Though the weather in certain parts of the country doesn't indicate it, summer really is right around the corner. If you're like most parents, you have already planned various activities and camps to keep your kids busy this summer. Many from tots to teens will be heading to camp, some will be joining sports leagues and others will be hanging around the house playing video games. Regardless of the summer activity, there will be more down time to consider, time that many kids will spend online, time that they don't usually have during the normal school year. Because of this increased free time, kids will be spending more time on their cell phones and other devices.
So, what do you need to do to protect your kids this summer? The following suggestions are key to helping you to make this a fun and safe summer for your kids.
Screen new connections: As your kids meet new people at camp, they will be adding new friends to their networks -- calling, texting and social networking with new people. Talk to your kids about appropriate friend choices and appropriate conversation topics.
Set rules: It is a good idea to let your kids know what rules are going to be in place when summer starts. Consider printing out a set of rules that includes the amount of time they are allowed to spend on the Internet each day and a list of acceptable websites they can visit. This will allow you to monitor when your child is online and what websites they visit.
Discuss appropriate relationships: As kids head to camp, they're going to be meeting new adults. Counselors at camp and sports coaches can be a fun and meaningful part of a child's experience, but boundaries should be set. After camp is over, kids probably should not communicate with their adult counselors online or via phone. If a counselor has meaningful information to share with your child, make it clear that that information should go through you first.
Withhold necessary information: It is great fun for kids to share travel plans with their friends; however, too much information can be harmful to your child and, potentially, your whole family. Kids should not list specific vacation plans online, as it signals to everyone in their network that your house will be empty. And, as always, when children keep their location and plans private, it makes it more difficult for people with predatory motives to find them. If you must know where your kid is and are not sure that he or she will check in often enough with you, there are software choices for monitoring your child's smartphone. Check out Mobile Watchdog for more information.
Befriend the Internet: Helping our kids achieve a healthy relationship with technology, namely the Internet, can do a great deal of good. Many of us have found that, regardless of the topic, scare tactics don't work. We never want our children to become afraid of the Internet. It is a fabulous resource when used wisely. Showing our children that we trust them to make smart Internet choices helps them to make smart decisions.
Lead by example: Make responsible choices with your Internet and handheld devices. And let your children see you take time away from your phone or tablet or computer to spend time with them. In short, be more than just a parent; be an engaged parent. Your kids deserve it.
Check back soon for Part 2 in my summer blog series. How should parents identify and respond when camp counselors and coaches use the power of social media and other devices to groom a child after camp is over? Stay tuned.