A Guide to Modern Tech Safety for Kids and Teens
MAY 25, 2023
A Guide to Modern Tech Safety for Kids and Teens
Modern kids and teens are spending more time online than ever before.
A recent study found that teenagers currently spend more than eight and a half hours a day online outside of school, and younger children average five hours of screen time each day. So much of our children’s world is online nowadays, so it is vital that they know how to navigate the internet safely.
New tech also presents new challenges. Tablets, iPads, and some wearable tech bring unique risks that parents must be aware of before allowing their children access to this technology.
In this article, we will give you a rundown of the state of the internet today, and dive into the potential threats your child may face online.
How Kids and Teens Are Using Tech
Understanding the way your kid uses their devices is the first step to protecting them online.
Many of us are familiar with smartphones in our everyday life – you may even be reading this article on a smartphone right now! Smartphones often have independent internet access via 4G or 5G, and their operating systems prioritize app access and usage. But you can also find smartphones made for kids that have limited or no internet access and focus on calls, texts, and media.
Smart Watches & Wearables
Smart watches and other wearable tech are excellent alternatives to a phone. There are many wearables designed for children that aim to encourage movement and activity. Your child can utilize a safe children’s smartwatch to place calls and send texts on the go, track their daily step counts, and manage their tasks.
Tablets and iPads
In essence, tablet computers have an operating system very similar to smartphones, with the same mobility, but more processing power. However, tablets tend to rely on wi-fi connectivity versus data usage, therefore accessibility to the internet and apps is a possibility, opening up the risk of dangerous content.
Desktop computers and laptops will be commonplace as your child advances through school. Many modern kids and teenagers use their computers largely for academics and video gaming. It’s important to be aware of the risks that come with using a computer at school.
Managing Your Child’s Screen Time
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology recommends that children over the age of six maintain healthy boundaries around screen time and minimize non-educational screen usage as much as possible, and that screen time be limited for young children under the age of five. Extended screen time can lead to mood swings, disrupted sleep, and withdrawal from family and friends.
High quality educational apps and services can help encourage your child’s love for learning. Your local library may even have ebook and audiobook rental apps that you can use for free! Proactively setting limits on screen time can help your child maintain healthy boundaries as they mature and avoid technology addiction.
Popular Apps Your Child May Be Using
These are some of the most common social media apps your child may be using.
TikTok is a video-sharing app that is hugely popular among teens and kids. On TikTok, users can create short videos that range from fifteen seconds to three minutes long. The app has been criticized for being “addictive,” as its finely-tuned algorithm aims to get users watching for as long as possible. TikTok also has harmful content and child grooming, making it unsafe for children.
Instagram is a photo-sharing app that also has video capability. Owned by Meta, this network allows users to post selfies, landscapes, and any other photo they want to share. As of 2023, it was the most popular app for influencers. Instagram contributes to body dissatisfaction and unhealthy social comparisons.
BeReal is a real-time photo sharing app that encourages its users to post unfiltered photos of themselves alongside what is in front of them once a day. The aim of this app is to “show unfiltered moments” and create a more authentic news feed than other social media apps. It can lead to an unhealthy focus on screens, rather than what is happening around a child.
Snapchat is a photo-messaging app that automatically deletes messages once they have been read. Many teens use it as a form of texting, carrying on regular conversations, and maintaining daily snap streaks by sending and opening “snaps” with each other at least once a day. Snapchat’s security, though, is lacking – and may leave your child at risk. Snapchat is also known for facilitating cyberbullying.
When navigating the online world, your child may encounter cyberbullying. It is imperative that you are educated on the signs of cyberbullying and know how to protect your child from online bullies. Cyberbullying can take many forms, and can be easy to hide – so you need to know what to look for.
What Is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that takes place entirely online. Cyberbullying can happen in message rooms, on social media, in video games, and direct communications. The aim of cyberbullies is to make their victim feel ashamed, scared, or ostracized from their social group.
The cyberbullies may send abusive or threatening messages directly to their victim, or spread rumors about them on social media. They may post embarrassing or private photos of their victim and encourage others to leave hurtful comments. They may also “catfish” their victim, where they pretend to be another person in order to get close to somebody; conversely, they may use their victim’s photos to impersonate them online and make them look bad.
