How Can Parents Supervise Kids To Keep Them Safe From Harm?
There is a belief by some parents that they can allow their underage child access to adult and teen social media and messaging apps, as long as they supervise their child’s accounts and have educational talks with them. Many mobile apps used on iPods and smart phones only allow use by 13yr+ teens, but many parents are ignoring the legal terms of service requirements and allowing their children to use adult/teen apps, like Kik Messenger, Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram. Some parents actually share log-in’s/passwords with their child so that they can log into the same account and see what is going on…or they might friend their child online, or “look over their child’s shoulders”. They feel that by doing this that they can make sure that their child stays safe online along with education about online behaviour and by having regular “open conversations”. Because of the very nature of Social Media, this simply won’t do enough to protect your child from harm online, and may actually build a false sense of security.
Besides the obvious work-arounds that any ordinary tech savvy child can execute to evade their parents scrutiny, for example, deleting their instant messages and posts, setting up a secret account hidden from Mum and Dad, setting up a friend list where mum or dad is excluded. There’s one very important aspect of social media that many parents are not considering.
You cannot control what happens to content once you post it online.
This following scenario is the most common way children are hurt on social media:
Your child uploads an entirely innocent photo, and then the photo is ridiculed by their “friends”. The original intent and meaning of the photo is then lost, and the photo does the rounds of the internet with the cruel comments underneath it. The other way is, that your child comments on a post, and the comment and child is ridiculed for what they have said, and then that comment is screen shot, reposted, and further ridiculed. And all the while having a parent looking over the shoulder of that child did nothing to prevent it.
Parents of children who are using apps whilst underage, are relying on the kindness, support and maturity of their child’s friends and friends of friends, many of whom will be strangers to your child, for their child’s safety online.
I Cannot Stress This Enough
You may try to watch and approve every single post your child uploads to a social network or the internet, but there is nothing you can do to protect your children’s posts or photo’s or videos from being sent on to people your child didn’t intend to share with. You cannot control what other people say about your child’s posts, or comments. You can’t prevent your child’s photos or posts from being edited or disfigured or commented on. You can’t, through supervision, prevent your child’s posts from being uploaded to another website or social network or used to create a fake account under your child’s name which can then be used to embarrass and ridicule your child, which is one of the most common forms of cyber bullying at the moment on Facebook and Instagram. As a cyber safety consultant I have been contacted by many parents who’s children have had these experiences and then cannot find a way to get the content or the fake account taken down
The other reason to delay allowing your child on these 13yrs+ and 17yrs+ apps is the adult content available within them. You can’t filter the porn or swearing or pick-up messages within these apps, they are, as stated, designed for older teens and adults, not for children. The amount of porn available on apps like Instagram and Vine should make them 18+ in my opinion, because you can’t put safe search filters on them, as you can with other search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo. Many children are finding adult content without even trying. It is futile to activate safe search filters on your computers and modem to block porn, when you allow your child on Facebook and Instagram and Kik, where the filters don’t work, and adult content abounds. Apps on mobile devices are walled off from internet filters, you can only black list the entire app. To properly investigate the suitability of apps like Instagram for your young children you should view the public post stream, do a search for tags like #Joke #girls #cutekitty #Kikme #Kikmeimbored, but be warned if you’re sensitive to explicit content, as some of it is pretty hard core. Your child might use these search terms to look at other peoples pics, they are, as you can see, very commonly used search terms. The Kik #search terms are from people using Instagram to find connections for their Kik Messenger account.
1. Supervising your child online and educating your child about online behaviour won’t protect your child from being hurt online. Most parents don’t have the skills or the time to supervise their children expertly online, and even if they think they do, no parent can control what happens to their child posts online. Adult supervision and open conversations is essential for online safety for our kids, but not enough for younger children on adult/teen apps.
2. We need to slow down the uptake of adult apps by underage kids. Children exposed to adult content can be quite emotionally disturbed, and if children are using apps and social media designed for older teens and adults they certainly will be exposed to adult behaviour and material due to the lack of child friendly filters on these apps.
3.Waiting until your child and their friends are mature enough to behave responsibly online and respond appropriately is going to be a better outcome for your child’s health than allowing them access to an adult online world before they and their friends are ready.
4.Education on sexual behaviour and personal development needs to be in place before your child is exposed to adult material through apps and other online search engines. There just hasn’t been enough research to show that children are resilient to being shown adult content if accompanied with education and forewarning, to warrant the risk to their emotional health.
My son’s school have just announced that any child in the primary school found by the teachers to be using apps listed as 13yrs+ will be reported to the developers and owners of these apps as being underaged. The school principal explained that the school decided to take this approach after some serious incidents connected with these apps have had to be dealt with by the school.
Is your school doing something similar?