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Parents these days face a unique hurdle that generations before them couldn’t even fathom. Keeping tabs on our kids’ day-to-day happenings is a natural instinct for most of us. We generally know with whom they’re spending time or even dating, and simply keep close tabs on them to monitor their safety. For parents today, the added hurdle in the marathon of child-rearing is Internet usage.

Kids today have never known a world without the influence of the Internet, but that doesn’t mean they understand it better than we do. They might understand how to use the gadgets and operate a computer, but it’s their parents’ generation that was raised online. It’s we the parents who watch the Dateline specials about teens committing suicide after being cyberbullied, or about kids who are manipulated and stalked by online sexual predators.

No, it’s parents who fully understand this technology, its implications on society, and what it means for our children. With the emergence of social media and its constant presence in our lives, it’s important to monitor kids’ usage, and help them develop good habits. Here are some reasons to not overlook this aspect of your kids’ lives.

To Protect Their Reputation

As you know, it doesn’t take much to ruin a good name. As kids grow up and their online activity increases, their social happenings could become public knowledge if you’re not careful. A wrong move online could prevent them from getting that first job — or worse, that coveted scholarship. Just as adults should monitor their own public online appearance, so should parents do the same for their children.

This mentality will not only protect their reputation; it will also protect their safety.

To Detect Cyberbullying and Online Predators

Online predators don’t need a lot of information about a teen or child to target them. All they need to know from the get-go is their name and that they are young and vulnerable. If left unsecured, predators can find out your child’s likes and dislikes through their social media accounts. And the statistics to back this up are overwhelming. A 2010 study by the Journal of Adolescent Health reported that 82 percent of all online sex crimes against minors involved the offender using the victim’s social networking profiles to gain detailed information about their preferences.

But online predators are only the tip of the iceberg. This new phenomenon of cyberbullying has become very real for parents and teens alike. Statistics show that at least 33 percent of all teenagers have been victims of cyberbullying, but only seven percent of parents are concerned. This is likely fueled by the fact that 52 percent of those who experience cyberbullying don’t tell their parents about it.

It’s time to get proactive about our kids’ online activities before they become harmful.

It Deters Inappropriate Behavior

Sometimes protecting our kids means more than preventing others from causing harm on them. Sometimes it means protecting them from themselves. Another huge trend in online and cell phone behavior is the notion of sexting. In case you’re unaware of this trend, it involves sending sexually explicit text messages and photos, typically through mobile phones. And studies have shown the prevalence of sexting is pretty widespread.

But sexting isn’t the only thing you should be on the lookout for. By monitoring your kids’ mobile and social media habits, you will be able to detect any other inappropriate behavior and nip it in the bud. Things like cheating in school and drug usage can be easily detected by monitoring their devices.

Enforcing Household Rules

Most households have curfews and other household rules by which teens and kids are expected to abide. Adding mobile devices and online platforms to this rule set will offer a much-needed sense of order and structure to your kids’ life. They’ll also understand that they are not in control of those devices — you are. So, in addition to bedtime rules and chores, set a limit to how much access they have to your internet connection, just as you would limit their access to TV and movies.

Working these rules into an existing set of house rules is important, but close monitoring can also help you detect when other rules have been broken. 

Generally speaking, monitoring your kids’ online (and offline) activities is just a good idea to keep them safe — from others, and from themselves. On the other hand, there’s a more positive aspect of all this. Keeping a close eye on your kid’s activity on their mobile devices and social media sites will help you determine whether they are happy and content with life. When you add this mentality into your household rules and routines, you just might see your relationship with your kids improve, and you’ll be better equipped to handle any challenges as they pop up.

Geraldine Jensen

Publisher and Editor of Families Online Magazine. Our experts provide warm, loving, and generous advice for you, your family and children, no matter their age -- infants, school age, 'tweens, and teenagers. Features include:Parenting, Ages and Stages of Child Development, Child Support, Cooking, Health, Children's Books, Nutrition, Christian Parenting, Relationships, Green-living, Education and School

Ms. Jensen is a leading advocate for families and children and was the founder and president of ACES, The Association for Children for Enforcement of Support.
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