I couldn’t believe we were here. How did we go from pigtails and coloring with Mommy and Daddy to confiscating phones and my daughter having internet friends?
I had walked downstairs and found my daughter on the ‘phone’ with a boy who sounded much older than her. She was using an app called Discord to talk, but it seemed like a very personal conversation to me.
I reacted the only way I knew how; I took the phone and grounded her. It was at that moment that I realized I had a lot to learn about the internet, new age apps, and how I could keep my baby safe.
Read on to learn what I found out and how you can apply the same lesson in your home.
How are teens and tweens meeting internet friends?
The internet is a big place. In fact, it has no boundaries. To young people, this is normal. A lot of a teenager’s life occurs online. At a very young age, kids are accessing the internet through computers, tablets, and their phones. Teenagers are on their phones constantly, at least in my house.
Kids are talking to people they know, and people they may not know by our standards. Kids meet internet friends in several different ways:
- Video Games – A lot of kids, tweens, and teens play video games online. 2021 is not about Nintendo and The Mario Brothers anymore. The games kids play these days are online and allow players to interact with each other. Gamers can join each other in games and chat right in the game. Most games have space for ‘public chats’ as well as ‘private chats.’ Some of the more popular games where teens are making internet friends include Roblox, Minecraft, Fortnite, Grand Theft Auto, and Call of Duty.
- Social Media – Ah, social media – what more do we need to say? Tweens and Teens are spending a lot of their time on social media. Some popular sites in 2021 include Tik Tok, Instagram, YouTube, and Snap Chat. These sites offer a lot of fun entertainment for kids and a lot of dangers. All these apps, or websites, allow communication from strangers. For teens, sites like these are especially dangerous because of the amount of photo sharing that takes place.
- Communication Apps – Chat Apps like Discord, Telegram, and Slack are gaining in popularity with young people. Tweens and Teens feel like chatting within these apps is safer than giving out their phone numbers. These apps allow texting, voice, and some video sharing between two or more people. Some of the people your kids are talking to are school friends, video game partners, or folks they met on social media, and even strangers. Finding new people to chat with from the communities they offer is one of the main selling points.
Dangers of internet friends
Meeting people online has some benefits. Online communication allows people to grow their social skills, avoid isolation, and network. However, internet friends should also come with caution. Some stranger dangers on the web include:
- Harassment – Harassment and bullying, or cyberbullying, are much more likely to occur online these days. The anonymity of the internet makes it easy for some people to harass others. Acting out in a mean and abusive way online may be a reaction to other disfunction in a young person’s life. Sadly, it can have long-lasting serious implications for the victims. Online bullying leads to depression, isolation, and even suicide.
- Inappropriate sexual content – A real danger of talking to unknown people online is pornography and sexual content. When your kids are receiving messages from strangers online, the messages may contain pornographic images or text. Some predators will seek out young people online and try to engage them in sexting, or a sexual text conversation. Sometimes images are innocently passed around between kids, not understanding the implications. Children do not have to seek out the inappropriate content for it to pop up in their inbox.
- Predators – We’ve all heard horror stories about kidnappers and stalkers terrorizing the lives of everyone around them. Predators will grow relationships with kids online through video games or social media so that they can learn personal information about them. Kids will innocently, and often unknowingly, share details about their location, schools, and family. Kidnappers and stalkers can use this information to hunt down the youngster in real life.
- Identity Theft – Teens do not often think about the security of their identity while online. Unfortunately, they fall victim to identity theft more often than you would think. People can gather personal information about a teen and use that info to open bank accounts, get credit cards, and even apply for loans. The consequences of identity theft for tweens and teens can be a destroyed credit history before they’ve even graduated high school.
How do we keep our kids safe on the internet?
The internet is a terrifying place, as we have already explored. However, the internet is not going anywhere. The accessibility to strangers all over the world is only going to get easier and easier for our children. As parents, we must do all we can to keep our kids safe.
Here are some helpful ways to keep our kids safe on the internet:
- Get Educated – Technology changes quickly. As parents, we have to try to stay on top of what is popular with our kids’ age group. Learning about the different games and apps that are out there is a great way to be aware of the dangers. By figuring out how communication works on the technology mediums our kids use most frequently, we can figure out how to monitor them.
- Talk and Listen – Too many kids don’t talk to their parents about things until it is too late. Talk to your kids. Try to approach the topic of internet safety without judgment. Ask them questions about which games they play and which apps they frequent. Learn the names of the people they interact with. Tell them about the dangers of interacting with strangers. Make sure they can come to you if they have questions or get in trouble online.
- Have Rules – Boundaries are great for kids of all ages. They are necessary when it comes to technology. Set rules when it comes to video game consoles, tablets, computers, and phones. Limit screen time allowed each day. Require that devices be left in a common area at night and that passwords be shared with parents. Discuss limitations on who your child can talk to or “friend” online. There are programs out there to limit the time your child spends online.
- Connect with them – If your kids spend a lot of their time playing Roblox or Call of Duty, set yourself up to play with them. Interact with your daughter and her internet friends online. Make your presence known in chat rooms. The same idea can keep your kids safe on social media. You don’t have to become an overnight Tik Tok sensation to learn what your kids are up to. Follow their accounts. Require that you be included in their ‘friend groups.’ Get familiar with the groups and sites they interact most with.
Kids grow up. As parents, we want to protect them every step of the way. Learn how your daughter is making friends on the internet and warn them of the dangers of talking to online strangers. Keep the line of communication open.
Setting boundaries and having some rules about technology will help keep your kids safe and remind them that they are not alone in the big world known as the internet.