Though cyberbullying looks different from case to case, any form of online harassment can be considered cyberbullying. Online bullying is unfortunately common among modern kids and teens, and often accompanies real-life bullying. However, unlike in-person bullying, cyberbullying leaves a written record of what’s happened.
Signs Your Child is Being Cyberbullied
Though cyberbullying can sometimes fly under a parent’s radar, there are some telltale symptoms that your child may be facing online harassment.
If your child seems overly sensitive to change, experiences mood swings, or becomes extremely protective of their phones or devices, these may be signs that cyberbullying is affecting them. Being the victim of a cyberbullying campaign can cause children to withdraw from their daily lives, internalizing the message that their bullies pass along.
How to Prevent Cyberbullying
Though there aren’t many surefire ways to prevent cyberbullying, you can lower the chances that it will happen to your child. Being cognizant of your child’s internet activity and staying involved in their online endeavors, especially while they’re young, can help you spot the signs of harassment early.
Emphasize that your child should only talk to people they know in real life while online. Make sure your child knows how to adjust their privacy settings, how to report harmful comments, and when to log off and walk away.
How to Address Cyberbullying
It’s important to respond once cyberbullying has happened. First, make sure your child knows that you are there to help them. Tell your child that you appreciate them coming to you and are going to help. It is imperative that your child feels safe and protected during this ordeal.
If the cyberbullying is happening on social media, show your child how to block and report the bullies’ accounts. Also walk through their privacy settings to make sure their posts are only viewable by friends. If the bullying is severe, it’s possible law enforcement might need to get involved. You may encourage your child to simply leave social media for some time.
If the cyberbullying is being perpetrated by kids your child knows in real life, alert their parents to the cyberbullying as well. You may want to loop in the school administration in order to discuss the bullying and work together to find a solution.
Protecting Your Child from Online Predators
It’s an uncomfortable truth that there are people online who may try to harm your child. Whether the person is a bully, a doxxer, or a predator, children must be taught to be vigilant about their online safety.
What Not to Share Online
Have frequent conversations with your child about information that they should never share online, especially to a stranger. This information includes:
● Their home address
● Their school
● Their phone number
● Driver’s license number
● Their parent’s full names
Explain to your child why it’s important to keep this information confidential, even if they think they can trust someone they met online. Teach them the signs of an online predator, and encourage them to trust any “gut feelings” they get about people online.
Maintaining Location Privacy
Walk through the location settings of all your child’s apps, and show them how to ensure their location is off at all times. Also emphasize the importance of not giving out information about where they live to strangers.
What to Do if Your Child is Approached Online
Parents can help prepare children to begin to recognize online predators. Have a thorough conversation with your child about “tricky people,” and how some people may try to gain their trust only to hurt them later on.
Regardless of the platform, block and report the person who is approaching your child. Be aware of which app or website your child was approached on, and keep an eye out for patterns of inappropriate behavior on those sites.
When children know that they can come to you with uncomfortable worries and problems they encounter online, they are more likely to ask for help. Parents can create safe spaces for their children to disclose anything that makes them feel uneasy.
Protecting Your Child from Adult Content
Adult content is readily available on all corners of the internet, from graphic and disturbing videos, to sexual content. If not protected, your child may come across a piece of media that they are not mature enough to understand.
Utilizing parental controls on your child’s devices may help keep your child from seeing harmful content. You can block whole apps and websites, and set ratings limits on the games they can download and videos they can buy. Unfortunately, most parental control software is easily bypassed and ineffective.
When your child does come across adult content, be ready to have an open and honest conversation about what they’ve seen and how to process it.
What the Future of Tech Holds for Kids and Teens
The technology world is constantly innovating, with new devices and programs coming out every year. One exciting development is the adoption of new tech in education curriculums, with digital literacy becoming a cornerstone of modern education standards. Your child will likely continue to use new forms of technology in the classroom, and will possibly utilize them at home as well.
As augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) become more popular and accessible, these may become the new frontier in technology. Parental controls in AR/VR worlds are still being developed, but the best way to stay on top of these new forms of tech is by staying informed.
Preparing Kids for Success
As technology advances and tech companies begin to cater to children and teens more and more, we can prepare our children to stay safer online. Protecting their privacy, staying away from age-inappropriate content, and managing screen time limits are just the beginning of internet safety rules. With more advanced technology comes new sets of rules, and healthy conversations around tech use set kids up for success.