Young children are becoming increasingly engaged in online media content, making it more important than ever for parents to protect kids online

5 Ways to Protect Kids Online from Dangerous and Inappropriate Media Content


When you and your children are watching Monday Night Football or an episode of The Voice, the last thing you want them to see is a trailer for an R-rated horror film, or an ad for sex lubricants, or a vodka commercial. But these are the types of advertisements we’re all being bombarded with; in fact, this content is all being aired with the blessing of federal regulators and network executives. You could switch off the TV, of course, but that wouldn’t protect your kids completely. Today, kids get their media content online from so many outlets, ranging from the web and social media to texting and personal messaging apps like Snapchat. And for the most part, there’s no FCC as the intermediary; this content all comes to kids raw and unfiltered.

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As a social selling expert immersed in the world of new media, I think a lot about the kinds of online images and messages that my kids—ages 6 and nearly 3—are being exposed to, and what we as parents can and should be doing to better protect them from being barraged with dangerous, inappropriate online media content.

I’m certainly not advocating that our kids live in a bubble. Indeed, I understand the power and relevance of modern media to help us feel connected to one another and to help us achieve our goals, whether that means driving business sales or spearheading social justice movements.

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What I am saying, however, is that we as parents should be looking at innovative, out-of-the-box strategies for protecting our kids from an online world where media content is bombarding them 24/7. Here are my top five new-media strategies to protect kids online from dangerous and inappropriate media content:

  1. Filter out offensive, inappropriate TV content: We’re all familiar with parental control settings that restrict access to certain types of TV content and channels. But newer technologies are enabling us to go much farther in filtering out what we don’t want our kids to be exposed to. My friend, Jim Birch, is the cofounder of a service called Filtrie that enables parents to replace offensive, inappropriate TV ads in real time with ones that reflect their interests and values. The innovative service, completely free to customers, is auto-enabled whenever your phone is near the TV. The end result is that you no longer need to fear what commercials will pop up every time you want to turn on Jeopardy or SportsCenter in front of your kids. Best of all, you can still watch live TV and feel good about not having to skip through all of the commercials, which, not coincidentally, pay for the programming you’re enjoying. With Filtrie, advertisers are simply able to target you with more of the type of ads you’re interested in viewing.
  2. Train your kids on how to post content responsibly: Most kids don’t appreciate that texting, blogging, and social media are very public forums where very few things can ever truly be erased. They using texting apps to swap sexually explicit photos of themselves and others. They use blogs to share intimate, personal, revealing things about themselves that can compromise their safety and cause tremendous embarrassment and regret. They use social media to engage in cyberbullying and to start conversations with potential child predators. Some parents foolishly try to ban their kids from engaging in any of these online activities, but the reality is that kids find a way. (After all, their friends’ smartphones are often just an arm’s reach away.) The more effective strategy is to teach your kids on how to post responsibly. That means sharing stories with them about how kids just like them have had their lives ruined by becoming victims of stalking, abduction, cyberbullying, and sexting.
  3. Follow your kids’ activities on social media: Some parents choose to look the other way with what their children are doing online, partly because they cannot keep up with the latest apps and games, and partly because they want to respect their kids’ privacy. As a parent, you have a duty to know what your kids are doing online. You should be “friending” them on social media apps to monitor their activity. You should be asking your children to show you their online profiles to make sure they don’t contain any inappropriate information and to verify that their privacy settings are properly adjusted. Finally, you should consider installing monitoring software on all of the devices they use—tablets, computers, and smartphones—to track their online activity and filter and block content. Popular services include Net Nanny, Qustodio, and Norton Family Premier.
  4. Stay up to date with trends: Technology changes rapidly, and the apps your kids use change even more rapidly. As a parent, you should be downloading every app your child downloads and learning how to use it. You might be surprised that an app that you thought was just a game actually allows your child to create a detailed avatar profile and/or to be contacted by a complete stranger. Even popular games like Minecraft allow users to connect via chat rooms and private messaging. You should stay up to date about the most popular apps and ways that kids are communicating, so when you see or hear your child using these apps, you’re already in a position to monitor and assess potential risks.
  5. Teach your kids how to think for themselves: Too many parents set strict rules for their kids that revolve around “no” and “can’t.” Consequently, kids don’t learn why they shouldn’t engage in a particular behavior or activity online; they simply know why they can’t. In reality, parents cannot set rules to govern every single potentially dangerous behavior and risky activity. Technology evolves too quickly, and kids will always try to find a way around the rules you’ve set for them. Thus, you’re much better off challenging your kids to analyze situations and evaluate risks for themselves. When they understand how to assess the possible consequences and outcomes of their actions, they are more likely to make better-informed decisions.
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Kids deserve to grow up in media-rich environments; indeed, proficiency with technology is essential to kids’ success in school and, later, in their careers. Rather than try to shield our kids from this media, we should be empowering them to be responsible consumers, and we should be following in their footsteps to ensure they stay safe and on track. Thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever for us to filter out inappropriate, offensive content, to train our kids on how to engage responsibly online, to follow our kids’ activities on social media, to stay up to date with the latest apps and trends, and to teach our kids how to think for themselves.

This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post

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