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The School Year is Here, Let’s Talk About Our Children

Autumn will be here before we know it and along with the cooler weather and the changing color of the leaves, children also head back to school. The school year may represent a time of learning and academic growth, but it also means kids are more likely to use digital devices without parental supervision. What can parents do to protect them from misusing their tablets, phones or computers? How can we safeguard them against predators who use the internet and social media as a means to take advantage of our children?

You may feel that much of what we will discuss in this article is a recap of things you have already read or researched before. But we believe that it’s always good to be reminded of the importance of online safety and applying safety techniques to our devices.

What is the right age to provide your child with a cell phone? It would depend on your child. Is he/she active in afterschool or other social activities? Do they use the device for music, games, etc.? It is important to first consider the child’s actual need for a cell phone before purchasing one. Because the cost of a smartphone can be quite pricey, you may want to look into a less expensive option of buying an unlocked used phone or perhaps you may have a family plan that will make an additional phone more affordable. Other things to consider are the possibility of a prepaid phone that is for emergency use only. Again, the needs of the child’s access to a cell phone are probably the first order of deciding whether to get them one or not. Some research has indicated that about age 12 is an excellent time to provide him/her with cell phone access. Of course, each child is different so the choice would depend entirely on your understanding of how responsible they would be with a cell phone.

Another factor to consider is how parents can be proactive in helping children use the Internet properly.

KidsHealth.Org has some great tips for teaching kids how to use social media and the Internet safely.

There are age limits for having a social media account and for excellent reasons. The average social media platform requires that an individual be at least 13-years-old to sign up for an account. This standard helps to protect children from predators and from exposure to mature content. It is always advisable to monitor your child’s Internet activity for safety reasons. If your child already has a Facebook page, one option is utilizing MessengerKids which is a free video calling and messaging application. Parents can control and monitor who the child interacts with because they pre-approve their contacts.

When allowing children the freedom to stay connected with school friends, it is also important to recognize the warning signs of online bullying and learn what you and your child can do to help stop it. StopBullying.gov offers insights into what defines cyberbullying and what steps you can take to report the abuse.

One the toughest challenges our children face today is the prevalence of suicide amongst their peers. Kids are often aware when their friends or acquaintances are in emotional trouble. Social media posts or offhand comments that are filled with rage or hate are also indicators that their friends may hurt themselves or others. Educating our children on what to do in these situations protects them if they fear for themselves or others. Unfortunately, kids feel it’s a betrayal to their friendship to report such things to their parents or school officials. Often, they don’t want their friend to get into trouble, don’t want to be a tattle-tale, or they are just too shy to come forward to deter the situation. Giving children the freedom and permission to report these dangerous situations (even anonymously) lets them have an active role in being part of the solution to a problem that frightens them daily: their safety and that of people they care about.

The news is filled with shocking reports of teen suicide and school shootings. If we empower children with the knowledge of how to report impending signs of trouble with other kids, they can be their own heroes by possibly preventing loss of life. Within your community, you may find the best approach to help your child report their concerns so they will be prepared if the situation arises. Contact your community center, local library, school district or local law enforcement for more information.

Many credible online resources provide useful information on social media safety for children. Experian has several informational articles about common threats to children on social media and how to handle them. Norton Internet Security also shares insights on keeping kids safe on the Internet. The best way to find resources is by taking time out to research them online. It is recommended that you read several different references to find the safety measures that work best for you and your family.

Downloadable tracking or monitoring apps are a great way to manage our children’s access to the Internet. They can tell us who they are talking to, chatting with, which apps they are using, the ability to set time limits on usage and so on. Most apps have a GPS locator to help keep tabs on a child’s location as well. There are many types of tracking apps available such as MSpy and The Spy Bubble. Research which tracking app will work for you and your family.

What do you know about Snapchat and why would your child use it? One of Snapchat’s main features is called self-destructing which means that messages and shared photos disappear one to ten seconds after the post is opened. The app also has fun features that allow photo-enhancing that can be fun for kids to share with their friends. The Spy Bubble and Mspy apps also track Snapchat. They can track photo sharing, limit the use of profanity and other options. The idea is to keep your child from sharing information that could put them in harm’s way.

What are they really saying? What do their codes or abbreviations mean when they are talking in DM or PM? Kids are always finding new ways to hide their personal life from their parents. Learning the lingo and acronyms of social and chat messages can be a significant step towards keeping your child safe. You should have an understanding of the conversations they may be having with their friends or strangers:

DM- direct message

PM- private message

ASL- age, sex, location

PAW- parents are watching

PAL- parents are listening

P911- parent alert

PIR- parent in room

CTN- can’t talk now

POS- parent over shoulder

IDC- I don’t care

IDK- I don’t know

FYEO- for your eyes only

HAK- hugs and kisses

Internet use and social media platforms can be a safe social outlet for children if we take the time to discover ways to monitor their access carefully.

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