The world of social media, online interactions and app-based conversations definitely seems like a scary place to let kids roam. But, especially considering there are many benefits to all this modern social technology, we should figure out how to live with it and how to make it a safe and beneficial place for our kids.
Here are some tips:
1. Monitor kids’ online activities
This includes keeping track of the apps they have on their phones, the sites they visit on their computers and the social media communities they frequent.
“I always say, ‘Listen, I own this phone, and I get to know all the business that’s occurring on this phone,'” said Dr. Melissa Westendorf, a Wisconsin-based clinical psychologist and co-founder of the Technology Wellness Center.
2. Research the apps
Stay up-to-date on what apps your kids have on their devices and what other apps are out there. Technology evolves quickly, and the most popular apps are always changing. Make sure you know what’s available just as well as your child does.
3. Test the apps yourself
If you’re questioning the appropriateness of an app on your child’s phone, Westendorf suggested you download the app onto your own phone to test out all the different things your child is able to do with it.
4. Be a good role model
Avoid your own social media addictions.
“We do parent talks all the time where we have conversations about good role modeling,” said Westendorf. “We try to talk about tech free Tuesdays. Around dinnertime, everything gets shut down, and that’s for parents, too. If you try to live up to that as much as you can, it can help kids realize that they can deal with not having their devices for a night.”
5. Give kids an (age-appropriate) dose of reality
It can be hard for kids to understand the importance of protecting their identities online. Showing them can be more effective. Westendorf suggested that around fifth grade, you should show your kids how to Google themselves. That will give them a visual of how easy it is for others to find out details about them.
6. Put it in writing
The professionals at the Technology Wellness Center recommend that parents draw up a contract with their preteens and teens setting out specific guidelines to establish a healthy technology-use balance. A book by Westendorf and Dr. Lisa Strohman, “Unplug: Raising kids in a technology addicted world,” gives examples of such contracts.
7. Talk, talk and more talk
The best way to be an online mentor to your children is also the best way to be any kind of mentor to your children. Build a relationship with them by talking with them, knowing their interests, their friends, their hopes, their dreams and who they are.
For resources on protecting your kids online, visit technologywellnesscenter.com.