21st century children have a lot. As a 21st century adult, I marvel at a time when so much content, entertainment and communication are available at the touch of a screen. My inner child can’t quite believe it all!
I don’t envy children though. There are costs and risks. I won’t launch into a hysteria article (this isn’t the Daily Mail) but there are very real threats out there that can reach your children whilst they’re shut ‘safely’ away in their bedrooms. Let's face it, even without the outside threats, they're also young and perfectly capable of making their own mistakes. Today those mistakes might not go away so easily and could go on to haunt them long after 80's children would have forgotten and no evidence remained.
Up to a certain age, there’s no technology better than a good old fashioned parent to protect a child online. Same as offline. Keep all the computers in the living room and keep physical tabs on what you’re little one is up to. Early positive engagement will hopefully educate you in terms of what the kids are up to these days and also help them develop a healthy relationship with technology.
Once into their teenage years, your young adult is likely to be a lot more defensive over their personal space - again both online and offline. You’re left trying to strike a balance between keeping them safe and letting them gain their independence.
Perhaps this is where a bit of tech can play a part and perhaps your child might accept a bit of a digital boundary in life in order to be given a level of freedom and a shiny gadget!
So what can you do on that shiny gadget to protect your kid?
When I first read about 'sexting' I imagined it was newspaper hysteria and that kids sending each other naked-selfies that then leak all over the school etc would be a rare thing - but no, I've talked to several teachers who say they deal with situations like this weekly!
Selfie Cop is an app that will attempt to make your kid stop and think before they go on to share their photo. A little nudge that once shared, this photo could be seen by ANYONE could be enough to make them think twice rather than acting on the spur of the moment.
You can also take things one step further and use the parent app to review your child's photos to check they're safe. This link between parent's and child's device is encrypted, so this level of sharing should be quite secure.
With support for most popular social networks, this is an app I'd recommend any parent of growing kids and young teenagers consider. More here.
They say that young people's online and offline lives are inextricably linked. If that's true, it's a bit of a problem for parents, as they can often find themselves completely shut out. Whilst technology and gadgets should be celebrated - children should be given variety and too much screen time means missing out on a lot of other wonders of life. So what do you need? A digital 'you' applying a few rules!
Screen time allows you to control the family devices from your own. For example, you can set time limits on your kid's tablets or smartphones. Perhaps you'd like to let them have a little more time if they do their homework, or tidy their room? No problem, you can approve some more time at the touch of a button once the toys have been put away and algebra has been mastered.
You can also take things the opposite way and pause screen time, perhaps for dinner, or block access to certain apps during school hours. Bed time? Then it's screen-lights out. All the while you can check on your own phone an audit log of what your child has been up to, ensuring that they're staying away from trouble.
I can imagine a certain amount of resistance to this sort of technology - but introduced early with good use of the incentives, you may find it's easier than physically trying to separate child from tablet at mealtimes.
There's a long list of functionality - some of which should be thought carefully about. For example you can check your kids location at any time. Even set up a geo-fence (an alert when the phone moves outside a defined area on the map). It's controversial , but may offer value in a trusting, honest and open family relationship.
Unfortunately the app isn't free, but you can try it free for two weeks to see whether it works for you.
Check out the site here.
The reason that children live through their screens so much is the lure of social networks. Whilst there is plenty to be positive about - these networks do put a lot of pressure on the young as the need to keep up and fit in becomes a 24 hour requirement. Not only that, but bullying is a real problem online and in the longer term, this generation's Facebook wall and Twitter feed could be a vital part of their CV/resume.
Minor Monitor is a free app that allows you to audit your child's Facebook and Twitter accounts getting detail on what's been going on. It's not quite the same as the other apps in that there's no way to lock the app down, so your child needs to agree to your monitoring - but if they do, it could be really useful.
Okay, this is the big one. If you really want to keep track of your child's online activities, check out UKnowKids. In the physical world, this is the equivalent of being with them at all times, so again it's worth a think about where to draw the line and allow independence. Once the ethics have been agreed, this is a powerful tool.
Not only can you monitor their use of all the major social networks, you can also track their sms/ text use, phone call log, contacts, photos and videos and, like some of the others, their location.
An app must be installed on their device and for IOS devices, you'll need their Apple account credentials.
There's a lot to this one, but if you'd like to know more, here's a video showing how it's all set up
There's also a demo version of the dashboard available, so you can get some hands on time with it before deciding whether to lay down a subscription.
Whilst kids are finding their way in the world, they need their parents close by and the online world is the same. These tools exist to support parents as they prepare their kids for independence. On their own, they're not the complete solution however and I'd recommend one more app to keep yourself educated and that's the NSPCC app based on their NetAware campaign. Below are links to the Android app, IOS and the main website.
With caution, the Internet can be a wonderful place for kids, but I must admit, I think I'm glad I was a kid in somewhat simpler times.
I'm not the only one concerned with our children's digital lives. Check out this post and apps from Xooloo. They have apps to monitor your children online and make your own device child friendly when you share it with them: