Supervising Kids’ Cyber Lives: What Can Parents Do?

Like whack-a-moles, social media concerns pop up all over the school landscape. Middle school teachers and administrators often deal with cyber-bullying. Last spring, the anonymous app Yik Yak caused an uproar at Staples.

Recently, after a cyber-bullying incident via Instagram, an elementary school principal sent a letter to parents, then followed up with visits to each classroom. A parent at the school then sent this letter to “06880,” hoping to share it with a wide audience. Here it is:

Though Instagram requires children to be at least 13 years old, our children sign up, posting pictures and remarks which could lead to permanent consequences. A 10-year-old most likely does not understand the importance of reputation management. One inappropriate post can cause them a lifetime of unfortunate consequences, not to mention hurting other innocent people.

Instagram is not the only concern. Other social media vehicles (Facebook, Yik Yak, Twitter, Vine, to name a few) pose the same threat when misused.

Instagram is a popular social media platform for teenagers -- and younger children.

Instagram is a popular social media platform for teenagers — and younger children.

As parents we are in a tough spot, balancing granting our children the internet access their peers seem to have through mobile devices and computers with keeping them safe (not only from online predators but tarnishing their own reputations for unthoughtful behavior). Now the schools are asking our help in keeping our children’s cyber-activity responsible.

We can put on parental controls, talk to them about internet safety practices, even have them sign contracts. However, I think we need to take more responsibility to closely monitor their activity and be in the know of where our children really are online.

Giving our kids devices with internet access without supervising is no different than allowing them to throw a party, advising them not to drink and then voluntarily leaving the house. We need to choose to either prevent their access to devices that access the Internet (highly unlikely — most kids in our community have handheld devices by 11 or 12 years old, and at the very least a computer at home), or take responsibility to monitor their online activity across all devices.

cyber controls

Many friends ask me if I feel guilty looking at what my kids are doing online. My response? With the alarming increase in children’s cyber-crimes, I have a responsibility to be a parent and be in the know. While I don’t micromanage every last online action they take, I have the ability to  perform regular spot checks or at least check it any time I feel concerned.

We can’t afford not to monitor our children online as they access the internet, and especially as the internet accesses them. Too many cyber-crime stories involving children and unaware parents have been reported after it’s too late.  The risks are way too big.

What do you think? How do you monitor your children’s online activities? What’s appropriate for what ages? Click “Comments” below to contribute to this important conversation.

6 responses to “Supervising Kids’ Cyber Lives: What Can Parents Do?

  1. I agree 100%. Monitoring a child’s online life is not spying or an invasion of privacy–it is a necessity. I have told my children that there is no privacy online and they have to expect that I will go on to any of their accounts at anytime to see what they have been up to. I have also told them that anything they write or post online can end up available for all the world to see so they have to focus on creating a positive online presence. That said, it is a daunting task for parents to both constantly monitor their children’s online presence AND to keep up with the ever changing technology landscape and what is the “cool” online tool to be using at any given time. The more the school system and the town can help with this piece, the better.

  2. Nancy Powers Conklin

    All I can say is that I am so relieved that my children are adults and I did not have to deal with this issue. With that said, if I had young children today I would not hesitate to monitor what they are doing online through any social media website or email. Life seemed and was so much easier back then!

  3. Agreed! I’ve been criticized for supervising my kids’ online activity with a software monitoring service. It’s not until after something tragic happens that many parents seem to understand how important it is to have the ability to monitor their children’s activity. Because I had the ability to see what my child was doing online, I was able to address an issue of concern before it got to a point where there may be irreversible consequences. As we give our kids access to these devices at (esp at younger ages) it is our responsibility to make sure they are using the Internet responsibly. We don’t toss them the keys to a car without seat belts! The more our community can help parents understand how important it is to make this common practice, the more acceptable it will become with our children and their peers. We need to take back the reins as parents on this one.

  4. I’m not a parent, just an uncle, but perhaps of greater relevance is that I worked for four years at CARU dealing in part with children’s online privacy issues during the still-formative years of the Internet. CARU’s self-regulatory guidelines helped lead the way for COPPA.

    This parent’s perspective seems like a common-sense approach to me; quite frankly, I’m astonished there are parents out there who would “feel guilty looking at what (their) kids are doing online.”

  5. I suppose that I’m more concerned about the addictive nature of online technology, how easily a teen’s self-esteem can be altered every minute of every day (at least we had hours, days to make sense of what a bully said or whispered, time to think and not react foolishly).

    How I wish the phones were put away, that people realize “it’s not all about you”.

  6. Hi–I would LOVE to find out about the software monitoring service E. Horn has used. It is so difficult to stay on top of the trends and new forums in which the kids communicate. I am tracking what I know (texting, Facebook, Instagram) but I’m afraid of what I don’t know. Any suggestions?