages.
Here’s a helpful guide of the issues that come up at various ages, things to consider, and helpful resources to provide your child with the ability to make sound decisions regardless of what new device, app, or social media tool might come next.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
There are wonderful learning opportunities available for young children through educational website and interactive apps that captivate their attention and motivate them but now is the time to take a close look at your own use of mobile devices because kids this age mimic parental behaviors and also keep an eye on what they’re doing so you can talk to them about what they’re doing. Creating open lines of communication when kids are young means they’ll be more likely to talk to you during the more difficult tween and teen years. It may seem like a long time away but just trust me on this!
How toddlers and preschoolers spend their screen time:
- Websites like PBSKids.org, Disney.com, Nickelodeon
Issues for parents of toddlers and preschoolers to consider:
- Screen time
- In-app purchases
- Navigating websites
Tips for raising digitally smart toddlers and preschoolers:
- Know what your kids are doing during their screen time. There are a wealth of learning opportunities available for young children including educational website and interactive apps. If your toddler or preschooler is using a computer, tablet, or smartphone to access content, be sure that you have screened the content first.
- Examine how you’re using your devices in your home if you feel like you’re battling with your child about screen time. Chances are your child has noticed how often you’re on your smartphone, laptop, or tablet and is emulating you. Provide concrete examples and model the behavior that you expect so they will become responsible digital citizens when they get older.
- Toddlers and preschoolers can also be tempted by tricky in-app purchases. Screen apps that your child wants to play, show them where they may be tempted to tap for in-app purchases, and discuss why they should always check with you before tapping before handing them your smartphone to play a new game.
Helpful resources for parents of toddlers and preschoolers:
- PBS Super Vision App— As a fan of PBSKids.org, I’m a fan of the new free PBS KIDS Super Vision™ app that is designed to help you monitor and make the most of what your child is learning and playing on PBSKids.org. By entering a simple code in the app, you’ll connect your mobile device to start monitoring and receiving real-time information about what your child is playing, watching, and learning on pbskids.org. This app also provides off-screen activity ideas that are related to your child’s interests to help build key skills. Other tools offered within the app that help to maximize your child’s learning experience include: setting a Play Timer to help your child transition from playing online to another activity, an Activity Summary to view the top educational skills, shows, videos and games your child used on pbskids.org, and the ability to access more PBS KIDS educational mobile apps for learning with favorite characters on the go. I also like that the app connects over the Internet, not over a shared network, so you can use the app while you’re at work or even out of town to see what your child is doing on pbskids.org in real time.
- Common Sense Media— It’s hard to stay on top of the many apps that exist but I love Common Sense Media for their robust and unbiased reviews of apps, websites, movies, and content because it provides parents a lot of information in an at-a-glance format. Of course you can dive deeper into any review to learn more and I always encourage families to visit Common Sense Media before downloading any app, visiting any new site, or even seeing a movie to determine if it’s right for their family.
Early Elementary (grades K-2)
Kindergarten through second graders are pretty screen savvy. They’re no strangers to tablets, are pros at navigating favorite apps, and love to explore online worlds like Club Penguin and Minecraft. It’s still important to maintain a healthy media diet for this growing age group and ensure that screen time is only one small piece of what they do on a daily basis.
How early elementary ages spend their screen time:
- Club Penguin, Minecraft
- Homework sites to reinforce concepts being learned at school
Issues for parents of early elementary ages:
- Being a good online friend
- Why parental controls are important
- maintaining a healthy media diet
Tips for raising digitally smart kindergarten through second graders:
- Explore sites together. Kindergarten through second graders now go online for homework purposes but this doesn’t always mean that you should automatically trust the things that the school recommends. Sit down with your child and explore a site that was suggested by a teacher so you can be involved in their learning and get a sense of how these sites are being used to reinforce classroom learning at home. Also keep an eye out for chat features on private educational sites that allow kids in the class to talk online. If chat features are present, take some time to talk about how it’s important to be nice online as well as in person.
- Establish trust. According to Cox Take Charge!, “Your kids need to know they won’t get in trouble if they tell you or another trusted adult if anything suspicious, mean, or scary happens.” It’s important to createopen lines of communication and listen for those little nuggets in the conversation that can be used as teachable moments that can be used as conversation starters about the good and bad things that are part of a child’s daily life. Let’s be honest- talking about topics like porn and bullying, whether on or offline, aren’t fun but can certainly be more difficult when you don’t make time to talk.
- Continue the conversation about screen time limits and the importance of a healthy media diet. Discuss how balancing screen time, time playing outside, and time spent reading is just as important as making sure you eat a balanced diet. Also discuss that screens include television, computer, tablets, gaming systems, and smartphones and figure out how much cumulative screen time is right for your child and family.
- Create age appropriate conversations. While kindergartners may not be ready to hear about cyberbullying quite yet, you can lay the groundwork for the future by talking about the importance of being nice to others and being a good friend since these are important concepts to build upon for that later conversation.
- Check parental controls settings and have a conversation about why they’re important. New devices may have parental controls but the default settings may not be right for your family. Open up the parental controls to ensure that the settings are age appropriate but then also talk to your kids about why they’re important. Be honest. It goes a long way with kids.
Helpful resources for parents of kids in grades K-2:
- The Family Online Safety Institute has a free downloadable Family Online Safety Contract with parts for kids and parents to review. It’s a realistic contract that can serve as a good conversation starter for parents who aren’t quite sure how to bring up these issues.
- Kids who are fans of Club Penguin will like their 3 memorable online safety tips for kids: be cool, be heard, and be safe. There are also online safety tips for parents just below that encourage being aware, being curious, and being engaged.
- NetSmartz features 5 Things Parents Should Do During Internet Safety Month. This quick helpful post provides great reminders as kids are out of school and might be spending more time online between summer activities.
