The holidays are here! It is a beautiful time of year for friends and family to gather together, enjoy one another, eat all the food, and be thankful for the blessings from the past year. As wonderful as all of the activities are during the holidays, they can also be incredibly challenging. Everyone is busy rushing from one event to another. Not to mention the gift buying! This can feel like a huge challenge if you have a list full of friends and family.
Speaking of lists, so many kids and teens will be putting on their lists, as they do every year, new devices. Ipads, gaming devices, cell phones, computers…anything that will connect them to their friends. Or, frighteningly, people who are not their friends.
Research points to 90 percent of children owning a device by age 11, with a cell phone being the number one device. While this is to be expected, it can also feel incredibly overwhelming. As parents, when we give our children a device, we are met with the challenge of making sure those devices are safe for them to use. This includes any age restrictions we need to place on the devices, as well as the random device checks that we must do in order to protect them.
I talk a lot about giving yourself small wins as parents, so these challenges do not feel quite so hard and overwhelming. One way to give yourself a win, and overcome a bit of the challenges you are facing with new devices, is to do random device checks. What does this look like? Here are a few easy steps that you can take each week, bi weekly or monthly in your home. The frequency is up to you, as are the rules you establish around devices within your family.
First, make sure the device check is, in fact, random. Never the same time of day or a set day. Let your child know that you will be checking their devices, but do not tell them WHEN you will check them. This is a perfect opportunity to have an open conversation with them about why you are checking their devices. The conversation can look something like, “I am doing this to protect you.”
Then, discuss what that protection looks like and why it is so important. Of course, there are numerous other reasons you may discuss with them, but I do believe having an open conversation is crucial in fostering a positive digital relationship with your child.
Next, the random checks need to include a check of all devices. You may even split devices (phone, computer, games, tablets) to different days if it feels like too much for one day. Or you may check all devices at once. The key is to make sure that they are all monitored.
All cell phones should be monitored for texting activity, online history and activity, pictures, and videos (do not forget to check the deleted pictures). All apps on the phone should be reviewed. Open each app and take a look at the activity within the app. This is a great opportunity to weed out any apps that you do not like for your child, or to add apps they have requested.
Computers should be checked for online activity (a great way to do this is to review the history), pictures, videos and any games that are on the computer. Gaming devices should be checked for any chatting history, as well as game appropriateness. This is the same with any tablets your child may have. Each and every device, as well as apps, should be checked for age appropriate restrictions.
At first this is going to feel overwhelming. However. as you get use to doing random checks they will become much easier and you will become accustomed where to look.
Finally, please do not forget to discuss any “social media challenges” that they may see. It is incredibly important that they are not participating, as some of them are not only dangerous, but hold serious legal consequences if caught. These challenges are mostly circulating through Tik Tok and Snapchat, so if your child has these apps be aware that they have probably been exposed.
As we move further into the holidays, and devices seem to be the present that every child or teenager is wishing for, give yourself and your child the gift of protection. Take small steps. Embrace the small wins. Even when it feels overwhelming, we have to do the work to protect our kids in their online space. As always, if you need help, I am here!
Kristi Bush serves as a national education consultant and social media safety advocate. She is a licensed social worker with greater than 15 years of clinical practice and health care experience. She attended Troy and Auburn University where she studied social work and counseling. Kristi travels nationally and has spoken with thousands of children, parents, professionals and organizations about the benefits and threats associated with social media. You may reach Kristi through her website at www.knbcommunications.com.