Parenting is hard. We all know and accept this. The minute you were released from the hospital with a newborn you realized it was not going to be easy. I remember being overwhelmed in the car ride home from the hospital, and like most new parents I’m sure I looked like a deer in headlights. So you lean on others to guide you; parenting books, doctors and nurses, your parents, relatives, friends and your spouse. With the help of a village you are able to face the challenge of caring for the new little person in your house.
As your children get older, the challenges evolve and become more complicated. Nowhere is this more pronounced than with parenting online. The Internet, smartphones, YouTube, social media and interactive video games add a whole new level of complexity to parenting. Now, you need to be a parent in the real world and the cyber world! It is daunting trying to protect your child when a whole world of danger is right in their pocket, at their fingertips and one click away.
As internet cyber safety expert with over 10 years of experience and parent of three kids ages 10 through 15, I empathize with that look of fear in parents’ eyes as they watch their kids slipping into the world of digital communications. I’ve been there. I’m living it too. The teenage years are hard enough but add sexting, social media and cyberbullying to the mix and it can seem impossible. It’s not unlike that first car ride home from the hospital. You’re thinking ‘can I handle this?’ The answer is yes, you can. You just need to rely on your instincts, your support group and the technology itself.
A large part of parenting is just to be there, to show up. This is the same online. Ask your kids what their favorite sites, games, apps, and devices are and why. Watch them play their games, go to their favorite websites and yes, follow and friend them on social media. You don’t need to be stalking them online and you certainly don’t need to comment on every post. But it is important to know and understand the apps they use so you can be aware of the dangers, help them adjust the safety settings and guide them to use technology in a healthy way.
Parental Monitoring Simplified
It’s the parent’s first and foremost responsibility to keep kids safe online and off. Communication is most important, and there’s no shame in letting them know it’s your job to keep tabs on their safety wherever they go. If you do decide to use monitoring software, it is important that you let your kids know. To help build trust and openness, don’t be incognito and “spy” on them, but rather be open honest about checking in on them
That’s where a great parental monitoring tool can help. I recently teamed up as a cyber expert with Family Zone, which offers a full-service parental monitoring solution that makes life easier for busy parents who are dedicated to keeping their kids cybersafe.
With Family Zone, you get a Wi-Fi filtering system that works on every device connected to the internet – game consoles, smartphones, tablets and laptops – whether they are inside your home or taken out.
The Family Zone portal and app allow parents to easily manage screen time, restrict inappropriate content, limit social media and more. Another great aspect of the Family Zone solution is that you can get help and advice from a cyber expert, who will guide you on the ever-changing apps and tech trends that are popular with kids. Nothing is foolproof but Family Zone can provide enough of a safety net that parents can get some peace of mind.
Learn from Experts
Many schools around the country host on-site internet safety workshops by companies like Cyberwise and my company, Cyber Sensible, that are for both students and their parents. Look for one in your community or organize one for your book club, PTA or child’s soccer team. Also, more and more schools are requiring digital literacy or digital citizenship instruction included as part of their curriculum. Other schools are including programs such as Cyber Civics to teach their kids the fundamentals of interacting online. Find out what your school is offering to make sure your child is learning the digital skills needed to be safe, responsible and successful online.
Have the Tech Work FOR You
It’s always good to have a safety net in place. There is technology designed to help parents with the daunting task of online safety. There are privacy and safety settings on the devices, apps, browsers and games popular with kids and families. The problem is that they need to be set up independently.
It should not feel like Mission Impossible to keep our families safe while connecting in cyberspace. Every parent needs to feel empowered to handle the demands of parenting online. Luckily, there is a movement to promote online safety, good digital citizenship and civility online. Microsoft has Family Features, Apple has Family Sharing, Google launched “Be Internet Awesome”, Instagram instituted new safety measures and Facebook regularly updates their privacy tools—just to name a few of the latest developments. These are all steps in the right direction, but managing all of them, separately, can be cumbersome. Family Zone is one solution that can simplify some of this for parents. So don’t feel overwhelmed, use the resources available to you so that online safety is a mission possible.
Denise Lisi DeRosa is an expert in online safety, digital citizenship and a frequent speaker on parenting in the digital age. Denise founded Cyber Sensible in 2015 to provide online safety and digital citizenship advice to families, parents, youth and schools. She focuses her discussions on practical ways to both manage and capitalize on technology with internet safety tips, tech life balance advice, and social media strategies for digital reputation management