Tween (ages 8-12)
According to a study done by Cox shared onTake Charge!, 1/3 of tweens admit to being dishonest with parents about their online behavior. Make sure those lines of communication are open so you can talk about the fun stuff as well as the more difficult topics that begin to come up at this age both about digital behavior and in real life concerns.
How tweens spend their screen time:
- YouTube videos
- Instagram, Facebook (they may not be 13 yet but many kids have them and some without their parents knowing!)
Issues for parents of tweens
- First cell phone
- Using social media
- Being digitally respectful
Tips for raising digitally smart tweens:
- Be mindful of publicly shared content. Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and other social services make it so easy for us to share. But how much information do you really want to share about yourself or your family?
- Be willing to learn with your tween. You don’t have to come to terms that your tween knows more than you.Ask your kids about what they’re doing and have them be the experts to teach you about the hot new app or social media tool they’re using.
- Address when and how the cell phone should be used. Kids need to know what they’re getting into and what you expect, when they get a phone. Having a family contract, likeSafely’s Mobile Phone Contract for Parents and Kids, can structure a conversation and keep you on track.
- Help your kids manage their first phone. Having a conversation with your tween about what is agreeable is more beneficial than throwing down the gauntlet and it’s always a good idea to talk about why you’re using locator services to help keep your family safer. Locator services, like Sprint Family Locator or AT&T FamilyMap, show you everyone’s location on a real-time map, and services like Sprint Mobile Controls or Verizon FamilyBase show you when a kid is texting or using apps, with whom, for how long, and lets you limit all of it. If you talk to your kids about how locator services help keep them safe then they won’t feel like you’re always looking over their shoulder if even you really are.
- Talk about the scary stuff. If you’ve created open lines of communication, you should be able to talk about more difficult topics. Even if they don’t seem like they’re listening, they are. Since survey results from Cox and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children demonstrated that 42% of tweens have received messages from people they’ve never met, now is the time to begin the conversation about not talking to strangers online, especially through gaming platforms. Teach them to recognize signs of grooming and reinforce that they won’t be in trouble if they come to you if anything suspicious, mean or scary happens.
Helpful resources for parents of tweens:
- Know the lingo— If you don’t know what your child is talking about, find out! The NetSmartz Internet Safety Definitions provides helpful definitions as well as a listing of chat acronyms.
- Phone contracts— Chances are if your tween doesn’t already have a cell phone, they will want one soon. It’s important to be ready to have a conversation about the risks, rewards, and privileges of having such a device. Parents’ Guide to Smart Phone Safety is helpful since it outlines risks and provides 5 ways to be smarter than the smartphone. Start exploring mobile phone contracts between parents and kids to find the right one for your family. I’d recommend Safely’s Mobile Phone Contract for Parents and Kids or the customizable device contracts from Common Sense Media.
- Locator services and mobile controls for their first cell phone— Every carrier has their own type of locator service and mobile controls that you can add to your family’s phone contract. Ask aboutSprint Family Locator, AT&T FamilyMap, Sprint Mobile Controls, and Verizon FamilyBase to keep your family safe.
- Teach kids todefend their digital domain. With tweens on social networking platforms that they may not be mentally ready for, it’s important to encourage them avoid digital drama and be digitally respectful.MTV’s A Thin Linedoes a great job addressing the issue of digital disrespectandavoiding digital drama plus so many more topics that resonate with tweens and teens.
- Know how to help correct oversharing— While we try to have our kids be mindful of what they’re sharing, the brain of a tween and teen are very in-the-moment and sometimes have a hard time seeing the big picture. I love the advice by Dr. Devorah Heitner in this piece called When Texting Goes Wrong: Helping Kids Repair and Resolve Issues. If your tween comes to you for advice when something happens, know that you’ve done a good job parenting and creating a culture of trust in your family.
You’ve worked to lay the groundwork of trust and open lines of communication and while it’s hard to relinquish control, it’s important to trust your teen to a certain degree but maintain conversations about their online reputation, the content being shared online and through their smartphones, and the dangers of texting and driving.
How teens spend their screen time:
- Social media like Instagram and SnapChat
- Facetime, Skype
Issues for parents of teens
- Preserving your online reputation
- Texting and driving
- Avoiding digital drama
Tips for raising digitally smart teens:
- Discuss the importance of taking charge of your online reputation. Teens can be impulsive but it’s important for them to try to think about how what they post today can affect them long into the future. Cox’s Tips to Take Charge! of Your Online Reputation is a handy guide with 6 tips for parents including explaining that nothing is ever private and what they say online can come back to haunt them in more ways than they may know. Stephen Balkam, Founder and CEO ofthe Family Online Safety Institute, also recommends having kids Google themselves to see what comes up. Also have them perform a Google Image Search.
- As your child to teach you about what they’re doing if you’re intimidated by the fact that your child knows more than you. It’s a humbling experience that is incredibly empowering for your kids. Chances are they’ll give you a fabulous tutorial and you will have given them an ego boost that will do wonders for your relationship.
Helpful resources for parents of teens:
- Clean up your digital footprint— Teens who are getting ready to apply for college and jobs don’t need to have everything online. While it may be hard to retract what’s already out there, now is the perfect time to be more mindful of the digital footprint being left behind. A Platform for Good’s Clean-Up Your Digital Footprint is a helpful free downloadable PDF available in English and Spanish with seven tips that range everything from checking your privacy settings to thinking before you post.
Images courtesy of PBSKids,org, Location Labs, Safely.com, FOSI.org, Club Penguin, Rich Kids of Instagram, and Snapchat. I am a PBSKids Very Important Parent, am a member of the Common Sense Media LearnON Team, and contribute posts/consult for Safely.com but no compensation was received for this post and all opinions are my own.