Here's how parents can keep kids safe online without spying

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Here's how parents can keep kids safe online without spying

Parents can control passwords and monitor the content their kids will be exposed to on website and apps to make sure their children are safe online.

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  • Parenting
  • Money
  • Health-Safety
Eva Dwight, BA, MEd, ACC, CPDT, Contributor Published 12:56 p.m. ET Jan. 11, 2019

Protect that smile. Encouraging your kid to brush twice a day with a dab of fluoride toothpaste will guard against cavities.

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According to Jaci Russo, founder of Social Nation U , I’m a technology immigrant and my children are technology natives.

In other words, I’m of a generation that remembers life before we had computers and digital technology at our fingertips every waking moment. My kids, who are in their early 20’s, never knew life without computers.

They seem to have a genetic predisposition for understanding the constantly evolving world of apps and social media that can easily send parents’ brains into a tailspin.

Russo says a major challenge for parents like me is that we have “immigrants” trying to teach “natives” how to maintain digital safety and appropriate interaction on apps that we can’t keep up with and frequently don’t have any interest in using. It’s hard to know what to do and how to do it.

Russo has been traveling the country for 10 years educating parents and kids about safe technology use. Her website offers multiple resources for parents, including specific information about how to monitor kids’ use of social media and how to raise children who are responsible digital citizens.

Let your kids fail. To learn self-sufficiency, kids need to occasionally dust themselves off (literally and figuratively) without your help. "Most parents know what their children are capable of but step in to make things easier for them," says Sheri Noga, the author of Have the Guts to Do It Right: Raising Grateful and Responsible Children in an Era of Indulgence. Remember: Long-term benefits—a teenager who knows how to do her own laundry, for example—trump momentary discomfort. Before you rush in to help with any physical task, ask yourself: "Is my child in real danger?" Then—and this applies to other challenges, like the social studies poster due tomorrow—think about whether your child has the necessary skills (dexterity and balance) or simply adequate sleep and a snack. Yes? Time to back off and see what happens.

Some of her suggestions include:

1. Monitor kids’ presence online and on social media

This doesn’t mean you spy on your kids and read their every text and email. However, parents should be “friends” with their children on social media sites so they can be aware of what their children are posting. If kids have an app, parents should have it too so they can practice using it and confirm that it’s appropriate for their child’s use.

2. Provide a central charging station for the family outside of the bedrooms

Phones, tablets and computers should be off limits during sleep hours. Providing a central charging station where everyone parks their devices overnight (including parents) can promote a family culture of positive mental, physical and technological health.

3. Parents should control passwords and do research before allowing kids to download anything

If you don’t have time to research, encourage your child to practice delayed gratification until you do. Don’t give in to the pressure to automatically okay anything.


“Parents need to parent,” says Russo. “That means they need to enforce the technology rules in spite of kids’ protests. You wouldn’t let your kid drive your car without instructions and lots of supervised practice, but you let them travel the world of the internet with no supervision?”

Determine what level of technology is appropriate for your child at each age

Katey McPherson , internet safety advocate and mother of four, encourages parents to have open discussions with their children about the family’s use of technology.

She recommends that parents be clear about the purpose of a device and then set reasonable limits for use. For instance, if the primary purpose for your child to have a phone is for safety, then a flip phone rather than a smart phone will suffice, especially for children younger than 12.

If your child is older than 12 and the purpose of them having a smartphone is not only increased safety but also access to the internet and social media, then ongoing conversations will be needed to ensure appropriate use.

When deciding whether your child is ready for a particular social media platform or app, McPherson recommends doing the research to find out what that platform or app allows in terms of content. If you’re ready for your child to be exposed to that content, then you can approve it. Parents can go to to learn about more than 70 apps and whether they’re safe or harmful for teen use.

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"What’s a good investment? Go home from work early and spend the afternoon throwing a ball around with your son." - Ben Stein on CNN

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