How to talk with kids about tech safety


BUCKHANNON — Smartphones, tablets, apps and more; they can all be convenient and useful but still pose a safety risk to young children. Just last year, Buckhannon had its own taste of social media madness. Alongside the chaos were back to back arrests of child predators. Constant connectivity can host a variety of risks, including cyberbullying, sexting, sextortion, theft and more. The Pew Research Center estimated that nearly 95% of teens have access to a smartphone, with 45% of teens revealing they are “online constantly.” Now, more than ever is the time to discuss the risks and responsibilities associated with operating technological devices.

NetSmartz is a platform akin to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Netsmartz revealed, “Teens reserve voice calls for their closest friends and prefer to use text messages for newer friends and acquaintances. The research also suggests that the omnipresence of smartphones helps strengthen friendships, with 62% of smartphone-owning teens reporting that texting allows them to keep in closer contact with close friends. Additionally, having internet access via a smartphone may help teens make and maintain new friendships, with 57% reporting having made new friends online.”

NetSmartz also reported that some children may unintentionally share their locations with the public through GPS technology as “check-ins” are used for restaurants, airports, new cities, etc. While it is fun to share where you have visited, it can be extremely dangerous as the “check-in” can reveal the exact location of where you are or have been. 

Data reveals that 97% of American girls and 95% of American boys today have access to a smartphone. In 2015, the average teen sent and received 67 text messages per day. Also, it has been reported that the average age in which a child gets a cell phone in the United States is 10 years old. 

NetSmartz has provided some information on how to talk about safety of cellphone and other devices. NetSmartz recommends asking the following:

• What do you use your phone for the most? Can you show me some of your favorite apps?

• Do you know everyone you have as a contact in your phone and on different apps?

• Has anyone ever taken an embarrassing picture of you without your permission?

• Have you ever taken an embarrassing picture of someone else? What did you do with it?

• Have you ever talked with someone you first met online on your cellphone?

• What would you do if someone sent you a text or picture that was inappropriate?

• Do you know how to turn off GPS and turn on privacy settings for the different apps you use?

Additionally, NetSmartz says to reinforce the following:

• Expectations and guidance for when children are allowed to use their cellphones, what websites they can visit and what apps they can download

• The important of privacy — Know an app’s purpose before your child downloads it. Who are the users? What type of privacy settings are available?

• The idea that anything a user sends from their phones can be easily forwarded and shared

• The possible consequences of sending sexually explicit or provocative images or text messages with their phones

There are also many Parental Control Apps available, including Google Family and Norton Family. However, PCmag.com says, “Although the range of features parental control software supports is impressive, no system is perfect. If your children want to get around the limitations you impose, they will likely be able to do so either by using unmonitored devices or finding ways to wipe their devices clean of the controlling apps. Thus, it’s worthwhile to take the time to talk with your child about why you have installed monitoring software in the first place. After all, digital safety and security are worthwhile topics for everyone. It’s better to approach these conversations honestly, rather than have them find out on their own and stop trusting you. Especially for older children, it’s also important to listen to your child’s specific privacy concerns, rather than just setting rules and restrictions that may otherwise be seen as arbitrary.”

Some other important information is to check with your cell phone carrier about available apps or restrictions for your devices. Some carriers are able to filter out adult content automatically. 

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