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Tablets, smartphones, gaming consoles, and computers. Most kids from the ages of 8 to 12 have access to one or more of these gadgets at any given time. It’s no wonder this same age group spends about 4 to 6 hours a day online. More startlingly, our teens are spending a whopping 9 hours a day watching or interacting online, and that number grows each year.

In the last two years, online media use by teens and tweens jumped up 17%.

Although internet access can be a great thing in helping to develop and educate our adolescents, it can also be dangerous if we are not paying attention.

What Apps Are Our Kids Using?

What are kids doing online?

The top three “go-to” social media platforms amongst our teens are Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram. Your kids spend almost as much time using social media each day as they spend learning in school.

There are about 1 billion online gamers worldwide! And not just teens—12% of kids under the age of 8 are playing games online.

What do social media and online gaming have in common? They both allow interaction with almost anyone—even people you have never met.

Online Risks: Cyberbullying, Peer Pressure & Drug Use

All of this screen time increases risks for our kids.

We have all heard stories of cyberbullying and kids being lured into meeting imposters through social media. The negative effects of social media also include the pressures of keeping up with your peers. If you don’t get enough views on your posts or don’t look the way your peers think you should, it can lead to low self-esteem, depression, and feelings of inadequacy about your life or appearance.

Social Media Influencers

Social media use can aggravate peer pressure for teens. According to High Impact Youth Training Solutions, “Social media has created a new system that encourages teen substance use and abuse. Studies have found that as many as 75% of teens felt pressured to drink alcohol and use drugs after seeing their friends post about these activities online.”

Kids and teens are constantly trying to keep up with the “in” crowd.

Celebrities are a big force in many of the choices kids make. Many of the celebrities that kids think of as role models are posting photos and videos of themselves smoking, drinking, and doing drugs. This can certainly influence the decision for many to join in those activities as well.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is so concerned about the role that social media plays in the buying and selling of illicit drugs that it released a parental reference guide decoding the emojis typically associated with online drug deals. See “Emoji Drug Code Decoded” by the DEA here.

Keeping Our Kids Safe Online

Making sure our kids are safe while online is a constant battle of keeping up with the newest and best safeguards and technology. Trying to safeguard our children can seem overwhelming with so many different devices, apps, and social networking sites.

Here are a few ways to monitor and restrict your child’s online activity to help keep them safe.

Use Parental Controls on Devices

Most cell phone services come with parental controls that you can sync to all phones within your plan. The easiest way to find out what safety devices are available is to contact your phone provider.

You can also contact your internet service provider (ISP) and ask them what parental controls they offer and how to set them up.

To help block adult content, you can set controls for search engines on your laptop and/or desktop. Search engine Google offers a kids’ safe search called SafeSearch Kids.

Set Safety Controls on Gaming Consoles

Many parents might forget about safeguarding the game console. Most consoles also come with control settings. It’s good to check into these settings and set up safety controls, especially since online gaming is a very popular way of interacting with people you have never met.

Paid Safety Controls

There are many paid apps out there to help block unwanted images and traffic from your children’s devices. Finding which app is the best fit can be a daunting task. Here are some things to look for when deciding what safeguards are best for you:

  • Make sure the app has a filter for content, and it allows you to choose what games, apps, and websites the user is allowed access to.
  • Look for an app that also offers screen time limits. This filter is very handy for parents with kids who like to stay up all night on their phones or choose social media over homework.
  • A good app will allow you to monitor a child’s activity, including internet browsing and even conversations they have with others. You should also be able to block phone numbers of contacts or unsolicited instant messages.

More Ways to Help Protect Our Kids

Parental controls and filtering apps are a good way to help protect your kids while online, but there are other ways you can get extra protection from the everyday threats our adolescents face.

  • Talk with your kids about who they interact with while on social media or gaming devices.
  • Discuss with them about bullying and encourage them to talk with you if they feel threatened.
  • Make sure their screen name doesn’t reveal any personal information, especially their real name, birthday, or address.
  • Check the games they are playing. Get familiar with them and their ratings.
  • Check their friend list on their social media accounts.
  • Have the desktop in an open, highly visible, space in your home.

Obviously, technology is a necessity in our world, and it continues to get more and more advanced. It can become increasingly difficult to keep up with all the newest gadgets, making it even harder for parents and guardians to keep kids safe.

The best thing you can do to protect your children from online risks is to stay vigilant. Have honest talks with your kids, set up safeguards and protocols, and stay persistent.