Technology is amazing! We are living in incredible times. We can 3D bioprint human body parts like ears and eyes. We can connect with friends regardless of where they live in the world and play a game or video chat. We can create a music playlist without paying for it, put in our wireless earbuds and jam out. We can post a photo on social media and get immediate feedback. We can ask google for anything. We can learn how to do home repairs from YouTube.
I love technology!
The internet is not a safe place for kids. Not without a lot of adult supervision and guidelines.
There are five actions parents can take to keep kids connected AND safe online. When used together, the Five Circles of Online Safety make a Safety Zone for your kids in the center.
First you should get together as co-parents and caregivers and get on the same page. (This could include parenting partners, grandparents, nannies, babysitters–anyone who sees your child regularly.)
Schedule time without the kids to answer these questions:
- What does it mean to parent for safety online?
- What screen time rules are appropriate for your child?
- What are the dreams you have for you child? How does the internet help/hurt those dreams?
- What’s scary about the internet?
Really listen to each other. Create a plan that incorporates both of your beliefs and thoughts and agree to back each other up. Parenting is much more effective when you’re on the same page.
Define your family values and be prepared to negotiate as kids get older and their needs change.
Having these discussions in advance lets you be prepared when your child starts wanting more screen time.
If you’re a single parent, it’s important for you to find another person you respect who you can bounce ideas off of as an adviser.
One of the most stressful situations in ALIGN is when parents breakup and do not have common screen time rules. If this is your situation, it’s important to have your rules in place at your house and continue talking to your ex-spouse about the dangers of being online without safeguards in place.
Next you’ll talk to your child about screen time.
Sit next to them as they are on their screens and ask questions. Open, non-judgmental questions. Let them be the experts!
- How do you use that app?
- What is it for?
- What do you like about it or wish was different?
- What apps do you hate?
- Who do you follow and why?
- Do any of your friends have a hard time putting down their phone? (or gaming system or tablet…)
Let your child know that there will never be a time or situation that you won’t love them through. There’s nothing they could do that you wouldn’t want to help them through. You are there for them. Period. If they feel lost or embarrassed or ashamed, they can still count on you.
Download our Connect Sheet here: it’s a list of questions for parents and a scoreboard for what’s working and what’s not. It will help you talk through the apps your older kids might be using and rate them.
Filter, Limit and Monitor
Next, get that internet filtered!
No one needs to see the unfiltered internet. No one. Not you and not me. Certainly not our kids.
And here’s when it starts–it’s a lot earlier than you may think. The first time a parent hands a child their phone, it should be filtered. Think of the times you’ve gone shopping at Costco and seen a toddler with Mama’s phone watching a YouTube video. We’ve all been there, trying to buy a minute of peace, whether it’s Elmo or Peppa Pig. No judgment here. But before that first time you hand your child a screen, you should know there’s a filter on it and the content is appropriate.
Set up screen time limits
What’s the appropriate amount of screen time for kids? That depends on several factors:
- their age
- what they’re doing online
- your family values are
- how they’re doing with their responsibilities offline (schoolwork, chores, sports, etc)
Every family is different.
Here’s what I know for sure: The average adult unlocks their phone 150+ times a day. Adults also need some screen time limits! It’s easy to spend a lot more time than you intended online. That’s why it’s called “the rabbit hole”.
Have you ever picked up your phone, popped into Facebook and 30 minutes later, completely forgotten what you intended to do originally? Yea, me too. And if it’s easy for us adults to lose track of time, what chance do our kids have without a lot of guidance?
Pro-tip: Use the feature “Do not disturb” on your phone when you need focus time and talk to your child about tools like this that you use to help yourself not get distracted. Ask them what they struggle with and what they do to stay focused online.
Supervise what kids are doing online
Parents can only correct and influence what they can see and know. Until recently, that’s been the problem with kids on social media or gaming–you can’t see if they’re misbehaving or wandering into a dangerous situation.
