» How can you keep kids safe on­line, in so­cial me­dia?

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Ni­cole Vil­lal­pando nvil­lal­pando@statesman.com Con­tact Ni­cole Vil­lal­pando at 512-912-5900.

Par­ents prob­a­bly were hor­ri­fied at the news of Cody Wil­son, de­signer of a 3D-printed gun, be­ing ac­cused of sex­ual as­sault af­ter meet­ing a 16-year-old girl on­line and be­ing ar­rested in Tai­wan.

What can par­ents do to make sure their chil­dren don’t be­come tar­gets on so­cial me­dia or web­sites?

In the Rais­ing Austin col­umn, we’ve fea­tured many ex­perts in par­ent­ing or In­ter­net safety. Here are their tips:

Cre­ate a dig­i­tal con­tract with your kids. You can get one free for the whole fam­ily at net­nanny.com. Dur­ing the con­tract pro­cess, par­ents go over all the rules and re­stric­tions for good be­hav­ior on­line.

Know what so­cial me­dia ac­counts your chil­dren are us­ing and mon­i­tor them. One of the big rules is that kids can have only ac­counts that par­ents know about. “About 60 per­cent are un­aware of the ac­counts teens have cre­ated,” says Toni Sch­midt, the so­cial me­dia man­ager for Net Nanny.

Don’t rely on mon­i­tor­ing soft­ware to do your job for you. “The more walls we build, the more we are just cre­at­ing lit­tle hack­ers who are just try­ing to get around the fence,” says Devo­rah Heit­ner, founder of the web­site Rais­ing Dig­i­tal Na­tives and the book “Screen­wise: Help­ing Kids Thrive (and Sur­vive) in Their Dig­i­tal World.” In­stead, be cu­ri­ous; en­gage in con­ver­sa­tion about their on­line and so­cial me­dia use.

Dis­cuss the ap­pro­pri­ate use of screens with your chil­dren. Heit­ner of­fers this list of con­cerns to talk about with chil­dren:

■ Do they know peo­ple they are play­ing on­line games with? If not, par­ents might want to set up a pri­vate server in games such as Mind­craft to in­vite only peo­ple they know in real life.

■ Are they in­volved in group texts? Re­mind them that ev­ery­one on those texts sees them and gos­sip can be painful.

■ Are friends shar­ing texts about other friends with other friends? Re­mind them not to en­gage in that be­hav­ior and call it out when they see it.

■ Are they look­ing for val­i­da­tion based on the num­ber of likes and com­ments on posts?

■ What will hap­pen if they lose their phone, tablet or com­puter? How will they re­im­burse you?

■ Do they un­der­stand that dig­i­tal money is real money? Do you have a plan for what per­mis­sions they will need and how they can pay for on­line pur­chases?

■ What be­hav­ior will cause them to lose their phone, tablet or com­puter?

■ Make sure they know it’s OK not to re­spond to texts and so­cial me­dia posts right away. They don’t need to be con­nected all the time.

■ In­vite them to ask you when they have a ques­tion. Google is won­der­ful, but it might pro­vide in­for­ma­tion that they don’t un­der­stand or could be over­whelm­ing.

■ Talk through dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions: What will you do if you see some­thing in­ap­pro­pri­ate on your phone? What will you do if you feel a friend is not be­hav­ing well on­line? What will you do if a friend doesn’t un­der­stand that you can’t re­spond right away?

Be a role model for phone and com­puter use. Austin psy­chol­o­gists Mike Brooks and Jon Lasser wrote “Tech Gen­er­a­tion: Rais­ing Bal­anced Kids in a Hyper-Con­nected World.” Kids of­ten com­plain as much about their par­ents’ use of tech­nol­ogy as par­ents com­plain about their kids’. Think of it like healthy eat­ing, Brooks says. We can’t force them to eat health­ier foods, but if we model eat­ing health­fully, they might do it.

Set lim­its. The Amer­i­can Acad­emy of Pe­di­atrics’ me­dia use pol­icy rec­om­mends th­ese guide­lines:

■ Chil­dren younger than 18 months of age: Avoid the use of any screen me­dia ex­cept video chat­ting (with grand­par­ents, for ex­am­ple).

