Parenting Cyber-Kids: Knowing How to Monitor Their Online Activity

Tips I shared on the TODAY show to help parents monitor their  kids online behavior to boost Internet safety and curb inappropriate online activity

Kid Internet access is now everywhere–from laptops, to television screens, to cell phonesand Ipods. In the past ten years, the amount of time our kids spend online daily has tripled and become a regular part of even our younger kids lives. Though there are clear benefits, the Internet also poses unique parenting challenges. How does a parent know if their child is engaging in inappropriate Internet activities? And how would you know if your child is cyberbullied if he doesn’t tell you?

Fortunately, there are steps parents can take and clues that help us monitor our cyber-kids and keep them safer online: the key is we just need to learn what to look and listen for.

Keep in mind that you can’t monitor what you don’t understand and 64 percent of teens say they do things online that they wouldn’t want their parents to know about. So read those directions for each digital device. Attend workshops in your community or schools about Internet safety or ask your child to teach you how to use each digital device. Get savvy about your child’s online world so you can monitor. And do create clear Internet rules and post them on the computer.

Three Internet rules are especially critical: 1. People: Never meet anyone offline that you meet online. People are not always who you think they are online. 2. Public: The computer is public, so do not post unless you want the world—and Grandma-to read it. There are no take-backs! 3. Private: Do not give out personal information–passwords, name, birthdate, address, location, school name, social security numbers, and photos with personal data–or make it easy for people to find you.

Review those rules frequently and consider having your kids sign a pledge to adhere to them. Now you’re ready to become your family’s webmaster. Here are tips to help you monitor your cyber-kids!

 Tell Kids You Will Be Monitoring Online Behavior

Parenting kids online activities is not espionage if you let them know upfront that you will monitor their cyber-behavior just as you do offline. Just explain that you are responsible for their safety and well-being and what they post online represents your family.

What research says: When kids know their parents are monitoring their off or online actions they are less likely to engage in risky behavior. Studies also find that those parents who set clear Internet rules (87%) are more likely to have kids who adhere to them (vs. 63% who do not).

What parents can do: Tell your kids that you will be monitoring their online behavior with them. Just don’t tell when you will monitor, and how often. Monitoring factors and stealth power depends on your child’s age, social group, maturity and past record of responsibility.

Use the “Walk By” Rule: Emphasize that if at anytime you walk and see your child covering the screen, switching screens, closing programs, quickly turning off the computer, or not adhering to your family rules, pull the plug. End of argument.

Learn Kid Internet Slang and Trends

Stay on top of the latest Internet trends. Recognize that kids have their own unique lingo and abbreviations to warn friends that parents are in the room.

What research says: Ninety-five percent of parents don’t know common chat terms that kids use to text one another to warn friends that their parents are in the room.

What parents can do: Learn kid electronic slang and then watch for those abbreviations.

P911:  Mom or Dad in room

PA: Parent alert

POS: Parents over shoulder

PIR: Parent in room

PAW: Parents are watching

1,2,3,4,5 (Typing the numerals 1 to 5) Parent reading the screen

Be Where Your Kids Are Online

You can’t monitor what you’re locked out of, so insist that you know all your kids’ accounts and passwords and then set up accounts for yourself as well. Your teen needs to know you are watching (which is monitoring not spying!)

What research says: A teen survey found 56 percent of teens gave parents full profile access; 58 percent of parents don’t have their teen’s profiles.

What parents can do: Get accounts for all social networking sites your child frequents.

Be where your kids are. If your kids are on twitter, you need to be; if your kids have an email account, you must; if they have a Facebook page, so do you. Tell your teen to tell her friends-and their parents-you are monitoring.  (You’d be surprised how many teens and their parents appreciate that monitoring!)

Befriend each other. Ask your teen to allow you to become a friend on his or her account. Ask him to help create your page (Big hint: Do not post on your teen’s account without permission, which can be a big turn off and do not set up a page without your teen’s approval — another big turnoff).

Keep Internet Access in Places You Can Monitor    

You can’t monitor your child’s online activities in places you can’t be or see, so don’t allow the computer in places you can’t supervise. Keep your computer in public places you can supervise such as the kitchen, family room, or living room and remove Internet access from the bedroom. You can restrict Web access by calling your carrier and ask how to block Internet access during key times or ages you can’t supervise.

What research says: More than 1/4 of teens say they have Internet access in their bedroom where parents cannot monitor and they say they continue to receive texts after lights out.

What parents can do:

Make the bedroom Internet free. Remove Internet access from your child’s bedroom-especially after lights out.

Do a “Collect and Drop”: Have your kids and teen drop cell phones, keyboards, I-pads or laptops in a designated basket each night and out of the bedroom. Then periodically (but don’t tell when!!!)  review personal posts, texts, or emails. Just read enough so your teen knows you are checking. Watch your child’s reaction to when you say: “It’s time to check.” You can slow down the stealth-check mode based on past responsibility or as your child matures. Middle school years are when bullying peaks – so do monitor more frequently during those years.

