Your 17-year-old daughter needs the computer to do some research for a big History test that’s coming up. Your 15-year-old son needs to type up a paper for English. Your 11-year-old daughter wants to instant message her best friend about her birthday party next weekend and your 6-year-old son wants to play games.
You think you know what your kids are doing online, but do you really? Unfortunately, statistically speaking, there’s a good chance you don’t. Not really.
Consider these heartbreaking statistics, for example…
- A shocking 9 out of 10 boys and 6 out of 10 girls are exposed to pornography before age 18. The average age of first exposure for boys is 12 years old. More than 80 percent of boys and 50 percent of girls have seen group sex online. And while many teens are intentionally seeking it out, even those who aren’t still aren’t safe. Twenty-eight percent of 16-17 year olds report being exposed to online porn unintentionally. (Source)
- Over half of all children and teens have been a victim of cyber bullying, and over half of all children and teens have been an online bully. One in four children and teens is bullied repeatedly, but only one in ten will report this bullying to a parent. (source)
- Nearly half (42 percent) of children and teenagers have been asked for personal information, which can be used in identity theft, kidnapping and other illegal activities. And while most children and teens know not to give this information out to strangers, it’s incredibly easy for strangers to pretend to be your child’s friend and gain their trust. (Source)
And that’s not all. Not only are kids watching (and creating) pornography, sexting, bullying their classmates and meeting up with strangers, but they are also buying and selling drugs and alcohol, helping each other cheat on tests and homework, chatting with strangers they have no business chatting with, and searching for questionable information they have no business searching for.
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Well, not all kids, of course. And surely not your children. Your children know right from wrong. They would never get involved in this sort of behavior! And if they did, you would know.
But with statistics as high as the ones above, it’s incredibly likely that yes, YOUR child or teen is involved in something they shouldn’t be. And so are many of their friends. And you have no idea.
According to Covenant Eyes, a well-known screen accountability program, an incredible 71 percent of teens hide their online behavior from their parents.
I know I did–and I was about as good of a kid as a set of highly involved, God-fearing, church-attending parents could hope for. I went to church three times a week, sang in the choir and in the youth group praise band, read my Bible regularly… and had an eating disorder on the side, which I definitely used our computer to help facilitate.
And this was back in the days of dial-up. I didn’t have a smart phone. None of my friends did either. Just an old, junky hand-me-down computer I got from a friend.
I shudder to think about what it will be like when my boys reach that age…
How to Keep Your Children and Teens Safe Online
Now, please understand, I do not write this assuming your children are rotten troublemakers, out there getting into all sorts of nonsense. I write this assuming your children are normal children, that they face real pressures every day (check out this post about peer pressure), that they probably don’t fully understand the gravity of the choices they make online, and that they could benefit from a little parental guidance as they navigate the rocky tween, teen and young adult years.
I’d say that’s a pretty safe assumption.
Kids today NEED their parents to be involved. They need them to help educate them about the very real dangers and temptations in the world and to give them the tools and resources they need to make the right choices when placed in the wrong situations. And here’s how you can provide just that:
1. Set Up Parental Controls Immediately
Are your computer, your phone and your teen’s phone set to block mature content? (This is NOT the same as installing an anti-virus software. And it often needs to be done manually, so don’t assume mature content is blocked automatically.) Are the settings hidden behind a password? Did you choose a strong password your children won’t be able to guess?
While many teens can get around parental controls fairly easily, parental controls are an important first step in helping prevent your kids from accidentally clicking on something they shouldn’t.
You can set filtering through your computer’s browser settings or by installing an Internet filtering software like Covenant Eyes. No program will be able to catch absolutely everything, but it’s a good start.
2. Keep Your Computer in a Well-Trafficked Area of Your Home
This tip won’t help much with smart phones, but if you have a desktop or laptop computer your family uses, make sure you keep it in a well-trafficked area of your home where someone could walk by at any time. While your kids can still minimize a screen quickly when they hear you approaching, it will help deter them from spending large amount of time on objectionable websites they shouldn’t be viewing.
3. Know Your Kids’ Log in Information
Okay, this tip may seem Big Brother-ish to some, but honestly, I don’t care. Yes, you should have your kids’ passwords and they should know that you can and will check their social media profiles and email accounts at any time for any reason (or no reason at all).
They will hate you for this, but it doesn’t matter. Your job isn’t to be your kids’ friend. It’s to be their parent and keep them safe.
Personally, in my family, my husband doesn’t know all of my passwords (we can barely remember our own passwords, let alone each others’!), but my computer and phone are always left out in the open and everything is always logged in. Same with his. Not because we are checking up on each other, but because we have nothing to hide. Either of us is allowed on the other’s devices at any time.
If your kids have nothing to hide, then there shouldn’t be a problem. And if there is a problem, too bad. You’re the parent. You make the rules. You keep your kids safe.
4. Sign up for a Screen Accountability Program
Of course, knowing your kids’ log-in information will only help you if you know what sites they are logging into. It doesn’t prevent them from opening up new, secret accounts on the same social media sites or other ones. It doesn’t tell you what sort of things they are searching for online. It doesn’t tell you what websites they are looking at when no one is looking.
If you have ANY reason to suspect that your children are getting into trouble when your back is turned, you may want to look into a Screen accountability program such as Covenant Eyes.
Covenant Eyes is a screen accountability software designed to help families keep each other accountable for their online behavior and to help start open and honest dialogue about what is happening online.
Basically, when you sign up for Covenant Eyes, the software monitors and records what sites your family is visiting online, and then sends you a report to review. After you review the report, you can talk to your family about what is going on in your home.
- Are your children searching for information on depression, suicide, anxiety or eating disorders? Covenant Eyes will let you know so you can start a conversation.
- Are your children attempting to avoid parental guidance by setting up new accounts on social media sites they know they aren’t allowed on? Start a conversation.
- Is your child sneaking on the computer late at night when they are supposed to be asleep? Find out what’s going on.
- Is someone in your family–whether you, your spouse or one of your children–struggling with pornography or other objectionable addictions? Hold each other accountable.
The point of Covenant Eyes isn’t to be controlling and nosy. It’s to hold everyone in your family accountable for their online behavior. After all, using the Internet is a privilege–not a right–and it’s one that comes with a great deal of responsibility.
5. Talk to Your Kids
And last but certainly not least, talk to your kids! And not just once, either, but regularly.
Children and teens often don’t know or understand the seriousness of the trouble that they could get into online. They don’t automatically know what sorts of things they could accidentally stumble across or what to do if they find it. They don’t automatically know how to tell if a person they meet in a chat room is a friend or a potential stalker. They don’t automatically understand that the Internet isn’t as anonymous as they think and that something they post today could easily come back to haunt them twenty years down the road.
So talk to your kids.
- Give them the basic information they need to know, such as never giving out personal information or agreeing to meet a stranger in person.
- Share examples you come across in the media of Internet usage gone wrong–not to scare, but to open their eyes.
- Talk about what sorts of things your kids and their friends are up to.
- Ask your kids how they would respond in different situations.
- Let them know their Internet use is a privilege–not a right–and that it can and will be revoked for misuse.
- Share stories of your own early Internet use and the mistakes you’ve made.
- Let your children know they can always come to you for help if a situation is getting out of hand.
- Work every day to instill the right values in your children so they will make wise decisions when the time comes.
- And pray like none other!
As parents, it’s our duty and responsibility to help our kids grow up safe, happy and healthy and Covenant Eyes is designed to help you do just that.
Visit this link to find out more information about Covenant Eyes.