The digital age is great. The Internet will allow you to go anywhere and speak to anyone at anytime. But that also brings a whole new world of ways for kids to get into trouble or put themselves in danger. But there are some basic steps you can take to help them stay safe.

1. Understand their technology.

If you aren’t a smartphone user and your kid has one, you should probably get one for yourself as well. You need to know what that device is capable of doing. You also need to understand the apps, programs, games, and sites they use.  Does that game have messaging capabilities? If so, your kid could be talking to strangers all over the world? Is there a camera that could let your child have an unsupervised video chat with anyone, anywhere?  Could your child check in with GPS and show anyone in the world exactly where she is?

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You need to know if the phone or tablet has child safety restrictions that you can activate. You need to know the same thing about apps. It doesn’t matter if tech isn’t your thing. If your kid is using it, you must know how it works. And that includes gaming consoles. You don’t have to become a hardcore gamer, but you need to be aware of how they work and of the gaming communities that allow your children to have contact with people of all ages from all over the world.

2. Join them.

If you aren’t signed up for Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, and the like and your child is — it’s time to join them in the wonderful world of social media. Insist that they accept you as a friend, follower, or contact. You need to monitor their accounts for things like inappropriate content and also bullying. That doesn’t mean you have to constantly post on their pages. It’s perfectly fine for you to sit there silently and observe until something requires your attention.

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3. Insist on having passwords and friend approval.

You have the last word over who your children invite into your house and the same should apply to people they meet online. Insist on checking out anyone who wants to your kid’s online friend. You could limit online friends to people they actually know in real life. Consider putting a maximum age limit on friends. Also, it doesn’t hurt to do a little online research to confirm someone is who they say they are.

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Insist on having your kids’ passwords. That way, if you suspect something might be up, you can check it out for yourself.  You may very well trust your kids implicitly. But remember, they are still just kids. A 14-year-old may not understand what the best thing to do if he is being bullied or propositioned sexually by an adult. He may be scared or embarrassed. It’s your job to have his back.

~ Cynthia