If your teens are anything like our teens, or the millions across the nation, they're probably attached to their cell phones and/or whatever electronic device they have. In many ways cell phones and iPods and tablets are super helpful and can be great tools if used properly. But when not used properly, your child's device can potentially open the door to all sorts or questionable and dangerous possibilities.
Now I don't want to jump on the bandwagon of trashing technology and and condemning app developers for what they're creating. Instead, I want to offer just a little help and insight that can provide parents with a little education that could help them be a little more aware of what your kids are able to do with their devices.
First, full disclosure. We are a family of 7. 5 of us now have iPhones. All of my kids have or have had an iPod. 4 of us now have an iPad. 2 have Kindles. We have an older 1st generation (refurb'd) iPad that still functions well enough to run games and watch movies. And we have a 1st generation Kindle Fire HD that functions and runs games, books, and movies. These two last devices are used for our youngest when we travel or sit and sporting events for the older brothers.
Along with all the devices, I am a tech junkie, specifically when it comes to Apple products. (Yes I am excited about the most recent upgrades coming on the new macbooks.) I see technology as a tool to make life better. I dream of one day having a smart house where I can control everything within the house from my iPad. Yes, I am a geek. However, as technology advances, so do the dangers. And too often it's we parents who get left behind because we just don't have the time, or the know-how to keep up with the ever advancing pace of updates and upgrades.
But as a parent, it is super important that you are aware of what your kids are looking out, doing, and communicating on their devices. While the great majority of the apps on their devices are safe and relatively harmless, even the most innocent app can lead to dangerous usage. So the question is this, Do YOU know what apps are on your child's devices?
As a parent, it is super important that you are aware of what your kids are looking at, doing, and communicating on their devices.
Let me offer a few suggestions that we have implemented in our home.
1. Only You should have access to your app purchasing accounts.
If you are familiar with any app purchasing, you know you need an account that is linked to a credit card in order to purchase and download any app. In our house, there is account for our app store and our kindle store, and I (Jay) control it. Our kids do not have the password and cannot purchase apps without our approval. This simple step can eliminate many of the downloadable dangers run off the bat. In order for you child to download a desired app, they must come and ask you to do it. This leaves you in control of the download.
2. Learn about the app in question before just downloading it.
It is incredibly prudent that you take the time to read about the app and what it does and what is has access to, BEFORE you download it. Try to understand what it is that the app is offering. Is it a game? is it a game where others can play with your child via wifi connections? Is it an educational app? Is it a video or movie app? Is it a music app? Does it stream content? Does it require wifi to run? Does it use data and connect to the internet?
Also look to see what the app wants permission to access. Many apps want to know your location, or link to content like your contacts, or send you notifications. Some apps will go as far as asking for a credit card to enable certain features or in app purchases. Some apps connect with other users and offer the experience multiple players. This can introduce your child to a world of possible contacts. And some apps gather information about your child and their device use. This information can then be used in marketing and suggestive content.
You need to know what the app will do before the download.
3. Make random spot checks a practice.
Don't assume that your 'good' kid is always making 'good' decisions. Much can happen behind the closed doors of the internet. It is our practice to ask for our kids devices randomly and check their activity. Random is key as there are a number of actions that can be deleted from the device. We check their texting; the contacts, who they're texting, what are they texting about, and when they are texting. We check their browser history; where they're going, what they're seeing, and what they might be downloading from the internet. (Just a note, only our oldest has access to the internet via his device. Our other children do not.) We check certain social apps to see what pictures and status updates are being posted, viewed, liked, and shared. We check what their friends and followers are saying, sharing, and liking. I also check their email folders to see what might be coming to their inbox.
The other thing I check, is for personal accounts that they might have started and kept hidden. Whether it's with the App Store, an email, or a secret social media account, you have to be thorough and careful not to take what you don't see or don't know as good decision making. To assume that because you don't see it, means they aren't doing, could leave you with a little egg on your face when you discover they've been hiding stuff from you.
Allowing your kids to use electronic devices can be a little scary and intimating, but it doesn't have to be. With a little education and some diligent awareness, you can walk along side your child knowing you are doing your best to keep them safe. And while there are a great number of topics relating to apps and social media and your child's devices that I could still talk about (and I will in future posts), I hope these three little suggestion might help you begin to think about what your role as a parent looks like when it comes to technology and how your children use their devices.
PS - If the topic of technology and apps and device usages is something that strikes accord with you, let us know. One of the things we hope to do as we raise our five kids, is to teach them the value of being able to discern the dangers that come with a world that is shrinking faster and faster every day. As parents, we believe we most first be educated and do our best to understand the world around us. Jay is working to stay as current as possible as we work to raise up our kids. So there is much more to come. In the meantime, please share any questions, thoughts, or concerns you have in the area of apps, social media and technology.
Thanks for taking the time to read The Higham Family Blog. Each week we try to share new content about something we are learning, something we love, or something to offer encouragement to the family. We love to hear from our readers, so please share your thought in the comment section of each post.