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The Best Way for Parents to Keep Teens Safe Online

Photograph by Twenty20

For today's parents, the extension of real life to the online world is one we had to learn how to navigate, one we've seen the downsides of, and one that we're trying to figure out how to support our kids in. Since 90 percent of all teens are online, more than 75 percent of children age 8 and older have access to a smart device and 53 percent of them got their first phone at 6, it's important to find ways to keep an eye on things and help our children safely navigate the difficult situations.

It's a responsibility that can also feel impossible.

It makes sense that parents want their kids to have access to technology. There’s something comforting about being able to get in contact anytime, anywhere, if there were an emergency. Unfortunately, unmonitored digital access can be dangerous: Who are the kids communicating with? What kind of games are they playing? How is all of this affecting their grades and relationships at school?

It's difficult for parents to have answers to these questions in the constantly changing digital landscape. One month it's all about Pokemon Go, the next they're already on to something else. Teenagers find ways to hide files on their devices, like downloading innocent looking apps that lock away files in an instant. Parents don't even know what to look for.

Keeping up takes time and effort, but one thing is certain: monitoring is mandatory. Our digital natives are in a never-ending world of digital communication, and parents need more control.

Research by TeenSafe, an online service that allows parents to view deleted text messages, social media activity, child’s phone location and more, found parents didn't know what to teach their kids about social media and online safety, often leaving the kids to navigate their digital lives on their own.

But kids need their parents' help. Consider this:

  • Teens spend an average of 5 hours a day online
  • Half of all teens have been cyber-bullied
  • Half of all teens having bullied someone online
  • 20 percent of teens have engaged in sexting
  • 27 percent of smartphone users 10 to 17 have come across unwanted sexual content while online

TeenSafe is a service that lets parents log into their accounts and check to see what their kids have been doing online and on their phones. TeenSafe gives Mom and Dad immediate insight on their kid's activities online—anywhere and anytime—so they know when to step in. Parents can see how their child is interacting on social media—messages posted on Kik Messenger, WhatsApp and Twitter—and guide them regarding online friend curation or advise them to pull down posts that may reveal too much and compromise safety or integrity. Among the features of TeenSafe's monitoring service, parents can:

  • View sent, received and deleted texts
  • View a log of incoming and outgoing calls
  • View child's phone location
  • View a list of all third-party apps on Android devices
  • View sent and received WhatsApp and Kik messages on iPhones
  • View search and browsing histories
  • View contacts

For busy families and working parents, TeenSafe has a location tracking feature that ensures kids have arrived safely to soccer practice—or that after-school plans didn't change without permission.

TeenSafe lets parents check that family ground rules about tech are being followed. In addition to safeguards like TeenSafe, parents can also try these tips for laying the foundation of a safe and appropriate social media life:

  1. As children gain access to wireless technology—smartphones, tablets, laptops—make sure they understand they shouldn't post personal details about themselves. This includes their name, address and phone number, personal details, photos and important dates.
  2. Profiles should be kept private, and only family and people the parents know allowed access.
  3. Only allow tweens and teens to publish photos and videos that parents find appropriate, ones that their children won't eventually regret. Social media is immediate, so it's up to parents to help them learn it's a long-game, too.
  4. Find out what makes a strong password and have them follow that protocol. Be sure they change passwords every three months.
  5. Do not allow them to accept friend requests from people they do not know.
  6. Talk with your child about their social media world. A lot. Tell them not to respond to a private message from a stranger. Tell them to let you know if they receive a message from a stranger, or one that is negative, teasing, harassing or threatening, even if it is someone they know.
  7. Know the signs of cyber-bullying.
  8. Know the signs of an online sexual predator.

We're raising good kids, but we still need all the help we can get.