When I was growing up, cartoons were only on Saturday mornings, it was rude to use call waiting, and the poor choices you made were “life lessons” that generally resulted in a sore bottom, being grounded, or both. The lessons would be learned and the consequences suffered in a relatively small circle (your home or community), but would be long forgotten by the time you entered the job market.
Today, the internet and the easy access to it through mobile devices allows the sharing of information at unprecedented rates. Mobile devices allow us to record our lives, share information to the world, and make comments on the information shared by others. Information that used to be relatively closely held is now public and available to be used by anyone who finds it. The problem is that people (especially our kids) may have a greater desire to be popular than respected and what they post, like, or otherwise share on the internet may not be a true reflection of who they are or who they will become. As a result, the choices our kids make in how they use the internet may have unexpected consequences.
In September 2013, a United States Court of Appeals court ruled that “Liking” a post on a social media site is a “substantive statement” being made by the user and is entitled to the same free speech protections as other modes of expression. In other words, if you “Like” a post on Facebook you are adopting the statement or endorsing it as your own statement. Yes, a simple click is the same as publishing text that states you agree with or support whatever was liked. From your “Likes” and other posts on social media sites, social profiles are built and your digital brand is born. This digital brand is used by companies to market their products and services to you. More concerning is that over 90% of employers utilize information found on social media sites when making a hiring decision. Information found on the internet is used in my practice as a family lawyer and we use it in our home to monitor who our kids are with and what our kids are doing when we are not with them.
The technological culture that parents face is often overwhelming and it causes many parents to ignore the threat or to simply throw up their hands insisting they cannot master this unfamiliar new culture. But understanding our technological world and the potential consequences of the improper use of it are now a necessity that must be undertaken to protect your child’s future opportunities, health, and safety. Our children need to understand that their digital choices today may have consequences that are long term and presently totally unexpected. Here are five rules to help you manage safe internet use with your family.
Know Which Sites/Applications Your Child Uses (and Might Use)
Every parent needs to be up-to-date on the latest applications and social media trends. Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram have largely replaced Facebook among younger users. Keep track of what is trending in social media and consistently look at the applications that your child is using. Monitor the sites they visit and make sure you are following them and their friends. Currently, you can gather a lot of information about the choices your kids and their friends are making via Instagram.
Get All Logins and Passwords
The most important thing to remember is that Internet use is a privilege not a right. You should require your child to provide you with his or her logins and passwords to each and every site, social media account, and/or device. If this demand sparks a tantrum, then your child is not ready for his or her own device or instant access to the Internet! If you child does not want to provide you with this information you should ask yourself what they are hiding.
Make it Clear – NO Privacy
Your child should not have an expectation of privacy with their electronic devices, the applications on the devices, or the internet sites they visit. Make it clear to your child that you will be looking at who they are communicating with on their devices (text, instant message, etc), what they are communicating about, and what sites they are visiting on the internet. You must be consistent in your monitoring. The key to success is what you do with the information that you gain while monitoring. It is important that you teach your kids through the poor choices they make so you build their trust and they learn that they can ask you for advice in advance. In our family, we generally engage our kids in a discussion to educate them on what is appropriate and discipline for a repeat violation of a clear rule. Our strict monitoring has been very helpful in teaching our kids how to communicate more effectively with their peers.
No deleting Rule (Automatically Back Up Your Child’s Postings)
In our house our kids are not allowed to delete anything on their devices. If they do delete something, it is an automatic loss of the privilege of using any device. This rule reduces the likelihood that a problematic post or inappropriate text message will be deleted before you see it. If you set your devices to back up automatically to the cloud (wirelessly) you can restore a back up to confirm any suspected deletions. A number of tools, such as the Uknowkids app, can help you accomplish this.
Set a Good Example
What messages do your “likes” convey? Do your postings convey an accurate picture of who you are? Do your postings lift others up or tear them down? Are your posts positive or beneficial to the reader? What does your social profile say about you? These questions need to be considered by all of us and when we are using the internet we must lead by example. If you want your child to be safe on the internet and protect its future opportunities, you need to model intelligent Internet use. After all, when we practice what we preach, we are in a much stronger position when it comes to enforcing family rules.
It is important to remember that the proper use of technology is a life skill that parents must now teach to their kids. We cannot turn the World Wide Web over to our kids and expect them to know how to manage it. Educate your kids on the proper use of the internet and the potentially life alerting impact of poor choices. Teach your kids how to communicate in today’s digital age. Inform them of situations that may arise that require a face to face meeting or phone call and that a text should not be sent.
Finally, remember that the electronic device is our kid’s lifeline. If you do not take control and set boundaries now, you may quickly lose control. In the event, you feel you have or are losing control, put all devices in “time out” and get back to focusing on family time.