There are some things from our childhood that stick with us for life. A few weeks ago, I shared some positive actions from 4-H that I have carried with me since my youth and have previously discussed fond childhood memories with my dad. Of course, everyone has at least one negative incident that left an indelible mark. For some, it may have been something traumatic. For me, phone calls stand out in my memory.
I was in maybe 3rd or 4th grade at the time and my parents were next door at my aunt and uncle’s house playing cards for the evening. The phone rang so I answered it to a kind gentleman on the other end addressing me by name. He explained that he was trying to reach my friend Jean or Jenny or something but couldn’t locate her phone number. He said my cousin (whom he referred to by name) had given my name and number and told him I might be able to assist him. As I started to fumble to find the phone number of my friend Jeanie, my dad came barging into the house having sprinted the 100 yards from the neighbor’s house. You see, that cousin he referred to happened to be the daughter of the same aunt and uncle playing cards with my parents that night.
Apparently, she received the same phone call of a man phishing for information about the young girls at our school. In an era pre-internet, pre-caller ID and reliant on phone books where information wasn’t so readily available, we had no idea that this man was a predator. My uncle and dad took notice of my cousin’s phone call as she provided my name and phone number just minutes before the phone rang in our family’s kitchen. This resulted in the aforementioned sprint to ensure another child’s name and information were not given out by naive little me.
After hanging up the phone, my dad filled me in on what had transpired prior to the phone ringing at our home. It was devastating to hear that I unknowingly almost put a classmate at risk, all with good intentions.
That was then. In a time when things were very different. Information was harder to attain. Children’s names weren’t posted online and very infrequently in newspapers. Attaining information about a child today is much easier and it’s compounded by the fact that many children have their own cell phones and social media accounts.
June is Internet Safety Month so it provides the perfect opening to address some of these concerns. Parents need to be aware of their children’s actions both online and off, establish rules and set digital behavior guidelines.
With respect to apps and social media, we have one rule and it is very simple. They can agree to follow any behavior rule we have set forth or they can opt not to have an account. As I’ve said previously, an open-door communication policy within our family is a priority and we work to ensure they can discuss anything and everything with us.
Social Media Platforms
Our girls are only allowed to have accounts on media platforms that we have approved. Unless we have said otherwise, they also need to keep their accounts set to private. We understand and can relate to their desire to have as many followers as possible, yet we feel their safety is the priority. Since they share school activities on their channels, we feel that keeping their accounts private is the best way to control the information being disseminated.
Whether photos, videos or text, we enforce appropriate sharing. Photos need to be modest while text should be age-appropriate. We reserve the right to log in and check their accounts whenever we choose. We have explained that even though their accounts are private, no post is secret. While they think they can eventually delete something, once something is shared, anyone who sees their account can do a screen capture and reshare beyond their control.
Our oldest daughter was the victim of bullying while in elementary school. We regularly remind both our daughters of the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated. Period.
Communication is the biggest concern for us. Aside from internet safety, we want to make sure their physical safety is in check. Our oldest daughter has an iPhone 6S while our younger carries an iPhone 5c. We require that both have location tracking enabled so we know where they are at any time and insist their text messages be set to allow us to see when messages have been delivered AND read. That’s a huge benefit for all of us having iPhones as are the various parental-control options available in iOS 9’s settings. For Android users, apps such as NQ Family Guardian can be utilized to provide safety and security monitoring including a panic button feature that sends an alert to parents immediately.
Of course, many of these features only work when the phones are connected to reliable cellular service such as U.S. Cellular. Our kids sometimes are concerned with their mobile usage as they stream videos and play online games so they opt to disable the cellular service. We have to continuously remind them that we are unable to utilize these important safety features when they turn off their cellular service. Once again, being able to have a dialogue regarding difficult subjects such as bullying, phishing and privacy is key to ensuring our kids are safe. It’s a different world than when we were kids and talking to our own kids is more important than ever.
Have you talked to your kids about internet safety?