February 25, 2021
Sooner or later, your child will see inappropriate content - or be contacted by strangers - no matter how kid-friendly the platform. That’s a fact of digital life.
Examples abound. Like the 12-year-old who received a Fitbit friend request from a stranger with a partially nude profile pic. Or the kid whose search for cookie recipes on Pinterest led him to photos of naked women. (Yes, even on Pinterest!)
Just a couple of weeks ago, Facebook’s search engine was suddenly displaying a long menu of sexually explicit videos whenever any single letter was entered in the search bar. (The company commented, without further explanation, “We apologize for this error.”)
And what could be less risky for kids to use than Google Docs? Except now cyber experts are reporting students are using the app to cyberbully peers and share nudes. (Why? Precisely because they know their parents and schools are too busy monitoring their social media feeds to bother checking on Google Doc activity.)
So what’s a parent to do? Plenty, internet safety experts remind us.
Ready - or not?
First off, parents can think long and hard about whether their kids are ready for social media or interactive online games. Diana Graber, the author of Raising Humans in a Digital World, advises parents to consider:
Talk - don’t dictate
With younger kids, you can start by talking openly about what makes them feel uncomfortable in real life. That way, they’ll learn to recognize those feelings when they happen in the online world.
“You can say, ‘Have you ever talked to someone and it made you feel super weird even if you didn’t know why?’” suggests clinical psychologist Tracy Bennett.
Use parental controls as a team
All the evidence shows that kids are far less likely to try to evade or tamper with online safety tools if you set them up together, starting with a conversation about why they are necessary.
And don’t forget to teach them how to block and report troublesome contact online - whether from “friends” or strangers.
“By instilling the habit of blocking and reporting, you’re helping the platform remove inappropriate content,” notes Marc Berkman, CEO of the Organization for Social Media Safety. At the same time, “you’re strengthening your child’s mental defenses against this material because they are actively doing something about it.”