■ Chil­dren ages 18 months to 24 months: In­tro­duce high-qual­ity pro­grams or apps, but do it with your chil­dren to cre­ate a di­a­logue about what they are see­ing and how it re­lates to the world around them.

■ Chil­dren ages 2 to 5 years: Limit screen time to one hour a day of high-qual­ity pro­grams that you view with your chil­dren.

■ Chil­dren ages 6 and older, place con­sis­tent lim­its on time spent us­ing me­dia and the types of me­dia, and make sure that the use of me­dia does not take the place of sleep­ing, ex­er­cise or other healthy be­hav­iors.

Build up the par­ent-child re­la­tion­ship to pre­vent con­flict and dan­ger­ous on­line use. Brooks and Lasser’s No. 1 rec­om­men­da­tion is for par­ents to spend more time with their kids with­out tech­nol­ogy. “The more time we spend with kids in that ca­pac­ity, it feeds that part of their soul that is go­ing to be happy, healthy, and they will have that in them that it’s valu­able to be in re­la­tion­ship,” Brooks says.

Have fam­ily meals at home and make that a top pri­or­ity. “You have to com­mu­ni­cate that our time to­gether as a par­ent and child is more im­por­tant than any­thing else,” says fam­ily physi­cian, psy­chol­o­gist and au­thor Leonard Sax, who wrote “The Col­lapse of Par­ent­ing: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups.”

Take screens out of the bed­room. This in­cludes cell­phones, com­put­ers, TVs and video games. Kids are chron­i­cally sleep-de­prived, which leads to poor be­hav­ior and can be the rea­son kids are get­ting men­tal health di­ag­noses, Sax says.

Put screens in public places and limit how they are used. Even though they might still be sneak­ing and tex­ting to their friends PWOMS (Par­ent Watch­ing Over My Shoul­der) or some other acro­nym, they are less likely to be do­ing some­thing un­safe if you could be walk­ing by.

Re­mind them that what they post on­line stays for­ever. Those mid­dle school pho­tos will fol­low them to their first job in­ter­view. Re­mind them of the per­ma­nent le­gal con­se­quences of send­ing or re­ceiv­ing pho­tos that could be con­sid­ered child pornog­ra­phy. Kids can be charged with dis­tribut­ing child pornog­ra­phy even if they didn’t take the photo. And if a par­ent shows it to an­other par­ent or a teacher or prin­ci­pal, he or she has just dis­trib­uted child pornog­ra­phy, says Bob Lot­ter, cre­ator of My Mo­bile Watch­dog, a mon­i­tor­ing app. Par­ents may show it only to law en­force­ment, Lot­ter says.

Make sure kids en­gage with real peo­ple they know. Their on­line friends can quickly be­come more im­por­tant than the friends they see in per­son.

De­ter­mine if they are re­ally ready to have a cell­phone. An Austin group launched the na­tion­wide move­ment Wait Un­til 8th to en­cour­age par­ents to take a pledge not to give smart­phones be­fore eighth grade.

The Na­tional Con­sumers League says par­ents should ask th­ese ques­tions when shop­ping for a phone for their child, specif­i­cally in those tween years:

■ Why does your child need a cell­phone?

■ Will the phone be used pri­mar­ily to stay in touch with par­ents or for emer­gency use? Will your child use the phone for en­ter­tain­ment or to com­mu­ni­cate with friends?

■ How much do you want to spend a month on ser­vice?

■ How much do you want to spend on the pur­chase of the phone?

■ Is your tween ma­ture enough to keep her min­utes, tex­ting and data use within plan lim­its?

■ Is your tween ma­ture enough to use the phone re­spon­si­bly and avoid view­ing or send­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­tent?

■ What is your tween’s school pol­icy on cell­phones?

■ Does your tween have a habit of los­ing things, or can he han­dle the re­spon­si­bil­ity of car­ing for a phone?

Jon Lasser

Leonard Sax

Mike Brooks

Devo­rah Heit­ner

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