June is when most kids and teens begin summer vacation. That means more time to spend online, typically from mobile devices. According to a 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 is also 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) internet safety tips and ConnectSafely.org.
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.
Parental control apps, like Verizon Smart Family, can help you set boundaries
Parents also can take advantage of tools available from the companies that provide their wired and mobile broadband services. For example, Verizon Smart Family (formerly FamilyBase) gives parents the ability to track their child’s location through his or her mobile device. It also allows you to set content filters and control access to calling, messaging and data. There’s even a feature that lets you pause the internet – whether your child is using WiFi or mobile data – which is perfect for those times you want them to focus on the moment at hand.
A new safety tool for parents: Wearable devices for kids
Connected wearables represent another opportunity for parents to protect their kids, especially little ones too young to have a cell phone. For example, the GizmoPal 2 by LG is a wristwatch-style device for pre- to middle-school-age kids that uses GPS to keep track of your child’s whereabouts. You can monitor their location through an app that you can install on your smartphone. Plus, with a Gizmo device, checking in is easy. All your child has to do is press a button to make or answer a call from you or one of the small number of contacts you’ve pre-approved.
Limiting kids’ screen time might not be such a bad thing
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.’”