While this is a unique time for many families, it has forced us to to use (or over use) apps like Zoom, Facetime, and Messenger Kids for keeping in touch with friends, families and even for outside activities like school or workouts.

This is great thing and I feel that this will change how the world functions moving forward but it also opens the doors for child predators. This is not a comfortable topic but it is a necessary one. This affects both boys and girls. Do they have the knowledge to NOT be tricked into meeting someone? Do they have the knowledge to avoid being tricked into revealing private areas of their body?

I can tell you, until I started having to run Facebook and Website advertising, I didn’t realize how big of a threat online predators are. I have had to make changes to how I do things because of what has happened. I tend to have to deal with disgusting comments or direct messages to the business 3-4 times a year. This has created a passion for me to educate people because if I didn’t think it was real threat, with all my years of programming, online gaming, and other online experiences, why would anyone else?

My first experience was a several years ago, I had a professional photographer come in and do photos. I slowly rolled out the images and I had a “John Doe comment: she has some great camel toe”. I then googled it and was disgusted at the comment, deleted the photo and have never posted another photo with “camel toe”.

One of the more recent comments was on a completely innocent photo of girls just standing in line but because of they wanted to “rate” how attractive the girls looked. Below is a screen shot of the comment:

Between all of this, the ugliness of Nassar and Safesport, new rules were released. Now all of a sudden, the rules that Kids First had in place, and had been made fun of by other coaches/gyms, seemed like the it was insightful and was now being forced as the NEW standard, but for Kids First, was the same old standard with a few revisions.

The reason for all of this information IS to make you understand the risks of being online but also understand that this also creates a unique time for YOU to educate your kids on making safe choices so they don’t become a victim of online predators.

It is easy to think your kids, “know how they should act” online, because you have had other discussions with them. Many times they don’t.

This isn’t a battle that most parents want to have, it is uncomfortable and it is going to be an “ongoing battle.” But it is worth it.

I know my 7 year old has no idea what an online predator is, so setting ground rules for her was necessary.  One of the best articles I read recently was by Melinda Wenner Moyer from the New Your Times and she mentioned 8 great tips for keeping the kids safer online.

1) Communicate to your kids that digital devices deserve a special kind of respect

Require them to ask permission to use any devices. “By just pausing at that permission-getting, you’re already asking a child to be conscious about what they’re doing,” said Liz Kline, the vice president of education programs at Common Sense Media, an independent nonprofit organization that provides technology recommendations for families and schools.

2) Consider setting rules on when and where your kids have access to devices or specific apps

Like not being able to be on any video calls in their bedrooms or a space that people can’t just “see” or walk into. Think of this just like when your kids would have friends over normally, you would check in every so often too.

3) Create a schedule so that kids are using their devices when you can monitor them

Avoid giving them access to apps (like Tic Toc) or video calls during times that you are “busy” or unable to check in on them. Kids know when we are distracted, and kids don’t’ always make the best choices during those times. How messy my house gets in 20 minutes is a great example of that.

4) Consider a technology agreement

Have set rules that can be posted on the fridge with appropriate consequences if they are broken. Here is an example of one: Sample Agreement. Consider if you want your kids to have as much access online as they do now, after Covid crisis is over.

5) Talk about Privacy – or the lack of it online

Kids have no idea how “non” private online is. Kids do not understand that it is online “forever”, even if it was deleted. I have read it before and said it to kids before, it is called the Grandma Rule. If you aren’t comfortable doing it in front of you grandma, you shouldn’t do it online.

Also teaching your kids to understand that tone of voice and that things can easily be misinterpreted. It is better to go out of your way to be nice and respectful so they don’t accidently upset family or friends.

As uncomfortable as it is to say and how many of us think of this as common sense. Kids may think it is “funny” to send photos of their private parts. It will be important to explain how it isn’t appropriate and how it is breaking federal and state laws.

Keeping personal information of the family and themselves should never be given out including: full names, address, phone numbers, parents names, etc.

6) You need to decide what you are comfortable and not comfortable with your kids doing online

Apps that allow them to talk to people and what ones allow strangers to talk to them (Instagram, Tic Toc, etc). I only let my kids use Messenger Kids because I can monitor it closely.

Apps that allow them to watch videos of others or post videos

Apps that allow purchases, typically this is an issue with ads

Do you allow them to do videos with splits or anything that involves “crotch” shots?

When they do post vidoes or images, what is considered acceptable? Fully clothed, only stomach showing, no swimsuits, always wearing underwear, etc.

7) Time to talk about pornography

“Conversations about pornography can and should start really early,” said Emily Rothman, Ph.D., a community health scientist at the Boston University School of Public Health. And by “really early,” she means kindergarten. The reality, is it is really easy to stumble across those kinds of websites, so how do you want your kids to react when they do?

Say, “You should tell me if you ever see that stuff, not because I’d be mad at you or you’ve done anything wrong, but just because I want to know how to make your computer safer so that that doesn’t happen again,” Dr. Rothman said.

8) Kids will be kids, including online

Remember, kids don’t think like us and don’t have the experience like adults. They will do things online that don’t make sense or not what we expect them to do. Some of their conversations will seem pointless or weird. Teach them how to handle themselves online so they are doing it safely and respectfully. They will stumble across things and by having these guidelines and conversations before, will make your kids more comfortable talking to you about the first time they find porn, or telling you they got a weird message from a stranger.

We want to protect them all the time, but the reality is we can’t. What we can do is teach them, give them the tools, and provide a situation that you can continue to help them grow and be safe online.