It’s hard to believe June is already here, and many students are already out of school for the summer!
The free time during summer gives kids ample opportunities to test boundaries as they explore the Internet, on both the home computer and their mobile device, talk and text with friends on their smartphones, and scan countless viewing choices on TV.
With kids integrating technology into their daily lives, parents need to keep abreast of their kids’ activities.
There are easy-to-use, effective tools available today that allow parents to stay in the driver’s seat of their children’s TV, Internet and wireless activities. Here’s a quick primer:
Get tech savvy. Ironically, the first step in this process is decidedly low-tech: Talk to your kids. You have to be proactive in discussing what technologies they’re using and how they’re using them. You should even experiment with the technologies, for instance, by sending an instant message to a relative. This will give you a better feel in evaluating risks and potential abuses.
Armed with this knowledge, you can easily find out what parental controls are available. AT&T Smart Controls is one example that brings together information on the privacy and protection features available to subscribers of the company’s high speed Internet, TV and wireless services. The site is a show-and-tell of how parents can safeguard their children against misuse of technology.
Surf smart. From social networking sites and chat rooms to online gaming and other sites, today’s kids know their way around the Net. But most Internet service providers (ISP) offer parents tools to block access to specific Web pages as well as to services such as e-mail, instant messaging, chat groups and message boards.
Since it’s virtually impossible to stay informed about all the sites kids want to visit, also check to see if your ISP offers permission slips, which allow children to request access to unauthorized Web sites. You get to be the judge. Tamper controls are another helpful feature, alerting parents if children attempt to change the settings.
Be wireless smart. As technology expands, so do the possibilities for misusing cell phones. This may take the form of your child making inappropriate calls or downloading expensive or inappropriate material.
Many carriers offer features allowing parents to block select incoming or outgoing calls to the phone and to install “sleep” functions so that calls after a certain time of night do not ring but messages go directly through to voice mail.
With most people accessing the Internet from their smartphones today, carriers such as AT&T offer parental controls to restrict mobile phone access to web sites containing content inappropriate for children, as well as to restrict purchase of premium subscriptions and downloads such as games, ringtones and graphics. For example, AT&T Smart Limits for Wireless lets you limit your child’s data usage, texting, purchases, and times of day the device is used. The parental patrols provide your child with the freedom and security of a mobile phone while allowing you to set sensible boundaries for your child.
There also are location-based services, like AT&T FamilyMap, that let users locate a family member’s cell phone on a map via Web browser on a PC or a mobile device. These types of tools give parents peace of mind while they’re away from their children.
Watch smart. The bad news is that, with hundreds of channels on the air, there are more inappropriate viewing options for kids than ever before. The good news is parents have more control than ever over what their kids are watching.
Virtually all TV service providers offer tools to filter movies based on MPAA ratings. Many even offer additional programming protection based on expanded ratings such as violence, language, nudity and sexual content.
Looking to go one step further? Some providers also enable you to prevent your children from viewing selected channels unless they enter the correct password.
In the end, a parent’s responsibilities in overseeing their child’s technology use are not much different than in other areas of daily life. Set clear boundaries on appropriate and inappropriate uses of technology. Then monitor their activity and be consistent with enforcing rules.
Above all, don’t be intimidated. Even if you’re less savvy about the technology than your children, you have the tools to make your job simpler in an ever more complicated world.