WASHINGTON – On Friday, Montgomery County Public Schools warned parents about middle school-aged children sending nude photos through Snapchat. Those photos were then saved to a website and sent out around the district. Montgomery County police are continuing to investigate who could be behind the illegal site, which has been shut down.
But still – how can parents monitor their child’s online activity and keep them safe?
Cybersecurity expert Reginald Corbitt says the most important thing parents need to realize is that they should not be passive in their children’s digital experiences. Parents need to take an active role.
Corbitt, the founder of SafeCyber, says parents need to think of the digital landscape just like a physical one. Kids have rules when they play outside right? The same goes for online.
First, parents should keep up to date about which apps are out there and what they do. That is as important as knowing which ones your kids are on.
For example, Kik, After School, Sayat.me, Monkey, ASKfm, and Look all let users connect with strangers and chat anonymously – anywhere. Like Snapchat, Live.ly has disappearing pictures and video. And Yubo – formerly Yellow – has been called “Tinder for Teens.” You can swipe right or left to choose if you want to be friends with someone. It opens with a geo-locator.
Second, be aware of all the ways your child could be connecting.
“Let’s say you take the child’s phone away,” explained Corbitt. “They may be using their friend’s phone, who they spend hours a day with at school. So that is one of the things that parents have to realize. Even if you take that phone away, so many children are connected.”
Third, let technology work for you. There are several apps that allow you to monitor potential dangers.
“PocketGuardian will allow for a parent to actually get an alert when a child – let’s say something comes across on their phone that alerts them to bullying or sexting,” explained Corbitt. “So it will alert them to that, but it will allow them a little bit of privacy so that they can kind of converse and be social. So there are keywords that the app will pull out and alert that parent so that parent can have that opportunity to have that conversation with their child.”
For those parents who want even more control, apps like mSpy will let you see virtually everything happening on your child’s phone as it is happening. Think of it as a digital “nanny cam.” Other good parental control apps include Bark, Limitly and Find My Kids.
Corbitt says it is all about how you approach the topic with your kids and the rules you set in your household. For example, Corbitt doesn’t allow his children to have their phones at night after bed.
“I find that is when kids get in the most trouble,” he added. “Texts are sent, pictures are sent. It’s like when I was a kid, and I would sneak off to use the landline phone to call my friends in the middle of the night.”
Another important tip is to build a trusting relationship with your child and keep the lines of communication open.
“If you approach the topic with aggression, it could have the opposite effect of what you want,” Corbitt said. “Instead of being open and honest with you, your child may close up and choose to hide things.”
Corbitt also recommends that parents ask for Digital Citizenship curriculum in their child’s school. For more information on keeping your kids safe from online predators.