Two of our experts weigh in on how to raise healthy, happy, safe children in today’s high-tech world
By Klaus Fuechsel
When my wife and I were parenting in the nineties, modern technology was just emerging. I introduced our three little girls to simple, slow-paced but enchanting computer games such as “Grandma and me,” “Putt-Putt saves the Zoo,” and other educational programs. But these were playable only on the one XP desktop computer we owned. Nowadays, kids can play games — and get into trouble on the internet — anywhere.
Let’s face it, while there are many positive aspects to the internet, such as educational sites and fun games, it can be a dangerous place for kids. And it can be a dangerous place for electronics, too, when you think of all the viruses, malware, and spyware out there. Often, hackers gain entry to your computer through kids’ sites or games, so turning your children loose on the internet without supervision is a bad idea in more ways than one.
In my opinion, the important thing in protecting children on the net is to cover all devices a child has regular access to, so that includes cell phones and tablets as well as desktop computers.
Perhaps you just want to place reasonable limitations on internet time. Many routers allow custom WiFi on and off times. Xfinity allows this easily through the Xfinity xFi app. You can set your WiFi to turn the internet off for the kids’ devices, for instance, after 10 p.m.
Setting time limits on your children’s cell phone use
Setting reasonable time limits on cell phones is also important: one problem a family can run into is surpassing data limits on the family plan. If your kids are watching videos, listening to music, or playing data intensive games, your so-called “unlimited plan” will quickly become as slow as molasses. Investigate apps that limit data usage — some contain parental control features as well.
Good Tech Practices for Families
1. Make sure you have an up-to-date antivirus software and a solid firewall. The firewall should protect your system from hackers and intruders wherever you or your children surf the internet.
2. Set up a “limited account” under the Windows/MAC Operating System for younger users, so a child does not have administrative privileges that would allow them to bypass protections and wreak general havoc on your computer. You can also set up mobile phones with limited/kids accounts that will allow limiting data and access. Since each mobile device/provider offers different features and ways to do this, it is best to consult the staff at a local store.
3. To control and block certain websites and activities related to the internet, you need Parental Control programs/apps. “Net Nanny” is a popular program (also available as an app) that has been around for over 20 years and covers pretty much all of the important areas of parental control for PCs, Macs, Androids, and even Kindles. Qustodio started in 2012 and offers comparably excellent software. Most of the big-name Antivirus providers, such as Symantec, McAfee, and Bitdefender, also offer their own parental control programs. Since each is different, do your research to decide which is the best for your you and your family’s needs.
4. If you work from home, keep your business computer completely separate from devices that your children use. We’ve had too many units brought in which were infected through unsecure browsing, inappropriate websites, “freeware,” as well as programs and games the kids were using.
5. Consider using an app for your child’s phone that includes “geofencing,” which provides parents the ability to keep track of the location of their children’s phones, which can be an excellent safety measure. I found a useful app called “Family GPS Tracker KidsControl” which can tell you where each family member’s phone is and even allows you to set up geographical “dangerous zones” which enables you to receive alerts when your children enter them. Since most kids are inseparable from their cell phones, this could be very helpful. Another application for this type of software is for college students. A friend’s daughter set up a geofencing app with a group of her girlfriends so they could check and make sure everyone made it home safely after a night of socializing on campus.
On a closing note, I think good parenting for the “smartphone and app native” generation is a challenge, due to the rapidly changing developments in devices, apps, social media, videos, streaming, and the world wide web. Each family is unique, and there are many different approaches to dealing with these things. Feel free to share your thoughts and questions on this subject with me at Klaus@DokKlaus.com.
Stay Connected with your Children, online and offline
By Michelle Kelley
Parenting in the twenty-first century is new territory and many parents have struggled to stay ahead of the learning curve in this quickly changing world. On the one hand, technology can afford parents peace of mind, such as when a child messages a parent that he or she has arrived safely at a friend’s house. On the other hand, smartphones can cause many parents a great deal of worry and angst about its effects on — and the safety of — their children. Giving your child a smartphone with full social media capabilities and internet access is the equivalent of putting him or her on a bus to New York City and letting them spend the day wandering around by themselves — scary.
The prevalence of technology in our children’s lives calls for different parenting skills. The key is to stay current and connected with your child’s technology use; not only can it protect your child from the dangers and darker sides of the internet and social media, it can provide you with opportunities for meaningful conversations and personal growth.
I strongly encourage parents to stay on top of their child’s technology use, all the way through high school. Having regular conversations with your child about their screen time behavior (who they are talking to, playing games with, how much time they are spending on screens) shows them that you care and you are paying attention. It’s important that your child knows what your expectations are, so if you haven’t already set ground rules, now is a good time.
Tips for parenting in the digital age:
- Keep family mealtimes screen free
- Set limits on screen time, whether it’s on a computer or a smartphone
- Encourage face-to-face interpersonal activities
- Be a good role model for responsible technology use
- Co-view, co-play and co-engage with your child when using screens.
- Have fun together online…the internet isn’t all bad! Emphasize educational sites and age-appropriate games