This post was inspired and sponsored by Domain.ME, the provider of the personal URLs that end in .ME. As a company, they aim to promote thought leadership to the tech world.
I never thought it would happen to me. My blog had just started out as a way to record what funny or frustrating things were happening when I started staying at home. That's when my blog hit the big time and my Banish the Playdate post went viral.
My kids at ages 10, 7, and 4 have no idea what that means though they will at some point. They will be watching endless cat videos like the rest of us, taking YouTube challenges to raise money for a worthy cause, and posting pictures of their last meal on Instagram for everyone to see.
When the post went viral, the media requests also went crazy. My email was stuffed and my phone was ringing off the hook. I couldn't get to everyone and stuck with the ones that I felt would give me the best coverage and do it in a respectable way. It wasn't until I receive an alert that my name had appeared in another online publication that I took a step back and wondered, are my kids really safe online?
You see, they had taken photos from my personal Facebook account and used them on their site, pulling images of things that I did with my kids right from my profile without permission. I wondered if that was even legal considering their were pictures of my kids who are minors on the site citing their names and information they must have gleaned from my page. I was sobering to say the least, so I took a look at the ways we need to protect our children online.
1) Turn off In App Purchases
A few years ago at eight years old, my son was playing an app called Jurassic World. In the game, once you spend up all your energy, you can "buy" more items in the store. He saw the offer to purchase more gold coins and clicked on it, advancing his game. What I didn't realize was that he had just purchased $100.00 worth of virtual items to play an app on our iPad. I never turned off in-app purchases in the settings which requires a password to make such a purchase. Luckily, iTunes was understanding about it and refunded my money. Clearly this is a problem for many parents so keep your kids and your wallet safe by disabling this feature.
2) Turn off Chat Modes in Apps
Many of these online apps and games give you the option, if it is a game where you are playing collectively towards a goal to allow chat with other people who are also online playing the game. Often the language and content on the chat are not appropriate and sometimes children can be bullied via this interaction. Turn off chat for any apps where this is the case.
3) Computers/Tablets Should Be Used In Common Areas
There is nothing worse than your child, holed up in their room using the Wi-Fi unsupervised. Make sure their use of these devices is done in a place that is public so that they can all be seen using it. There is nothing to hide when you are out in plain sight, try to keep it that way. You should also set up the privacy settings and have filters for appropriate content for any computer your kids can access. On average, 61% of parents fail to set these restrictions despite it being an easy deterrent.
4) Consider Anonymity
If you are starting a blog and want to share your family with the entire world, consider using aliases. My blog started out as a record mostly for family of all the things the kids were doing. It became more than that as I write about their childhood and do various sponsored posts with them but I never considered that it might have an impact on them later. I was already posting about them and their names for years before the viral post which thrust not only me but them as well into the spotlight. If you or your spouse are okay with sharing stories about them, then go for it but that discussion should be made well before you start posting.
5) Stay In The Moment
This is an issue that I struggle with as a blogger. The more I post about funny things, the more people like it but at the same time there is a price at my family's expense where I become so focused with posting that I forget about being present to my actual family. People don't need to know EVERYTHING about you. Give them bits and pieces so they want to learn more. Always posting about every little thing will ruin your relationship with your family. My wife always reminds me "Who is more important right now than us?"
6) Children Don't Need Cell Phones
There is no reason any child under the age of 13 NEEDS a cell phone. Kids are in school most of the day and most phones are outlawed in the school or students are told to keep them in their lockers. Cell phones at too early an age can be disruptive and children are not capable from a maturity standpoint to be able to manage the responsibility behind a cell phone. Access to the internet from a device such as this is a danger to young people. If they want a phone, purchase one that is prepaid and only uses phone or texting as an option. If you decide that your child absolutely needs a cell phone, consider writing up a cell phone contract.
7) Talk About Appropriate Posting
Express to your children your expectations about appropriate posting. Never post on social media your address or phone number. Kids should know that taking a picture of someone and posting without their knowledge is never right. Children should also know that posting anything online is forever. Even though they might feel anonymous, they never truly are and that posting inappropriate things will have consequences both with you and others. They should never post anything they may regret later.
8) Be Their Friend
To further monitor what they are posting, parents should be friends with their children on all social media platforms that their children may be on. This is put into place not to embarrass anyone but to make sure they don't post something that may end up hurting them. If they have nothing to hide, this shouldn't be an issue. Until they are an adult parents should be aware of what their kids are posting online.
9) Talk About Where You've Been, Not Where You're Going
Posting about a trip you are about to take can sometimes have negative consequences. If someone knows where you live and knows you will be away for weeks, you may become an easy target. Latergram pictures are just as good as posting it right then and there. Let people catch up with you when you are back at home and avoid going into too much detail about where you are in the present.
10) Talk About Their Virtual Footprint
My son recently spent time in his fourth grade class discussing their virtual footprint. It's the traces you leave behind on the internet that stay with you forever. As part of their lesson, they had to Google their name. Because of all the Banish the Playdate press, he was one of the only kids that had a multitude of things with his name already associated with our appearances. We decided that it was only fair now that he was ten that I would ask his permission if something could be posted about him or with his face and respectful for me to ask him first. Go ahead, Google your child's name and then go from there.
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