How I Keep My Kids Safe Online

caution tapeI have five kids between the ages of 5 and 13.  My partner and I run our home like a chaos fueled, well oiled, machine. Our lives are a delicious, messy sundae, topped with lots of love whip cream. It’s so great, I’m not even embarrassed I used that metaphor to describe it.

My only goal right now is to ensure that my kids grow up to be healthy, compassionate, successful citizens of the world. This felt easy when they were babies tucked under my wing. It has become increasingly more difficult since they’ve grown into their own minds. Exponentially harder in a world where access to almost anything is at a person’s fingertips.

“Can we play X-Box online with our friends ?” an innocent question our children posed to us one rainy afternoon.  It was the first time we considered the world our kids were living in. I know it’s only video games but, it’s video games…on the internet {{insert horror movie scream here}}What if there are creepers looking to stalk my kids?

From there it was, “When are we allowed to have cell phones?” and “How old do we have to be to have our own Twitter accounts?” the short answer is, you will never be old enough. That’s unreasonable, I know we can’t shield our kids from the realities of life, the universe and everything.

What I can do is be the best mama bear I can be to protect my cubs from the creepers, trolls, and bullies that lurk around the corners of our digital world. This is no easy task but, good news, it’s not impossible. Our kids are way more capable and grounded than they get credit for sometimes.  This will be like teaching them how to cross the street, only replace street with entire internet and cars with anonymous boogeymen (or boogeywomen, I’m a feminist).

“A healthy approach to children’s media use…minimizes potential health risks and fosters appropriate and positive media use—in other words, promote a healthy ‘media diet’,” said Marjorie Hogan, MD, FAAP, co-author of the American Academy of Pediatrics policy “Children, Adolescents and the Media

healthy media diet

Here is how I keep my kids safe online:

      1. Set clear boundaries and limitations: Our main rule is no devices on school nights, unless it’s for homework or research purposes.  It’s been a standing rule since they starting giving up baby blocks for Gameboys. It works, they find all sorts of creative ways to spend their time.
      2. Stop, look and listen:  Another rule that has served us well is not allowing them to link up to online friends we don’t already know offline. I do sit with my kids while they play to make sure this is the case. I listen to how they interact to make sure respect and compassion are not qualities reserved only for face to face interactions.
      3. Talk about the dangers: It’s not easy being a kid. Academic pressure, peer pressure and responsibilities at home can make childhood less than a cake walk.  When you add to that the rate at which kids get and spread information, bullying gets upgraded to terrorism.  I can’t stop it, I can only talk to my kids about it and let them know the truth. People suck sometimes.  Given this knowledge, when they finally do have to face a bully they will think, “My parents told me all about you, they prepared me for this” it may not lessen the sting but it will certainly help them cope.
      4. Do your homework:  Whenever my kids ask for a new video game, an app, or piece of technology the first thing I do is research. Who is the product marketed to, if it’s my kids, is it appropriate according to my standard?  What are other parents saying about the product? Will this product enhance or harm my child’s psyche. I realize video games don’t drive kids mad. I do believe, however, that exposure to any type of media over a prolonged period of time can influence a person’s perspective. So I am careful, if not overly protective, when it comes to the media I will allow my children to consume.
      5. Use technology to your advantage:  The 21st century is an overwhelming jumble of privilege and convenience. Our kids have access to information I couldn’t have imagined in my childhood.  I’m grateful for it, as a book worm the idea of having a library in the palm of my hand is incredible.  My philosophy is to embrace it and find tools and technology to assist me in my cause.  Most smartphones come equipped with safety features, that can block inappropriate websites and apps.  Visit your providers web site to learn about the features available for your phone.

It’s important for me to play an active role in how my children use technology and consume media.  I have come to the realization that my parental reach must cover way more territory than my own backyard.  It’s my job to provide adventure and protection in healthy doses. How do you manage your child’s technology and media consumption? What are some of your house rules? Share them with me, I can use all the advice I can get!

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