Keeping Your Kids Safe on Social Media: A Parenting MUST

I went to high school at a time when once could get after-school detention for passing PAPER notes in class, doctors were known to wear pagers or “beepers,” and our solar system still contained nine planets. (R.I.P., Pluto.)

This all just SCREAMS old to my kids, and honestly I have to agree with them. A lot has changed from the early 90s . . . a WHOLE lot. The high school yesteryears have nothing on being a teenager these days. All thanks to one (not so) teeny, tiny invention: the Internet.

While the Internet can be a magnificent tool to make our daily lives easier, it has also added an enormous stress for parents. The fear of keeping our kids safe on the Internet is something that parents of my generation knew nothing about. After all, we spent our childhood drinking tap water and riding bicycles without helmets. It was just what we did back then.

Looking at the world around us now, it is imperative that we (parents of today) know what to do to keep our kids/teens safe when it comes to using social media, the Internet, and any type of technology that is in the process of being invented as we speak. Knowing that you need to protect your kid on the Internet is one thing, but knowing how to do so is a completely different thing. Technology advances at warp speed, and how we protect our kids this week may not work next week. 

The only answer I have for this issue: Stay current on what is going on in the cyberworld. Be an active part of your child’s online presence. Do your research, and do it often. Hopefully, you will find one or two little nuggets of info that I have found in my research helpful. 

The Basics

By now, many of us know how important it is to monitor our kids’ Internet usage. My kids know that anything they search on their devices or computers is 100 percent viewable by mom and dad, that the Internet is FOREVER, that they are not to give out personal information over the web, and that we have all passwords for devices and websites.

We also have parental controls on sites, but we always remind ourselves that even those aren’t a guarantee our kids aren’t accessing inappropriate things. There always seems to be a way around those, or a point where those safeguards are no longer effective.

Bottom Line: Be involved in your children’s cyber use. It doesn’t have to be daily. Do random “spot” checks on their devices. Our checks normally don’t reveal much other than we let them spend too much time on devices (hangs head in shame). However, if your kids know you have the capability of checking in on a moment’s notice, it will help remind them of the dos and don’ts of safe Internet usage.

teen texting smile graffiti wall sittingApps 

Seriously, these things SCARE me. Apps that are seemingly harmless, or even created with good intentions, have a way of spiraling downward. 

Recent studies show a dramatic decline in Facebook activity among the younger crowd. So, where are they? Where are the kids of today “hanging out” most of the time?

  • Snapchat. This app is currently showing the most growth among kids/teens. And what’s not to love about it? The messages aren’t forever, and they have such fun filters to add to your pictures, am I right?
    Bottom Line: Because the message goes away in a few seconds, kids/teens may think they can say and do anything, including sharing inappropriate messages and/or pictures. However, the messages can be captured and then shared with others, without the originator’s knowledge or consent. The location feature can tell others, even strangers, the exact spot you are currently at. That scares the heck out of me!
  • Houseparty. What could be better than an app that will allow you to video chat with several friends at once? Kind of like the modern-day version of the “party line” that we grew up with. So fun!
    Bottom Line: While on the surface, this app seems harmless, the potential for danger is very serious. The ability to host a group video chat with many kids allows for cyberbullying to happen in real time, opens your child up to other people whom their friends invite, and the video aspect alone allows for the potential of explicit content to be shared.

smartphone laptop headphones apps

  • Monkey. This app, with an adorable picture of a monkey, has been downloaded more than three million times since its launch in November 2016. With more than 300,000 active users, it allows people to hold “face-to-face” chats with new people from all over the world. It gives you suggestions based on your profile and sends you people to connect with for a brief chat, and then on to the next person you go. What a fantastic way to learn about faraway places and cultures from around the world!
    Bottom Line: Age verification for this app lies solely on whether or not you have a Facebook or Snapchat account. This means Monkey is assuming these sites verified the user’s age when the accounts were created. Definitely not a for-sure safeguard to rely on. Users are sharing all kinds of personal information (name, profile picture, date of birth, IP address, etc.) with total strangers. While the first chat is intended to be brief, it doesn’t have to be. If you want to continue chatting with someone, you can add more time or add him or her to Snapchat to keep the connection open.

Ways Kids Circumvent Parental Controls

Kids today are smart when it comes to technology — much smarter than we. Staying ahead of the latest tech trends will give you the upper hand in trying to keep your kids safe online. There are a few ways that kids try to hide their usage of certain apps.

  • Jailbreak and Icon Hiding. Jailbreaking refers to modifying the manufacturers’ settings to install prohibited software. This also allows your child to install content you might have restricted access to. Kids may also use simple everyday tools such as a calculator app to hide pictures and content that they don’t want you to see. They create a file and keep it hidden behind this app. When you peruse their smartphone on a spot check, the calculator app blends in perfectly with “acceptable use” of technology.
  • Deleting/Reinstalling Forbidden Apps. “Sure, Mom, I will delete my Snapchat app if you aren’t comfortable with me having it.” Yay, you think to yourself — you have done your part as a parent. Then, as soon as your child is out the door, he or she reinstalls said app, uses it all day long, and then promptly deletes it before walking in the house at the end of the day. See? I told you they are smart little boogers!

Bottom Line. If your child’s phone has several calculator icons, that’s a HUGE red flag. Don’t assume the app is safe based on the app icon. Open it; see what it is about. If you want to see deleted apps, all you have to do is Google your model of phone along with “how to find deleted apps,” and you will have a plethora of tutorials at your fingertips.

teen texting coffee shopTrust me. It isn’t a matter of being nosey or spying on our kids. It is our duty to protect them from life’s dangers as well as teach them ways to protect themselves in the future.

If that comes across to your child/teen as being intrusive, then you my friend are doing the right thing. Our job as parents isn’t to be our kids’ friends or to be the cool mom. Our job of raising tomorrow’s leaders and productive citizens is a huge task, but protecting our kids trumps everything. Their very lives depend on it . . . and as parents of kids in the the Gen Z era, we owe it to them. 

How do you help keep your child/teen safe when using the Internet? One can never have too much help!

Anna moved to Fort Worth fresh out of college in hopes of finding a job. She quickly landed a teaching job on the northside of town and has officially declared Texas her home “for the time being.” Spending the last two and half years in her “cloffice,” she devoted all of her evenings and weekends to online lectures, grad school assignments, and research. She recently graduated with her masters in special education with an emphasis in dyslexia and acquired a strong dislike of statistics and APA7 in the process. Married for 21 years and a mom to three teens, she spends her free time recouping the thousands and thousands of hours of lost sleep that motherhood gifted her. When not napping, you can find her listening to her favorite crime podcasts, singing showtunes, or attending any school event that involves her talented offspring. She openly shares her journey of parenting a neurodiverse teenager through the unpredictable, yet rewarding, days of high school to help families like hers.


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