For today’s kids, iPads and Nintendo Switches are as familiar as Legos and bicycles. Last year, Common Sense Media’s nationally representative parent survey showed that no less than 98 percent of households with kids have mobile devices.
Statistics like this signal that parents shouldn’t be asking whether their children are online—that’s a given at this point. Rather, they should be asking how to proactively help kids have positive and creative digital experiences. Kids can and will operate tablets and smartphones, sometimes before they’re potty trained or know their ABCs. What they need is for their parents to provide safe entry into the world of virtual entertainment, education and engagement.
Initiating Healthy Tech Usage
Parents regularly warn young children not to talk to strangers or wander off in busy stores, but they also need to include information about online interactions in their safety talks. To be fair, many parents are discussing smarter tech behavior and expectations with their kids. The problem is a lot of them aren’t doing it soon enough.
Kids under the age of nine spend 48 minutes on mobile devices every day and 42 percent of those devices are their own. In other words, plenty of parents are putting technology into young kids’ hands without context or rules. Without guidance, kids simply aren’t equipped to recognize and report potentially harmful online content or conduct. They’re also naturally interested in viewing recommended content and will almost always click buttons or reply without considering consequences. A curious 5-year-old who’d never run into a busy street might eagerly launch an app without thinking twice.
Parents need to start early when it comes to keeping their kids safe online. Use these ideas to get started.
1. Tell a story.
Young kids have a strong understanding of good versus bad—it’s why most children’s stories have antagonists. Parents can use this to their advantage when talking about what could happen online. Come up with scenarios that kids might encounter on apps and social media and discuss what they should do if they see signs of danger. Kids are familiar with this kind of storytelling approach and it can help them to identify red flags and respond appropriately.
2. Keep devices locked.
Parents’ devices should be kept locked at all times, enabling them to control when and where their children go online. By keeping login information between the adults in the house, parents can prevent kids from seeing potentially harmful content. Make sure tweens or teens know not to share codes with younger siblings. If they do—or if little ones figure out login credentials—change the passwords.
3. Approve app downloads.
If a child is younger than 13, don’t automatically press the download button. Parents should investigate an app’s age rating, explore user comments and familiarize themselves with the game or platform. Then, they should ask children how they heard about the app and what they plan to do with it. Parents might be surprised by what they discover when they do a little digging.
4. Determine the community aspect.
Although there are many platforms that foster connections and community, they weren’t all intended for young children. Kids should stay off social media until they’re old enough to understand the potential risks. But, if parents do let their young children engage on those platforms, they should make sure that comments and activity can be moderated. By monitoring these online interactions, parents can help their kids recognize and report inappropriate behavior.
5. Supplement with safe and trusted tech.
Parents don’t need to completely ban their children from using technology. Tools like Apple’s iOS 12 can be helpful for families that want greater insight into their kids’ tech usage. Circle with Disney also gives parents more control and insight into what children are doing. The better equipped parents are, the easier it is to prevent bad activities and have more meaningful conversations.
It’s not realistic to keep children away from technology forever—it’s part of reality. So parents owe it to their kids to teach them how to make wise choices in both their offline and online experiences. There’s no better time to start than today.