By Maria B. Russell
Thanks to technology, preparing children nowadays for a brand new school year goes way beyond buying school supplies, new clothes and tennis shoes. With three out of four children already having a cell phone by the time they are 10 years old, today’s parents are left wondering whether or not they should jump on the bandwagon.
Given that most cell phones are smartphones and virtually mini-computers with access to the Internet 24/7, parents are faced with yet another important decision: Is my child ready for a smartphone and all that goes with it, like social networking?
Peace of mind is a major reason parents consider buying a phone for their youngsters. But, before making the investment, make sure that your child is responsible enough to have one. If things, such as homework, often get lost, it won’t be long before the phone goes missing, too.
If you do decide to buy your child a phone, plug in the phone numbers of parents, grandparents and other emergency contacts. Set up a password to safeguard against thieves or other kids who may “borrow” your child’s phone. Use a separate password to add to the phone’s capabilities, such as making in-app purchases, based on how responsible your child is.
Have a serious talk with your child about Internet safety, and repeat this often. Although children under 13 are supposedly not allowed on many social networks, parents need to remember, “Where there’s a will there’s a way.”
Even the smartest teens can make dumb mistakes like posting their phone number or other private information online or the fact that they’re home alone, exposing themselves to identify theft or cyber-bullying, creeps and other unsavory individuals.
Social networking sites can be a fun place to connect with friends, but help your child secure his/her profile by limiting access to trusted friends, not strangers. Experts suggest sitting down with your child when he/she is setting up an account and customizing the privacy settings so that only certain individuals can see their profile or updates.
Keep in mind that Facebook isn’t the only social network kids are using. Mobile chat services such as WeChat, photo-sharing apps like Instagram and Snapchat, and the video-sharing app, Vine, are gaining popularity.
Once your child has an online presence, sit down together from time to time and see if it’s public by doing a search on Google, Yahoo or MSN. Explain that social networks are like public bulletin boards, and that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to keep anything posted private.
Stress that once photos, status updates and messages are posted, they are out there for all to see. Future college admission or job searches may be impacted by what is posted online. Nearly one in three colleges uses social networking sites to gather information about applicants.
Even if a photo has been posted and later deleted, it could have been copied and stored on someone else’s photo-sharing or social networking site. When it comes to the Internet, nothing ever truly goes away.
Technology will always be evolving and parents will need to do their best to keep up with the changes — if not stay one step ahead. Rather than regard it as a necessary evil, consider it an ongoing opportunity to discuss the right values for your family. Let your child know that you are monitoring his/her online presence because you’re concerned, not eavesdropping. It will go a long way in building and maintaining an open and honest relationship.
By Maria B. Russell