Last week, I interviewed Devorah Heitner, who wrote the book “Screenwise: Helping Kids Survive (and Thrive) in Their Digital World.” She has been in town this week talking to parents at two elementary schools about how to mentor your children in a digital world instead of monitoring them. It’s a very different view than the pitches I usually get about screen time, cyber bullying and protecting children from Internet tragedies.
I also talked to Toni Schmidt, the Social Media Manager for Net Nanny. She is definitely in the monitor your children camp. What she wants parents to do is identify what accounts kids are using, communicate what is good behavior and educate themselves about the dangers.
The first step is identify what social media accounts their children are using. “About 60 percent are unaware of the accounts teens have created,” she says.
She recommends establishing a digital contract with kids. You can get one for free for the whole family at netnanny.com. During that contract process parents would go over all the rules and restrictions for what is good behavior online. One of those big rules is that kids can only have accounts that parents know about.
Parents need to do spot checks on what kids are posting and what other kids are posting about them to make sure that cyber bullying isn’t happening, she says. Sometimes kids try to hide when something like that is happening. She suggests that parents also have social media accounts where their children do and friend their children.
Beyond the social media accounts, you also have to look at what kids are texting, even though it often feels cryptic and filled with acronyms and emojis.
Schmidt says there are three reasons kids use slang abbreviations: 1. To be cool or seem cool to friends. 2. To get a message across in a hurry such as using LOL for laugh out loud. 3. To hide things from someone like a parent.
That’s why parents have to know what the latest app, social media site or texting lingo is and how they are used, she says. That feels impossible, right?
That’s, of course, why Schmidt suggests a service like Net Nanny, which filters Internet sites, blocks porn, monitors social media, blocks out profanity and sets screen usage time limits.
Monitoring them, Schmidt says, “is definitely not something that’s about trust. It’s about helping them navigate the cyber world.”
Schmidt explains that unlike when we were growing up where parents could hear our phone conversations and see what we were reading (books and magazines), today’s kids communicate with others and take in information away from others’ watchful eyes.
“Now we expect our kids to be all on their own and navigate this sea of cyberspace that changes every day,” she says.
Monitoring them, she says, should be a conversation starter, not a way to discipline children. It’s about informing parents what their children are doing.
Net Nanny does have this handy infographic that translates text abbreviations, including ones you should be worried about.