I liked these tech tips for parents that I received by e-mail from SocialShield, a company that offers tools and social network monitoring for parents wanting to protect their children online, especially as they unwrap more Internet-enabled mobile devices this Christmas. While I am not familiar with this startup company, these tips are some good ones. As Social Shield says, “parents need to stay equally savvy, making sure their parenting goes digital.”
Here is SocialShield’s advice:
1. Encourage a positive online reputation: Oversharing, cyberbullying and other online hazards can seriously affect kids’ online reputations. The most direct precaution to take against these risks is to talk to your kids about how they use the Internet. Discuss their activity on social networking sites, and come up with strategies for using websites wisely.
2. Keep computer usage in shared family rooms: The best way to monitor your kids’ Internet use is to put the computer in living or family rooms. This also encourages them to share positive findings and activities online, such as festive videos that put everyone in the holiday spirit.
3. Discuss technology use: If your child has just received a new smartphone or iPad, now is the time to set ground rules or limitations on how often they use these devices. With more personal ways to access the Internet — and more time to spare during vacation – kids shouldn’t be spending all their time online. Also make sure that with their current free time they aren’t friending random people just out of boredom.
4. Make sure personal information isn’t shared online: Even if your child is excited about making plans with friends during their school break, remind them that the more information they put online, the more access other people (cyberstalkers, cyberbullies) have to them. They should avoid oversharing any information meant for only close friends or family.
5. Reinforce courtesy and politeness: Although you can’t control the behavior of everyone your kids interact with online, you can stress the importance of being polite to avoid bullying and minimize arguments. Remind your kids that it’s just as important to be considerate and compassionate on the Internet as it is in the real world.
6. Block or filter sites if necessary: Kids can be impulsive, and they might get restless after a few days away from school during their holiday break. With monitoring software and services, you can have a better idea of how they’re spending their time online.
7. Make strict rules about chat rooms and chat software: Unfortunately, chat rooms are havens for cyberbullies and online predators. And it’s not just your kids who are on a holiday vacation! Parents of young kids may want to disallow chat rooms altogether, or you can only allow your kids to chat with known and approved friends.
8. Monitor downloads: Free downloads that kids get really excited about – music, videos, games – can make your system vulnerable to viruses, spyware or attacks. Encourage your kids to ask permission before downloading anything onto the computer, or find holiday music or games that you can download and enjoy together.
9. Beware of intrusive apps on mobile devices: They may be free or low-cost alternative to buying expensive game consoles, but many applications and games on Apple and Android devices send out personal information…without you even knowing! Advise your kids to not enter any personal information on the device, no matter what kind of rewards a game promises to give.
How do you monitor your child’s Internet/mobile device behavior? I wrote about this last summer, but I still would like to hear from you either by e-mail or in the comments below. Enjoy your new gadgets this holiday!
~ Lillie-Beth Brinkman (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Watch out before you let your children play with apps on your iPhone. One mom learned that lesson the hard way when she let her 4-year-old son play “The Smurfs’ Village,” a Farmville-like mobile application in which Smurfs maintain farms and build villages.
According to an Associated Press story, “Kids go on expensive buying sprees in iPhone games,” Kelly Rummelhart of Gridley, Calif., was stunned when she found $66.88 in charges on her credit card from the game. She didn’t know you could buy game items with real money; her son is too young to know.
Andrew Butterworth, of Brooklin, Ontario, also learned this lesson after his son charged $140 in “Smurfberries,” according to the AP. A package of 1,000 pretend Smurfberries will set you back $59 in real money.
Late last year, Apple started allowing “in-app” purchases in for free apps. So, you can download and play “Smurfs’ Village” for free, and then make optional purchases to speed up your game play.
These extras don’t require a password to buy if you’ve recently entered your iTunes password for any reason, not just in the game.
The makers of “The Smurfs’ Village,” Capcom Entertainment Inc., now warn buyers of this fact before they add it to their device (see screenshot).
So consider yourself warned that you might get more than annoying ads when you download “free” apps. Extra features, while they make the game more fun to play, can cost you.