3 Strategies for Parents
Confused parent: “My child wants to use Instagram, Streetchat, Snapchat, Vine, (insert greatest, latest app here). I don’t know what these apps do, and am not even sure what my permission means! Help, please?”
The good news: you don’t have to know everything. There are some great ways to know just enough to help you make decisions! It is not possible stay on top of it all! That’s why I’ve made it my mission to be your mentor and guide and help you wade through the tech jungle that is your child’s world. Next time you are faced with this kind of plea from your digital native, try these steps:
1. WADE IN >>
Ask. If your kids wants and app, she can teach you about it. Invite your child to tell you everything she knows about the app and why she wants the app. (besides because “all my friends are on it.”) What is the draw for her? How will she use it? Is it a game? A social app? How much personal information is shared? How do other kids act towards each other in that space? How does it make people feel? Make it a prerequisite that if she is getting an account, that you and she will sit down and interact with it – together.
Consult. Ask a local “expert” for advice. This can be anyone– an older cousin, your college-aged niece, the intern at your office who is all over social media. Find a reliable young person a few years older than your own kid to give you the down low.
Research. Google the app, bring in a school speaker to talk to all the parents in your community, or check out a resource like Canada’s Media Smarts.
2. GO DEEPER >>
For Games: Check it out without buying it. Play a trial of the game. Go to Youtube and watch some gameplay videos with your child. Read reviews on Amazon.
For Social Apps:
Instagram: If you want to know more about what people do on Instagram, you can go to the to a web viewer and search for …anything. You’ll see the cute...and the not so cute content available on the app. Just put a number sign (hashtag) before a word and search away!
Try searching for #pandas...or try something naughtier–what might your 12 year old search for? Yes, I know kids are supposed to be 13 to use most social apps, including Instagram, but many kids have Instagram accounts before they arrive at that milestone.
Know what’s out there, but don’t assume that just because there is instaporn that your child knows this or wants to see it. Just because inappropriate content can be found on an app, doesn’t mean that is what your son or daughter is looking for…but do remember that user generated content is not rated the way movies would be…and that most of these companies are WAY to small to adequately screen content.
Snapchat: You can use the app to send images that “disappear” after a few seconds, or you can create a snapchat story that lasts 24 hours. One 15 year old talks about what a bummer it can be to see yourself excluded on Snapchat stories and images here.
Many social apps can be opened in a web browser and which lets you view the content pretty easily. Check out “Who’s here “ on Ask.Fm. And of course, you can always download the app and try it yourself. As a general rule, social apps that skew toward anonymity seem most likely to foster mean behaviors. Human beings don’t seem to do their best when hanging out anonymously.
Related: Creating a Family Tech Plan
3. ENGAGE >>
If you are thinking about giving permission, after doing research, here are some questions to discuss with your child:
- Ask him to show you a an example of someone’s social account that he doesn’t think is appropriate and one he thinks is smart and cool.
- Work with your child to generate a list of do’s and don’ts for the new app.
- For a social app, what is the criteria for connecting with someone?
- What is the potential for conflict? Can they give an example of how to avoid conflict and drama?
- What privacy settings will he use?
- How much time will she be allowed to spend using the app, and under what conditions?
- Is having her password a condition of use? Being “friends” or “following” her?
- Does she know how to avoid “geotagging” herself, leaving a trail of data?
- How will he decide what can be shared or not shared?
Wading in, going deeper and then having an honest discussion with your child is a great way to keep up with the apps she’s using and make sure what she downloads is safe and fun. If the app seems to be dialing up stress, taking away from other pursuits (sleep, homework, family time) or is having any other negative effects, then it is time to rethink.
About the Author: Devorah Heitner, PhD is the founder and director of Raising Digital Natives, a resource for parents and schools seeking advice on how to help children thrive in a world of digital connectedness. 17,000 people have viewed her recent TEDx on Empathy in the Digital Age. An experienced speaker, workshop leader, and parent coach, Dr. Heitner speaks at schools across the United States. She is writing a handbook for parents, titled, “Raising Your Digital Native.” Dr. Heitner has a Ph.D. in Media/Technology and Society from Northwestern University she is delighted to be raising her own digital native, too.