Of course, you could go old school and grab their phone to try to look at every text and every app your child has every night, but there are a couple of practical reasons that just won’t work.
- One, you’re decreasing trust and respect and invading privacy, from your child’s perspective.
- Two, it’s just too time-consuming, and that’s with only ONE kid.
- Last, kids get sneaky when they feel too restricted. And there are too many apps willing to help them be sneaky. You’ve heard of the calculator apps that are really a secret vault for kids to hide apps they’re not supposed to have, right? There are lots of way our children can hide from us if they want to. Parenting your brilliant children is a lot easier if you set some screen time rules and limits, supervise them, give them some freedom in the safety zone and keep checking in.
Tools parents should use to help manage technology
There are two tools that make it easier to parent screen time.
- The Bark-O-Matic is a free tool to secure apps and devices hooked up to the internet. You’ll get specific instructions on how to enable parental settings and lock down apps. It’s amazing!
- Bark and Bark Home let you limit screen time, filter the internet and monitor what kids are doing online. You can have the magical ability to pause the internet! And control screen time! And set bedtimes! Bark uses artificial intelligence to make sure kids stay safe and it monitors 25+ apps for inappropriate text, emojis, abbreviations and photos and send you alerts when your child may be in danger. Your kids will like that you only get alerts when there’s something inappropriate–this isn’t one of those “spy apps” that you can read every text message and see every picture. Get 20% off the Bark subscription here.
Bark lets kids develop their inner compass over time. They learn what’s appropriate to do online and start to internalize those values. All three of my kids have come to me before I get the Bark parent alert to tell me about something dumb that someone sent. “You’re probably going to get a Bark alert, Mom.” Then they tell me what happened and (most importantly) what they did about it.
This is exactly what I want! To have my kids know right from wrong.
I’ll tell you a personal story about how BARK has changed how I parent.
My family of 5 was at the Space Needle for New Years Eve this year. Super fun! Also a lot of pot smoking. The next day my son asked YouTube about marijuana and what it does to a human body. BARK sent me an alert, triggered by my son’s search words, which gave me the ability to talk with him about marijuana and what I know, at exactly the right moment that he needed to hear the information. Without embarrassing him. If YouTube is where my child is going to look for answers, I want to step up and get my two cents in too! Don’t you?
The Safety Zone
Inside the five orange circles is a Safety Zone. When you spend time aligning, connecting, limiting, filtering and monitoring your child will enjoy appropriate freedom online along with safety.
And that’s our goal, right? To provide guard rails while our kids safely explore gaming, the internet and connecting digitally.
Guess where you’ll spend most of your time? Talking!
Talking to your spouse and your kids.
Staying connected with your parenting partners and children requires daily check in’s, flexibility and curiosity. It’s a proactive, intense job that has immense payoffs. You’ll feel supported and united with your partner. You’ll understand what’s important to your child and approach discussions from a win-win perspective.
To be clear, the goal is to overcommunicate and leave nothing to chance. As a reminder, the definition of communicate is “to share or exchange information or ideas”. (Note that “communicate” isn’t about giving speeches and “making” your kids listen. You know that won’t work, right?)
To recap, here are the Five Circles of Online Safety:
- ALIGN Get on the same page as your partner on technology rules.
- CONNECT Teach your kids that technology is a tool and screens are a privilege with responsibilities attached. Teach your family values and rules. Have lots of conversations and be curious!
- FILTER Filter their access to internet sites that aren’t appropriate for their ages.
- LIMIT Limit screen time to make time for healthy “real life” connection and, yes, even boredom.
- MONITOR Monitor behavior so you will know if inappropriate images/ bullying/ sexting/ bad or dangerous behavior are in your child’s world, based on what you’ve already set up as rules in #1 and 2.
Parenting your brilliant children is a lot easier if you set some screen time rules and limits, supervise them, give them some freedom in the safety zone and keep checking in.