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SALT LAKE CITY — Thanks to advances in technology and the rise of the smartphone, we only have to reach into our pockets or purses to have access to an endless amount of information and entertainment. Unfortunately, this connected world poses some distinct new challenges for parents concerned with keeping their children safe.
The National Sex Offender Public Website published some alarming statistics regarding child and teen sexual abuse and technology. For example, 13 percent of youths who use the internet receive unwanted sexual solicitations, according to the website, while 9 percent have been exposed to distressing sexual content online.
Apart from the risk of predators, there is plenty on the airwaves and the internet that isn’t appropriate for a kid. Violent movies, vulgar language, pornography — it’s often just a quick channel change away. How can parents allow kids to access the benefits of the digital age while keeping them out of harm’s way (and off the adult channels)?
1. Learn and use parental controls
Parental controls are available on all common mobile devices and computers, and many cable and satellite TV boxes also have them built in. Scott Teran, online safety expert with Reviews.org, explains, “When it comes to keeping your children away from inappropriate content, one of the easiest things you can do is make use of parental controls on your kids’ devices to limit their access.”
Parental controls also allow you to restrict use to a certain list of apps you’ve approved, specify which websites your children are allowed to visit, set time limits and more — all without constant monitoring. You set it up once, and then you can forget about it.
2. Stay up to date on trends
To keep your teens safe online, you need to know what trends they’re following. Occasionally check some tech sites to educate yourself about the latest social networks. Visit popular websites and see what kind of content they have. Watch the latest TV craze and make sure it’s appropriate. Keep up to date in order to keep your kids safe.
3. Teach your kids the importance of privacy
Online privacy is important, but kids might not know that. The last thing you want them doing is broadcasting phone numbers, addresses or other personal information online. Not only can predators use that information, but child identity theft is also a real risk.
4. Help them set up privacy controls on social networks
Don’t just talk about privacy. Sit down with your kids and go through their various accounts: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, whatever they use. Make sure the privacy settings are as strict as they can be, and take the time to explain why each setting is important. For example, you want their Facebook page visible only to friends because their profile could have personal information that you don’t want strangers to see.
5. Friend or follow their accounts
Friend your children, even on platforms you wouldn’t normally use. You might not care one bit about Twitter, for example, but creating an account and following your kids allows you to casually keep tabs on their activity. Watch for odd comments, inappropriate links, or people you don’t recognize, and if you see something concerning, don’t wait to bring it up.
Keep the lines of communication open. This is so important. Ask your kids if they’ve discovered any cool websites lately or talk about something you both might have seen on Facebook. You want them to be comfortable coming to you if something bad does happen (someone sends them inappropriate photos, for example), and the best way to get there is to encourage and practice open communication.
Couple communication with the rest of these tips, and you’ll have a powerful tool kit for keeping your kids safe online.
Alyse Ainsworth is a writer, marketer and mother. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org