When it comes to technology, parents may seem a little in the dark; Millennials and the generations to follow them were born with devices in their hands and it may seem like parents can never catch up.
But like all things, breaking down technology and its potential for good (and bad) is as easy as understanding how the apps or security settings work and making them customized to fit you and your family agenda. Sit down with your kids, figure out what they’re getting up to on their devices, and then get to learning—it’s much easier than it looks.
Apps & Websites
Parents who think they’re on the up and up because they know about Snapchat and Facebook are in for a rude awakening; these apps are only the tip of the iceberg. Teens (and the kids who are on there way to being teens) are varying their favorites across many different platforms, and it pays to know where your guys are spending their time (and sometimes your iTunes money).
- Kik Messenger. This app allows kids to text for free if they’re using the basic system and it’s a work around for when you’re not ready for your children to go crazy with the data and unlimited text plan. Where it gets sticky is in the promoted chats that cost additional fees and when strangers are allowed to share their usernames and look for other usernames within the app.
- ooVoo. ooVoo is a free video, messaging, and text app as well that allows for group chats up to 12 people for free. The great thing about this app is it only allows for users to chat with their approved friends and it’s popular for helping kids get help with homework from their peers or work on a school project without having to be in the same place.
- Snapchat. A favorite among all ages, this 13+ app allows users to send video and picture messages that disappear after ten seconds. Due to it’s “disappearing act” many teens feel safer about sharing sexually explicit content than they normally would, but the phone does actually store the data and allows for screenshots to be taken.
- YikYak. Built for 17+ (and actually aimed for college students) Yik Yak is an anonymous social media platform that doesn’t require any personal information to join, other than a location. This allows for it’s users to post or “yak” about certain regional happenings, and the “yakkers” can like or dislike posts to move them up or down the shared viewing wall.
- Ask.fm. This anonymous app allows for people to pose questions to both friends and strangers app and it has been linked to intense cyber bullying and suicides and has even caused many schools to send home parent letters requesting that they remove their children from the app. With little regulation and moderating of content, the app is considered very dangerous.
- Tinder. Another 17+ app (but gets away with users as young as 13 due to its linking with Facebook for use of profile pictures), this one is becoming a generational icon akin to Sex and the City for it’s hookup stories and addictive “swiping.” Also a user of location services, since it pulls from available matches from within a certain mile radius, it’s possibility for catfishing, stalking, and sexual harassment is pretty high.
Reporting problems is narrowed down into two fields: problems with the technology and problems created by the technology. For problems with technology, it’s better to go to the source; report all technology problems, just as slow servers, malfunctioning apps, and slow download speeds directly to the manufacturer. It may take longer, but not only will they know the system best, but you’ll be helping them make improvements for the next incarnations of their products. A good rule of thumb is to have a hard drive backup of all your devices, be it a laptop, tablet, or smartphone; it reduces a lot of stress when something goes wrong and you have to reset to factory settings.
When it comes problems created by technology, first you have to start at the source, and that’s with your kids. To manage the safety of your children online, the best place to begin is with listening to them and their engagement with technology with genuine interest and an open mind. You’ll build the kind of trust that is necessary when something happens online and they’ll be able to trust that you won’t overreact or judge their actions.
Next, let them offer solutions to online bullying (to figure out whether it’s cyber bullying or just rude, check out our guide here) before you tell them what your opinion is. By building their problem solving skills, you’re insuring that the next time they come across a problem, they’ll be able to handle it efficiently, and safely, on their own.
Safety & Security
To make sure your kids are using healthy habits when using their tech devices, use these three rules of thumb for internet safety.
- Set boundaries early. Before handing your kid their new device, make sure the rules are clear. It’s easy to just give them the keys to the kingdom and let them run with it, but it’s the safer route both for their privacy and for your bank account (hello in-app purchases) if you set clear rules at the start. Want some help getting started? Check out our guidelines here.
- Talk to your kids, and then talk to other parents. Whether it be to ask what they’re doing online, or what is popular with their friends, know which sites your kids are using. Kids, especially teens, are great at following group behavior so the odds are with them that they’re using the same apps as their friends. Next talk to the parents in your neighborhood, or the parents of your children’s friends. Not only do you get the inside track on what the kids are actually doing, but you can share