Posted on 12-04-2017
How to Keep Tech Gifts a “Safe Toy” This Holiday Season
If your kids are like ours, the older they get, the fewer toys they want, and the more “tech” they crave. They go from asking for trains, dolls, and scooters to tablets, phones, and laptops. We spend a lot of time when children are younger thinking about what toys are safe and appropriate for certain ages and stages, but what about when your kiddo graduates from toys to tech? How do you keep their “toys” safe then?
Here are a few tips for making sure that new Kindle, Chromebook, or Apple Watch doesn’t become an unsafe addition to your child’s routine:
- Especially when your children are young and just learning to navigate the internet, it’s important to sit with them (or at least very closely monitor) their web browsing activity. Ask them questions, and teach them to ask you questions before clicking on a link or new activity.
- Many browsers have parental controls built into their systems. USE them. You can create a profile for each family member with a custom firewall designed to match their age and maturity. You can set filters for language, nudity, violence, and adult situations. There are also browsers created just for children that allow only the cleanest of content, if you don’t want to mess with setting filters.
- In keeping with the above, there’s also software you can install that will also monitor web content for you. (Net Nanny is a popular choice.) These tools will automatically wipe out links (even those not blatantly labeled as such) to unsafe or inappropriate content. You can see websites as your children will view them and also follow searches and web activity in real time remotely.
- Teach your children early and well to keep their private information private. Just make it a hard and fast rule—we do not share our physical address, location, or identifying information with ANYONE or ANY WEBSITE on the internet without asking a parent. We do not give out our real names, or the names of our schools, or places we frequently like to hang out. (We also do not share similar information about family or friends either.)
- Don’t let your kids shop online without you. If they find something they want to buy and you’re okay with it, enter the info for them while they’re out of the room. You don’t need them having direct access to your credit or debit card info, and honestly, until they’re at a certain age and the money is theirs, you need to be monitoring their purchasing choices anyway. Otherwise, your house will just be overrun with emoji-themed items, and no one wants that.
- Become familiar with online game ratings (the Entertainment Software Rating Board website might be useful) and be sure you know the rating of a particular game before you allow your child to play it. Better yet, watch them play the game for a bit to make sure you’re comfortable with the level of violence or adult content the game contains before they proceed further.
- Finally, constantly, CONSTANTLY monitor your child’s online activities. Once they reach the age at which they have their own personal devices, make it known that while those devices are connected to your internet and you’re paying for them, you will be checking their texts, emails, search history, snapchats, instagrams, what’s apps, and whatever else the kids are into these days whenever you please. Set rules and boundaries and follow them. Explain to your child that this is for their safety—not just a way to be more controlling and invasive. The internet is a marvelous place, but it has many dark and scary corners that your child may not and should not know how to navigate. Teaching them how to safely operate their tech toys can be just as essential as outlet covers or a bike helmet.