June 1, 2009
One of the most talked about issues both in and out of my counseling
practice has to do with technology and our children. Parents, wanting
to make sure that their children are "up to speed" with the latest and
greatest technology, are providing access to cell phones and the internet
at alarmingly young ages. Children as young as six feel it is their "right"
to these privileges! Parents ask all the time how to supervise the internet,
how to enforce basic rules around cell phone use, and whether or not
they are doing their child a DISSERVICE when they DO NOT succumb
to adult and child peer pressure and either restrict or monitor their
children and technology. I have seen children as young as 7 with
facebook accounts - and many of their parents have no idea that they
have set them up!
With that in mind, I have developed Parent Tips for Internet and Cell
Phone Safety for Children. It's important to note that every family
needs to establish their own guidelines and rules, and each child's
behavioral, emotional, and social maturity needs to be considered
when setting up the rules.
PARENT TIPS FOR INTERNET AND CELL PHONE SAFETY FOR CHILDREN
Having access to the Internet and using a cell phone is a privilege.
Parents need to provide proper guidance and supervision to promote
safety. What is sent to one person or uploaded on the Internet enters
a PUBLIC arena. Children need to understand the lack of privacy
that is potentially at risk when children misuse the technology.
How public is it? The following are examples of how easily information
is passed to an entire network: a picture sent through cell phones to
everyone on their contact list, an email sent out to a buddy list, an IM conversation copied and pasted into email and sent out to an address
It is a parent’s obligation to help children understand the safe use and
risks of this technology through discussion, supervision, setting
appropriate limits, awarding privileges for appropriate technology
use, and providing consequences for inappropriate technology use.
Don’t look for ways to punish your child; use supervision and
monitoring as means for communication about what’s appropriate
and what’s not, and reinforce appropriate use and parental access with privileges.
Trust and supervision go hand in hand. A child will make you feel
guilty about supervision – telling you if you are monitoring their
behaviors, you must not trust them. Teach them that trust is earned
when repeated checks result in observation of appropriate behavior,
and trust is maintained when less frequent checks continue to result in observation of appropriate behavior. Likewise, observing inappropriate behavior results in decreased trust, increased supervision, and will
result in limits to privileges.
It is crucial to establish rules around cell phone use. For example,
set times for phone to be turned off for the night, make sure the
phone is turned off at bedtime, and, if necessary, your child might
need to give the phone over to you before sleep. In addition, limit
cell phone use during homework, mealtimes, and family time. Phones
can be placed on the counter, for example, before meals. Children should
not even CHECK the nature of a text message during family time.
Teach them that it can wait until later. If an adult needs to be accessible
by phone for urgent work issues, he can check his texts or calls during
family time, but work to model the message that family time is the priority!
It is important also to set limits around texting. Texting under age of 16
needs to be limited and monitored. A guide to this can be that once
1-2 texts have been sent, your child needs to stop texting that person
until they receive a response. Many children inappropriately send text
messages or sexual pictures (sexting) because the impact of what they
are doing doesn't feel real. Look in the local papers and you will read
about situations where a child under the age of 17 sent a sexual text to
a person over 17 and the older person was arrested and charged with
Because of technology, parents need to continue to speak with parents
regarding plans and to insure parties are supervised. Children are relying
LESS on parents to make plans, and detour around parental authority for arrangements. Children are making plans via cell phone, and they believe parents don’t need to contact each other. Children actually feel it will
In addition, parents are no longer picking children up by going to door
(they are calling child’s cell phone). Parent to parent contact is
CRUCIAL in helping you feel you are not alone in parenting!
Internet use must be monitored as well. Under age 14, children’s
passwords should be known to parents. Over age 14, parents need
assess if they need to know passwords, which depends on the maturity
and behavior of the child. This might change as your teen moves
through high school, and the privilege of a private password CAN
be revoked if the child's behavior warrants. Parents have the right to
access their children’s email and internet sites to monitor activity.
If child denies access, the child loses internet privileges. If inappropriate
use is noted, the child loses internet privileges. Making good choices
results in continued, appropriate use!
It is most important that children know you CAN check these sites –
children who know their parents CAN monitor their use are more
likely to make responsible choices. Check periodically, and increase
monitoring if at risk behavior is noted.
Specifically, facebook, snapchat, twitter, and instagram was initially
intended for High School age children and older. It is not appropriate
for a child under age 14 (junior high or younger) to access these sites,
although many children are accessing them. If you feel the need to
indulge your child with this at such a young age, it is imperative that
you supervise the use often! In addition, parents shouldn’t need to
“friend” their child – you have access to monitor, and they need to
self-monitor. However, if you choose to have children as friends, set
a good example and do not expose those children to adult content.
When you determine your child can have accounts on these sites, browse through child’s site WITH your child periodically. This is not the time
for you to grab the details of their lives. Instead, use it to open
discussion about what's appropriate and how what is being put out
into the virtual world can have a long-lasting impact on their lives.
Remember, these are guidelines, not firm rules. In your individual
homes, examine how you negotiate the privileges that come with
technology and how you supervise those privileges. Make sure you
consider the individual child when setting your own guidelines.
Please share your thoughts, concerns, and successes here as well!