Recently a news station ran this story: 15 apps parents should look out for on their kids' phones. They discussed apps where kids could be in contact with predators and exposed to inappropriate material. They go over the basic function of each app and express the dangers of each one.
This news story helps us see trending apps for teens and kids. There is a big problem with this story. Like most news, it leaves the viewer fearful and in a state of panic.
After a parent watches this story, they will most likely go straight to their child’s device(s) and see if they have these horrible apps. When they find one of the apps, they will freak out and think, “Who are they in contact with? Do they talk with people they don’t know? Are they talking with adults? Have they met or want to meet someone they don’t know in person? Are they safe?!?!”
Parents will be so focused on the potential problems with these apps they will miss a huge opportunity to parent.
Ensuring Online Safety with Our Kids
What is the best way to ensure our kids will make healthy decisions online? Is it by monitoring everything they do and scrutinizing every interaction? Or, is it by developing their understanding of healthy online use? Teaching, modeling, and helping them to make healthy decisions on their own without the supervision of anyone. Developing our kid’s online safety comes from healthy conversations.
If we are coming from a place of fear and panic, conversations with our kids about healthy online use might not go so well. We easily can project our fears onto our child. Yes, some of these apps have the potential for harm. But most of our kids are using these apps to just talk with their peers.
Talk with your child about their online use. Come at it from a place of curiosity and seeking to genuinely understand their perspective. Use the conversation to build the relationship and listen to them. Ask them, what they would do if someone they don’t know contacts them. See how they respond when you talk about online safety. Have them watch the news story and listen to what they say.
This leads to healthy conversations not fear-based, potentially accusatory, conversations.
What if They Are Not Being Safe Online?
If your child is talking to someone they don’t know or doing something inappropriate online, talk with them about it. Learn what’s driving them to engage in that behavior. Ask them if there is anything going on they want to talk about. Be there for them. Then listen.
Once you listen, discuss online boundaries. Discuss the importance of these boundaries and why they are there. Discuss the unfortunate problems with these apps. Talk about the potential for mean and legitimately dangerous people out there who take advantage of others. It’s okay for our children to have a healthy fear of the online world.
Then help them problem-solve ways to be healthy online. If your child is in elementary or middle school, teaching healthy online use is beneficial. If you have a teen, help them problem-solve healthy ways to interact online. Get their buy-in by letting them come up with ways to be healthy online. Talk about the apps they have and use examples.
It’s easy to be fearful of the dangers online. It’s easy to be fearful of the dangers in the real world. Just like we guide and mentor our kids to know right from wrong in the real world, do the same for the online world. Prepare them for a healthy online existence through your guidance and mentorship.
For additional guidance and tools for parents, check out the Parenting Resources section at escapingthe.com/resources.