Check Your Child’s Virtual World and Persona

Find out your child’s “virtual persona” (which can be an eye-opener!) to ensure the page, avatar, email name and photos depict respect and may not be a later “regrettable” that could damage his or her offline reputation, a job hire or even college acceptance. Feel free to say, “The computer-and anything posted-reflects on our whole family.”

What research says: 38percent of parents have never seen their teen’s online profile

What parents can do: View your child’s virtual persona: Ask your child (and friends) if they have a Web page and watch their reaction. HINT: Stuttering, stammering, changing subject are possible warning signs. Do ask your child to explain her choices (whether positive or negative) about her webpage, email name, or descriptions of herself. It’s a fabulous opportunity to find out about your child’s identity.

Check your child’s email address and profile periodically together to assure that it connotes respect. If not, suggest it be changed or removed.

 “Google” your child’s name often, as well as setting alerts for your child’s contact information. The alerts will email you when any of the searched items are recognized and acts like an early warning system to spot ways your child’s personal information may be exposed to strangers online.

Check online history. At least once a month open up files that your kids have downloaded. At least once a week check the history of sites your child has frequented.

Know Signs of Cyberbullying or Online Troubles

If your child is cyber-bullied, he may not tell you due to shame or embarrassment. And how would you know if your kid is engaging in inappropriate online activities? The trick is to learn what behaviors to watch for that could indicate on online safety issues.

What the research says: 49% of kids say they’ve been bullied at least once or twice during the school term, but only 32% of their parents believed them.

What parents can do: Watch for offline signs that your child may not feel safe online or is possibly engaging in inappropriate online behavior. Here are a few signs to look for:

Spends unusually and longer hours online in a more tense tone

Suspicious phone calls, e-mails, and plain wrapped packages arrive at your home

Your credit card statement lists suspicious purchases

Stops typing, covers the screen, hits delete, shuts down the computer when he knows you’re close

Suddenly stops using cell phone or email, web, social networking devices

Nervous when a text or email comes in

Withdraws from friends or wants to avoid school

Suddenly sullen, marked change in personality or behavior; marked drop in grades

Start Early and Keep Talking About Internet Safety

The crux of safety is communication so if there is a problem-online or off-your child will be more likely to talk to you about it. Today’s kids prefer texting over talking which can cut into parent-kid communication: 11 to 14 year olds now spend an average of 73 minutes a day texting; older teens texting habits are closer to two hours.

What the research says: A national study found that the more kids report it hard to talk to their parents about online issues, the greater the disagreement over technology, rules and online monitoring.

What parents can do: Fifty years of child development research shows while there are no guarantees the best way to reduce risky kid behavior is the strength of our relationship with our kids.

Use the 5-to-1 listening to talk ratio: Talk one minute and listen for five.

Don’t just text: talk. Insist that your kids actually talk to them rather than just text.

Set up unplugged family zones (kitchen and dining room) to family enhance communication

Parents are their kids’ best firewall so use your influence by monitoring your child both online and off! Do know that there are no guarantees, but tips such as these can reduce your child’s risky Internet behaviors.

Michele Borba

Follow me on twitter @MicheleBorba for daily tips on parenting and education issues.

RESOURCES


Media use of young children: http://www.commonsensemedia.org/about-us/news/press-releases/common-sense-media-research-documents-media-use-among-infants-toddler  Report based on survey of 1384 parents of children ages 0 to 8 years old from May 27-June 15, 2011.

Generation Myspace: Helping Your Teen Survive Online Adolescence, by Candice M. Kelsey, Berkeley, CA: Marlowe & Company, 2007

D. Smirodo: “Children and Decision-Making in Cyberspace,” Genesse Valley Parents, Pct 2007, ppp 30-34 “87% of kids surf Webs without parental rules vs. 63% with rules; only half of kids are warned by parents of online dangers”

Ninety-five percent of parents don’t understand chat lingo: P. Olsen, “Up n Teen Text Lingo?” USA Weekend, Jan. 2008.

Jenna Johnson: “Survey: Many Teens Give Parents Full Facebook Access” June 2, 2010, Washington Post. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/campus-overload/2010/06/survey_many_teens_give_parents.html  Survey of 973 students conducted by Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions after the April ACT and May SAT 2010 test-prep course. Other findings: 34 percent of teens gave no access and nine percent gave limited access.

Debra W. Haffner, What Every 21st Century Parent Needs to Know

Sahara Byrne and Theodore Lee at Cornell University, “Toward Predicting Youth Resistance to Internet Risk Prevention Strategies” in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media.”  Bryne and Lee surveyed a national sample of 456 parents and children aged 10 to 16 looking at a wide range of Internet risk prevention strategies and kid attitudes toward each strategy.

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