Kids online and unsupervised can bring out a few different reactions from parents. They get more time to relax, get stuff done around the home and drink more wine in the middle of the day! (if you believe the memes). They also get to think/worry about what their child is getting up to online. It’s not easy, the definition of ‘online’ has changed since parents today first connected to the internet. These days your kids are connected to the internet by their computers, iPad tablets, Samsung phones, wearable fitness and activity trackers like Fitbit, their voice captured and processed by Amazon, their Sony TV is watching them watch TV, the Xbox is tracking gaming, the thermostat is tracking comfort levels, the car is measuring how they’re being driven via telematics, their homework monitored via Mathletics … We are getting to a point when we can assume our kids are connected to the internet at all times.
So how does a parent know which apps, websites or devices are ok? There is no master list of ‘safe’ places for kids, new apps are being released daily, and most companies building tech for kids don’t have the resources of Google or Facebook to build out a Trust and Safety platform. To help, I’ve put together a list of safety principles and things to look for that parents and teachers can use when deciding whether to allow your child to engage online.
- Stick with trusted brands and app stores. Only access or download apps from a trusted source like the Apple App store or Google Play. Download from anywhere else and there is literally no vetting of the app. Check app ratings and recommended ages. Ask other parents or teachers for their recommendations and look for reviews online. If you’ve had a great experience, talk about it with your kid’s teacher and other parents!
- Think twice if the app has social features. If the app/site allows connections or messaging features, or contains a feed of user-generated content, you should understand how it works and make sure you know what could happen. Most companies do not vet their customers or content, meaning connection requests and messages could come from anyone (see this article on Musical.ly). Account takeovers do happen, meaning even a trusted person’s account could be sending inappropriate messages. If uncomfortable, turn off the social features. An app can still be social even with social settings turned off – just share the old fashioned way, show them your screen!
- Use privacy and connection settings. Assuming the app has them, read every one and decide whether it makes sense for your child. Many apps let kids post content to be shared with everyone – this is rarely ok. You may want to require a password to accept new requests (that only you know) or set rules about who can connect with your child (like ‘if adult, then deny connection’). If they don’t have these settings yet they have social features, then don’t use it.
- Teach your child how to use the app/site safely, and make sure they ask you for help if they need it. A connected world is a wonderful thing assuming your child knows how to navigate it and they’re an informed digital citizen. Help them understand basic offline rules still apply like ‘don’t go off with strangers’, ‘don’t give out personal details’ and keep all messaging on the platform (email is basically the wild west). More than anything, you being involved helps keep their internet a social and safer place for your child and it’s good bonding time as you work it out together.
- If unsure, ask the developer. Every company is a customer service company. If you’re unsure about something or if there’s a feature you wish an app/site had, get in contact with the people that made it! Their details should be available in the app description and website. Any company building services for kids should understand the role parents and educators play, and involve them in decision making and product development. If you can’t find their details, or if they don’t respond or fob you off, then don’t use them just like you would offline.
Read more about online Trust and Safety for parents, educators and businesses at https://trustandsafetyanz.wordpress.com/.