Keeping Children Safe Online is more important than ever. Something that never ceases to amaze me is how quickly kids adapt to technology. I’m pretty sure that the average 8-year-old knows more about my phone than I do. Raising kids who are technology natives when we ourselves are not can be difficult. We’re more savvy and experienced than our children when it comes to money matters, physical safety, and general adult life management. And that means that we can teach and protect them in those categories. However, we’re at a bit of a loss when it comes to teaching them how to wisely manage their tech usage. Keeping Children Safe Online takes a plan and that is what we are here to help you with!
What are the risks?
Tech use may not be something that you thought was a threat to your child’s safety and wellbeing, but there are a lot of ways that it can affect their lives. Here are just a few:
Eye Health: Remember how your mother always warned you to move farther away from the television so that you wouldn’t hurt your eyes? Well, professionals say that distance doesn’t really matter. However, your tech usage does have an impact on your vision.
For one thing, extended periods of time spent indoors staring at screens has a high correlation with vision disorders in children. This is because the eyes don’t get the exercise and rest they need, changing focus according to different distances and lights. For another, most modern screens emit something called blue light. More research is needed to confirm the risks, but some experts say that blue light exposure could raise your risk for cataracts and retinal damage.
Disrupted Sleep: Whether blue light does or does not hurt your eyes, there’s no doubt that it interrupts your sleep patterns. Blue light mimics early morning light, which sends a signal to our brain to stop producing melatonin, which regulates our sleep. In fact, technology has plenty of ways that it impedes our sleep. Notifications that continue to ring late into the night keep us from relaxing, and the constant stimulation that being hyper-connected provides can amp up our anxiety levels.
Anxiety and Depression: Speaking of anxiety, there’s a lot of data that argues that social media usage is a major contributor to the rising levels of anxiety and depression in our children. There are so many explanations for this that it can be hard to sort out. However, it’s important to realize that for children raised in a world run by social media, notifications are more than a matter of entertainment. They can make or break their social standing. Managing their image online, feeling pressured to always be in on what’s happening, and navigating widespread cyber bullying can be a full time job, and it can have a significant impact on our children’s mental health. In fact, some sociologists believe that it may be one of the reasons that millenials are at an especial risk of substance abuse.
Time Management: Numerous studies estimate that children and teens spend upwards of 6 hours a day on screens. Some of that time is spent on television and homework. However, a large part of it is spent doing stuff like social media and gaming. And even us parents can understand what a time-sap that can be… you open up your browser just to check one email and end up spending hours checking in on friends, editing photos, and falling down YouTube video pits. One of the biggest challenges of your child’s tech usage is just a matter of teaching them to manage their time and prioritize those things that are most important (things that probably don’t happen on a screen.) This article has some great tips for helping kids manage time, especially when their homework actually requires screentime.
Online Safety: One of the most worrying aspects of our children’s tech usage is that it exposes them to things that we want to protect them from. Whether they’re being drawn into online gambling, spending time browsing pornography, or being courted by an online predator, it’s essential for parents to be aware of what their children are doing online.
Obviously, how you manage your children’s technology usage is up to you. The tips below are suggestions, not requirements. But what IS a requirement is having a plan. Ignoring the issue simply leaves your child vulnerable and you ignorant of the challenges that they face.
- Put parental controls on your children’s phones. There are a lot of apps available now, and even some services offered by your cell phone provider, that allow you to keep tabs on your children’s activity. Your options range from simply being able to turn off the Wifi access of your child’s phone if they need to focus on classwork to content filters that keep them from stumbling onto adult sites.
- Have a tech curfew. As we mentioned above, one of the biggest dangers of tech use is sleep disruption. You can prevent this with a curfew. You can also prevent other problems, as every parent knows that those hours after bedtime are when kids get up to mischief. You can enact this curfew with parental controls, or simply by putting a timer on your house Wifi.
- Have an open conversation about online dangers. When we refer to “the talk” everyone assumes a discussion about the birds and the bees, but the truth is that parents need to discuss more than that with their children. You won’t always be able to protect your children online, so you need to empower them to recognize dangers themselves. Discuss the problems with pornography. Talk to them about how easy it is to transform your image online and how they need to be careful who they believe, trust, and invest in. Teach them how to get reliable information online so that they’re not misinformed by unvalidated news sources. Discuss what is and is not safe to share online so that they understand the dangers of sensitive information or images being spread to people that they weren’t meant for.
- Consider carefully when your child should first get a phone. Cell phones can be a wonderful safety tool, as they allow you to check in with your child at any time, and give them a lifeline to use if they need help. However, as this article states, you need to consider more than that. If you simply want a phone line between you and your child, there are alternatives to use until your child is old enough to understand the responsibilities of being a smartphone user.
by: Christine Hill
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