When you think “online safety” for your child, think beyond the laptop and focus on that smartphone or tablet you gave them for Christmas. Remember, just because your child has entered middle school or has become a full-blown teenager, doesn’t mean they’re responsible enough to always make wise choices when it comes to how they use their phones. A smart phone/tablet is A LOT of responsibility.
Once upon a time, it was efficient for a parent to simply “friend” their child on Facebook to keep tabs on them. However, those days are long gone. In fact, many teens and pre-teens have abandoned Facebook, as it’s become more and more overrun with parents and family members. Instead, they are turning to apps like Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter. Many of these social media platforms are public. So if your child has a public account and you stay knowledgeable about technology, you can still keep tabs. However, there are apps out there that are a little more troubling – particularly apps that preach the philosophy: “What happens on the phone, stays on the phone!”
Popular apps like Snapchat and Kik can give users a false sense of privacy, which can encourage users to share and say things that they should not. Snapchat is a photo app that allows a user to send a photo to another person privately. This photo is only shown to the recipient for a number of seconds before it is “deleted.” However, once something has been sent over the internet, is it ever really deleted? No. And there’s nothing that prevents the recipient from taking a screenshot of the photo set to self-destruct, thus ensuring its permanence. Many users like Snapchat to send funny photos, inside jokes, etc. You can use Snapchat all in good fun. But you can also use it to send inappropriate photos. Under the belief that a photo sent will always remain private and then disappear, a user, particularly a young teenager, may be more prone to test the waters before finding themselves in some painful hot water.
On the other hand, Kik is a free instant messaging app, much like AOL was back in the day. Maybe you’ve explained to your child that if there’s suspicious activity, you can just pull their text messages to see what they’ve been saying. Or maybe you just do that without their knowledge. You’re paying the phone bill, there’s no judgment here. BUT if a child suspects you’re doing that, they’ll probably find a good work around – like Kik. Where they can connect with everyone and anyone and talk about whatever they want, all under the assumption that it’s completely private. Again, when there’s a false sense of security, stupid things are more likely to be said and bad decisions are more likely to be made.
Beware of the apps your child has downloaded. Read the reviews. Google them. Most importantly, talk to your kid about the potential risks of using a phone that’s directly connected to the internet. Because it would take just one wrong click or one foolish decision and your child’s mistake could be immortalized on the internet for forever.