Every month, we hear about a new app or website causing problems for children across the country. While keeping track of all of them can seem like an uphill battle, another approach is to investigate how your children are using social media, texting and images in general, not just on specific apps or websites.
Check your child’s photos and/or videos. Look on their phones, devices, social media profiles, and webcam software for deleted files as well as existing content. A quick Internet search can find specific instructions on how to recover deleted photos or videos for almost any phone model.
Review the text messages your child is sending as well as the ones that he or she receives. If texts contain words that are unfamiliar or are in a context that don’t make sense, use a site like Urban Dictionary to verify their meaning. Check to see what time the messages are being sent. Many kids communicate electronically long after parents think they’re safely in bed. Most phone service providers offer parental programs that will allow you to monitor who your child is texting, although they will not necessarily allow you to see the content of the texts. They also offer controls that can limit the time of day phones can be used in addition to limiting who can be contacted via that specific device.
Look at which apps your child has installed on their phone or other devices. Be sure that you understand the purpose of each app, as well as how your child is using it. Does your child post images through it? Are they reposting inappropriate content of other users? Are they subscribing to feeds with adult content? Do they communicate with friends? Communicate with strangers? Make sure that privacy settings are the highest they can be and check all default settings to ensure no personally identifying information is being inadvertently shared. Use a search engine like Google to investigate the apps to see if other users have experienced problems. Check again next week and the week after that for as long as your child is using that app. What is used appropriately today may not be used in the same way tomorrow.
Monitor your child’s browsing history; not just on their computers, but on phones, gaming systems, tablets, ereaders or anything that has an Internet connection. Don’t take your child’s word that they won’t use devices inappropriately as brief lapses in judgment can have lasting consequences. If you don’t want to check the history on every device they have, then disable the features that allow them access to the outside world. If you’re not sure how to check the history, or suspect that they may be deleting information, consider installing monitoring software. Remember that gaming sites, social media sites, and even document sharing solutions can be used to communicate privately with other users. Evaluate both the content your child is posting as well as the content posted by others. You are the best judge of what is appropriate for your child.
Scrutinize anyone with whom your child is communicating. It’s hard enough to be a good judge of character in the real world, but it’s even harder for a child to recognize that someone they meet online may not be representing himself or herself honestly. Look for terms that seem out of place or would be unusual to hear from a younger person. For instance, calling someone “darling” was normal for teenagers some years ago, but now this or similar out of place phrasing should raise a red flag.
Talk to your child frequently about what you think constitutes being a good digital citizen and what you feel is and is not appropriate behavior. Review your rules for online behavior and how you will be monitoring the way your child is presenting him or herself. Discuss what they have seen online, and what concerns they have about how they and others, friends or strangers, are behaving. Explain how the consequences of what they do now can affect their lives long term. It is difficult to know how to protect children in today’s 24/7 world of communication. Teaching them to be safe and responsible in the digital world is just as important as it is in the real world.
Be aware that being in the same room with your child is not the same as knowing what they are doing. It’s easy to think that because you are near, your child isn’t going to be interacting with someone they shouldn’t. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Let your child know that you can and will be reviewing their online activities at all times.