I had my first child in 2010 and became a proud owner of my first smartphone in 2011. Like most people, I was entranced by the technology, convenience and wow-ness of my first iPhone, especially since my previous phone had been a Motorola Razr with pixelated photo capability and Stone Age texting.
After all, she would “need” to know how to use technology once she started school and I certainly didn’t want her to be behind technologically.*
By some anomaly, my first-born did not become addicted to tech [at a young age] even though I would freely hand her a device to “babysit” her or keep her quiet when I was grocery shopping, engaged in dinner convo with my husband, or simply, trying to do anything productive around the house.
This was not the case, however, with my second or third children. While I did not blindly hand over devices at their every beck and call, I did allow them to play computer games (like ABC Mouse), carry around their own Kindle Fire tablets (thanks, Santa) and waste numerous hours of their life engaged on the many “kid-friendly” apps I downloaded. Sure enough, temper tantrums had ensued and even some early signs of addiction and withdrawal were witnessed (in my third child). Fortunately, our Kindle Fires had a short life expectancy and peacefully “went to sleep” about three years ago. We have not replaced them.
Over the last decade+, I have had MANY experiences with different porn-related advertisement pop-ups on websites that were supposedly parent-approved and/or geared towards young children.
I quickly learned that You-Tube (both the main site and the kid-version) is more like a tube leading towards the death of children’s innocence. (Sorry. That was a tad harsh, but it is my very real opinion.) Moreover, my eldest has experienced porn-related pop-ups on websites she was instructed to use for school homework assignments…on more than one occasion. She also came into direct contact with a porn website after asking Siri to run a Google search on her name. (Honestly. I have no idea what she was thinking she would find. She was in 2nd grade at the time with no social media presence or public recognition; she wasn’t famous or hadn’t been in any public news outlets. Turns out, though, that her full name is the exact name of a female American porn star. Who would have thunk it?)
There are many dangers, threats and consequences associated with unlimited and unmonitored technology use, especially for its youngest, vulnerable and most innocent victims. Sure, there are also good functions of technology, too. Though, in my opinion, the negatives far out-weigh the positives. For instance, I didn’t even mention the risks of cyberbullying, sexting, child grooming, social media use, total body health and wellness, sex trafficking, the dark web and more. Naivety doesn’t lead you anywhere good nor does peer pressure, ignorance, complacency, negligence or laziness.
The things I’ve experienced may seem harmless on the surface but trust me when I say that when you see something graphic it is hard to unsee that image in your mind. Same goes with words texted or videos sent. They mess with emotions, wound souls, and can spread toxins to other areas of the mind.
For better or for worse, technology is not going anywhere. It is a part of all areas of life. There is no escaping it.
Still, we have the power to take control of technology before it controls us.
My hope after reading this article is for you to have eyes that see and ears that hear the risks and repercussions that come with technology use. I’m not going to leave you with a bunch of statistics,** because honestly, that may make you more overwhelmed and anxious at this point. Instead, I’d like to offer you a list of several different resources I’ve personally found helpful and effective in navigating the World Wide Web. (Ha! That hasn’t been used since the movie, You’ve Got Mail!)
The resources outlined below have helped me in understanding technology while equipping me to implement strategies for safe technology use and exposure. I hope you will consider these resources as beneficial along with my personal experience with tech as a millennial mom of five young kids. As always, I encourage you to conduct your own research and develop your own tech-rules as it applies to your unique circumstances and individual needs.
Together, we can assist our children in accessing technology in a safe, healthy and effective way.
ONLINE SAFETY TIPS FOR KIDS
- Warn children to NOT share passwords with anyone.
- Likewise, instruct children to never share any personal information including their name, home address, phone number, social security number, photos, or specific physical location.
- Discuss and implement an internet safety plan (similar to a home fire safety plan) that includes what content your children should report (suggestion: anything that makes them feel uncomfortable in addition to your family’s moral values and beliefs) and when/how they should report it to you.
- Caution children to never click on pop-up sites or to receive messages from unknown senders.
- Teach your children to adapt the habit of always logging out of websites or email accounts when they are finished using them. This is especially important when using screen-sharing apps, accessing online banking accounts or personal health portals, and any site that involves the use of a web camera.
- Set-up parental controls and internet filters on all devices. See the list below for program or service recommendations.
- Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World by Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane
- Calm, Cool, & Connected: 5 Digital Habits for a More Balanced Life by Arlene Pellicane
- Screen Kids: 5 Skills Every Child Needs in a Tech-Driven World by Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane
- Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr.: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds by Kristen A. Jenson (geared towards kids ages: 3-6)
- Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids by Kristen A. Jenson (geared towards kids ages: 7-10)
- Screen Smart Sam Battles the Bad Habit Monsters by Nicole Rawsom (geared towards kids ages 7-14)
- There’s WHAT on My Phone?: How God’s Good Gift Beats Porn by Lisa Taylor (geared towards kids ages: 10-15)
- Gabb Wireless: Looks like a smartphone but without internet browsing, apps & social media ( = NO DISTRACTIONS!).
- Verizon Gizmo Watch: Has the ability to call and receive calls from a few pre-programmed phone numbers. Also, there is a coordinating app that allows for parents to track where the watch is located. Available through Verizon.
- Moochies: A smartwatch phone for kids with GPS tracker. Pre-paid plans only (no cellular contracts needed).
Apps, Hardware & Internet Safety
- Fixappratings.com: An initiative to create safer digital places for kids.
- Bark: Like a whistle-blower for all things tech-communication, Bark, monitors text messages, YouTube, emails, and 30+ different social media sites for potential safety concerns.
- CleanBrowsing: A modernized approach to DNS-based content filtering and security.
- Covenant Eyes: Internet accountability and filtering
- Mobicip: Parental control software and Internet filter with the ability to protect your family on the internet, limit screen time, manage apps, and track location.
- Protect Young Eyes: Resources for internet safety information and the NEW The Protect App.
- BroadbandSearch blog post: A guide to keeping kids safe online with parental controls
- The Social Dilemma (Available on Netflix)
- Screen Time Clinic: Digital wellness for families, specializing in parental support and education.
- Center for Humane Technology: Initiative that supports humane technology use for well-being, democracy and shared information environments.
Stay tuned for my next Culture Matters: Kids & Tech article where I will detail my family’s technology use, ownership, rules and more.
*Yes, it is okay to insert an eye roll here. I totally did. How naïve my young self was! I mean, really? Did I honestly think a child would have a hard time figuring out how to use tech? I’m pretty sure any child born in the 21st century came into this world with a brain pre-programmed to readily use various forms of technology.
**I do recommend researching various studies that have been done in relation to technology use and exposure because the results are alarming. [Barna is my go-to for research and statistics.]
***The purpose of this editorial is to promote conversation, contemplation and consideration for a specific issue that is relevant in today’s culture. All of the information provided should be used as an introduction or starting point that guides the reader to personal research and discovery. All of the thoughts, opinions, experiences and recommendations mentioned in this article are my very own.