June is when most kids and teens begin summer vacation. That means more time to spend online, and it’s typically from mobile devices. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 88 percent of teens have a smartphone or feature phone and of these, 90 percent use their mobile device to go online at least once a day.
June also is National Online Safety Month, which means a fresh crop of tips for parents who want to make sure their kids stay safe. Two places to start are the National Children's Advocacy Center’s (NCAC) list and ConnectSafely.
NCAC Community Education Program Manager/Therapist Beth Jackson recommends that parents avoid scare tactics because they’re ineffective. Ditto for forbidding this app or that website because that makes them even more tempting. Instead, Jackson recommends talking with kids and teens in a way that helps them understand how being impulsive has permanent consequences.
“Communicate that whether you’re texting, on an app or anything else, everything is public and permanent,” Jackson says. “It’s not scare tactics. It’s taking that little extra step to think before they do something.”
Another tip is to keep up with all of the apps, websites and other online services that kids and teens use. One way is by simply asking them what their friends use. Another way is to keep an eye out for news stories and then use those to guide discussions about the importance of making good decisions.
Parents also can take advantage of tools available from the companies that provide their wired and mobile broadband services. For example, Verizon’s FamilyBase gives parents a dashboard-style view of how their kids are using their mobile phones, as well as the ability to control their calling, messaging and data access.
The Internet also is a powerful new opportunity for parents to protect their kids, especially ones too young to have a cell phone. For example, the GizmoPal by LG is a wristwatch-style device for pre- to middle-school-age kids. GizmoPal uses GPS to report their whereabouts to an app that their parents install on their smartphones. The device also has a button that kids simply press to make a call to their primary or secondary caregiver, and they can receive calls from two additional approved contacts.
Finally, don’t be afraid to tell your kids when it’s time to put away their phone or tablet for a while. They might actually thank you.
“Some research shows kids at times do want to be disconnected,” Jackson says. “They feel a lot of pressure to have their phones or their tablets with them. Sometimes they want parents to be the bad guy: ‘I couldn’t respond because my mom took my phone.’”