A few years ago, all I had to do to keep my kids safe online was set up the family computer in a well-trafficked room and walk by every so often. Now, my daughters are 12 and 14, and each has her own iPhone. Their online lives are lived in WhatsApp, Facebook comments, texts, and occasional emails. They regularly interact with kids I've never met. While they're (probably) smart enough not to reveal information to strangers they've never met, my daughters are at risk for cyberbullying (both being bullied and being bullies), overexposure on social networks, and even sexual solicitation.
Think about it: With a phone in her pocket, a typical teen has the ability to spend hours—days!mdash;interacting with her peers, completely unfettered by parental supervision. And how has that worked out in the past? Heathers? Lord of the Flies? Short of banning all the technology—a solution I have, at times, considered—what's a concerned parent to do?
1. Have "the technology talk"
If you're an employee, you probably have an employee handbook somewhere. If you ever read it, you might discover that your company gives you the right to make limited personal use of its computers, networks, and other technology, but that you waive any expectation of privacy when you do so. The same policy governs life in my home. Do my kids like this? No, of course not. But they accept it, the same way you accept every tech company's terms of service in order to use their products. If you don't agree, don't use the technology.
It's best to understand from the start that no matter what measures you take, computer-savvy teens may be able to figure out ways to bypass the built-in controls on the family computer or you may eventually forget to log out of the administrator account. No one app or setting can keep your teens safe online, which means you need to start talking to your kids about your concerns.
My personal concern is the limitless reach that the Internet offers my kids. It's just so easy to post a picture on Facebook, to send an insulting text message, or to find and download any movie ever made. Without boundaries, kids just keep exploring. So I sat my daughters down and let them know about my limits. For us, so far, the rule boils down to: "If you wouldn't say it, do it, or watch it with me in the room, it's not okay." I check their phones regularly, in front of them and behind their backs, to enforce this rule. If I see something that I deem inappropriate—for example, my daughter often makes Facebook comments that I think are too mean—I make her delete them and apologize to the person in question if necessary, and we talk about the issue.
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