One Saturday morning, a few months before Christmas, my little girl had written a letter to Santa asking for some Shopkins for Christmas. Unsure of what it was, we decided to look them up on Youtube. There we found hundreds of product review videos including unboxing, playing with them and so much more. I never would have thought there would have been so many videos on these toys.
After watching a few videos and seeing that they were clean and kid friendly, we told her she could watch a few more “reviews” while we made the kids breakfast. After a few minutes, my wife went back into the living room to get her for breakfast. She could hear the Shopkins video playing and my little girl wanted to show her a part of the video.
When my wife was watching the video, she could see that there were some “adult” videos that were in the suggested video column. From a kids toy review video, she was no more than a few clicks away from watching inappropriate matieral.
Alarmed, my wife and I had a conversation that night about how we could better keep our children safe while using technology in our own home. Here are a few ideas that have worked for us since that incident.
- Always use passwords on your devices… and change them as needed. Somehow, even our four year old quickly catches on to simple number passwords. This does a few things for our family. First, if we are unlocking the device then we are aware when they are using it and for how long. We try to keep an extra cautious eye when they are on programs where ads could come up and have them use the device in a common area of the house where we can hear the content.
- Whenever possible we try to watch new movies with them to screen for possible “scary parts” or inappropriate content. When it’s not possible to watch an entire movie with them, there are resources to help! There are several family friendly movie review websites out there. I like to dive into the reviews deeper than just the star ratings or age level that they determined simply because everyone is different and some children may be sensitive to different things and we all set different standards in our homes.
- Parental Controls on the Internet: While my kids are still young enough that they are unable to type in a complete sentence on their own, they are able to tell “Siri” to look things up for them. I can tell you that “cougar” doesn’t always mean mountain lion.You can set the parental controls on both your internet browser, 3rd party apps, and work with your Internet Service Provider to set restrictions on what your kids can look up. You are also able to set internet restrictions on your kids’ phones as well, assuming they are old enough to have one.
- Computers, ipad, Phones out in the open. They say that the three most important aspects to buying property, investment or otherwise, is: 1- Location, 2- Location and 3-Location. The same is true for where to put the family computer, ipad, phones and other devices in the home. Always have the computer set out in a common room in the home such as the kitchen, living room or some other open area. Never have the computer or other devices in a room where others, I mean, YOU as the adult, are not able to easily see and monitor the computers use.
- Social Media. I didn’t even have a social media account, of any kind, until I was 21 years old. Just because the world is very different than the one we grew up in does not give us an excuse to be naïve about the effects of the kind of internet use we allow our children to have. To be honest, I’m not so sure kids younger than 16 or even 18 need access to social media. There is just as much peer pressure and bullying online as there is in school, maybe even more and social media allows those influences to follow them everywhere with a phone in their pocket.Cyber Bulling is increasing each year. The world is hard enough and our kids do not need to be exposed to more people telling them that they are not cool enough, or pretty enough.
Additionally, studies have shown that Social Media is addictive, it may not be as physically damaging as drugs, but the damage is there and the addiction can be controlling and challenging. This is not something a teenager needs while they are still growing and developing.
- Take a moment to teach about online safety, and do it while they are still young. Every night, when I put my kids to bed, we watch a short YouTube video on a topic that they want to learn about. For example, last night my daughter wanted to learn about caves and my little boy wanted to learn about the moon landings.When your kids are young and desire to learn more every day, teaching them the importance of safety, whether online or in the world around them is important. Teach them what they can do to protect themselves.
- Make a list of safe movies, websites, learning games. By having a list or folder of movies or games that are “preapproved” for your kids to watch will eliminate half the battle. Kids will know that there is no question or room to budge. If the movie is not on the pre-approved list, they cannot watch it.You can “subscribe” to specific YouTube channel or channels that are kid friendly and appropriate for your kids’ age.
- Be a trusted support and friend. All of these preventive measures listed above are great and will help you protect your kids from the dangers of the internet, social media and content that may influence their lives. However, the best and most important tool you have at your disposal is your ability to love them and be there for them. They need to know that they can talk with you about anything. This doesn’t always come easily, but by being their friend and letting them know that they can talk with you about anything is key to building trust, for both of you.