About three weeks ago, I was invited to attend an Internet Safety & Awareness forum at my daughter’s school. I thought it was neat that they would put together something like this. As a parent, I would want to know what I can do to protect my kids against the dark side of social media straight from the experts’ mouths. But apparently, many parents don’t share the same sentiments as evident from the lack of attendance. Out of approximately 130 5th grade students, less than ten parents attended. I even learned later that one school they went to only had one parent there.
Let’s face it, social media is awesome! Especially for us immigrants, it is the fastest and most efficient medium to connect with family and friends back home. It is also a great way to meet new people and promote your business. Some even claim that social media helps kids and teens develop important technical and social skills. While these are definitely valid points, it is still important to consider that kids left unsupervised online is a recipe for disaster. Because kids don’t fully understand social boundaries yet, there’s the danger of posting private information that may come back to haunt them later in life. There’s also phishing, falling for scams, downloading malware, identity theft, cyberbullying and cyberstalkers among others. However, the things I’m most worried about are the child predators who will take every opportunity they can get to lure and groom these kids. And then there’s pornography.
The talk was facilitated by two officers from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, under the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and Sex Crimes Section. They showed us statistics and cases they’ve personally handled and experienced. And what I heard that night gave me chills down my spine. Even writing and thinking about it right now is tough. I was tearing up almost the entire time and looking at the other moms in that room, I could tell that they were just as frightened as me. They mentioned that the youngest “suspect” they’ve arrested is a three year old boy. I remember thinking, he’s just a baby for crying out loud! Just a year older than my dear youngest son. How could that have happened? It was all because he was left unattended on his gadget. Unfortunately, like this boy, many kids are already exposed to porn by merely watching YouTube. I was surprised to hear that there are sick YouTube videos disguised as popular cartoons; like Peppa Pig doing inappropriate things to George. Since children are master imitators, they would naturally copy things they see on these shows. There was another case of a young boy, who just started kindergarten and is not able to spell words yet. But he knew how to use Siri. To prove my point, he would look up words like masturbation because he hears his older brothers talking about it, and so he got curious. This kid was also left unsupervised on his iPad.
I hear stories about sexual abuses and sex crimes on children in the news. Of course I get affected but it feels distant if you know what I mean. However, there’s nothing more powerful than hearing them first hand from people who investigate and prosecute these cases on a daily basis. I assure you, they too are frightened and I feel bad that they have to face this sad reality everyday.
So what can we do as parents? Do we wait till something like this happens to our own kids? Or should we be proactive about it? I say we choose the latter. Although, I admit that there’s no way we would be able to protect our kids from all the dangers of the world as I’ve proven many times with my own kids. But I think we can at least try our best to preserve their childhood for as long as we can. Together with my husband and the officers’ recommendations, we came up with a few preventive measures we thought would help keep our kids safe online. It is also important to note that, before we did all these we had a family meeting and we made them understand why we needed to implement these restrictions. However to tell you honestly, they don’t have a choice in this matter. Also, Metro officers confirmed that parents have every right to look through their kids’ devices at any time up until their 18 years old. Their devices are technically ours and we can legally do anything we want to do with them.
- We installed a parental control software called Net Nanny on all their devices. Wherein we can control which sites they visit and apps they can use among other benefits. My favorite part is it has age based restrictions built in, so certain blocks and filters are automatically applied based on your child’s age and maturity level.
- We activated the built in security and parental control features on their devices.
- Right before bedtime, our older kids deposit all their devices in a container that’s kept in our office. My son (16) gets his cellphone in the morning before he leaves for school and both him and daughter (11) claim their laptops in the afternoon for homework. Also my daughter gets her cellphone only when she needs it like on a field trip or a family outing where there’s a chance of her getting lost in the crowd. The 2 year old’s tablet on the other hand, is kept on the kitchen counter and he is trained not to touch it unless it’s offered to him (or at least that’s the goal).
- On weekdays, they are only allowed to use their devices for homework.
- They can only watch YouTube on the TV in the living room for everyone to see.
- Weekends on the other hand, are their free time to play games on their devices and pretty much do anything with their preapproved apps and filtered websites. (Social media apps and websites like FB,IG, Snapchat etc…are not one of them)
- The officers also recommended that we consult our cellphone provider about their cellphone monitoring and filtering services (supposedly free).
To tell you the truth, most of the time I feel unsure whether I’m parenting my kids properly around social media. Especially when we’ve had our own share of mishap in the past. Call me paranoid, strict or crazy for all I care. That wouldn’t change the truth about the horrors of social media and how it can hurt and break families. Ultimately, with Daddy and Mommy’s watchful eyes, ongoing open conversations about online safety, technology and lots of prayers, we hope to create a safer online environment for our kids.
What do you do to keep your kids safe online? Please share your ideas and comment below.
KC & a truckload of hugs and kisses
Sharing is caring...