Kids and Social Networks: A Parent’s Guide

Kids and Social Networks: A Parent’s Guide

Family Tech

Technology for parents & kids: Hints, tips, online safety strategies & more.

This may be obvious to some, but a surprise to others: Adults and kids use Facebook very differently.  While adults are very tuned into accepting friend requests from only those that truly are their friends, kids are far more likely to use the social network to connect to other kids they barely know. Either way, it’s important that parents know about kids and social networks, and how to ensure that proper rules of Internet and online safety are observed.

Important to consider: For many parents and adults the appeal to a service like Facebook is the number of connections they have. For kids that’s sometimes a big turn off.  We’ve talked to a few tweens and teens who are on Facebook because all their friends are, but that tell us they don’t like to update or “use” the social network for the exact same reason – because all their friends are on it.  So they’re constantly searching for other services which allow them to connect to the friends they want to in other ways.

So find out which services your kids and are using, and if you’re not already using them, you need to start, or at the very least have a firm understanding of how these social media platforms and how kids can use them.  As a benefit, this also may provide some common ground for discussions with your teens, a time when having conversations that involve more than grunts or talking about how they’re hungry can be a rare and precious occasion. But at the same time, you need to know your boundaries when it comes to following your kids online.  So refrain from posting to their wall on Facebook, or don’t follow their friends on Facebook.  One good idea is to use social networks to connect to your kids’ friends’ parents.  It’s another great way to foster community connections and create a sense of safety around kids activity.

Oftentimes kids’ unspoken rules involve how to use Facebook how they want to DESPITE the fact they’re connected to you.  There are detailed instructions easily accessible via Google offering kids tips on “how to friend your parents without sacrificing your privacy,” which essentially comprise a step-by-step guide for kids on how to set up their privacy controls before accepting your friend request so they can continue to post information without you seeing it, even if you’re friends.

According to one recent survey, 80 percent of teens have admitted to posting content to Facebook that they’ve hidden from certain friends and/or parents by using privacy settings.  So be aware that just because you’re connected doesn’t mean you’ll see anything.  In fact, posts being hidden from parents is what led to this incident in which a Texas Dad shot his daughter’s laptop on a YouTube video in order to teach her a lesson.  Although you may not agree with his tactic, this incident provides a great conversation point for you and your teens about appropriate behavior.

Monitoring your teens’ Facebook accounts is only part of the choice as well: You must also figure out how often you’ll be checking in.  In the October 2010 TrustE survey, 72 percent of parents surveyed said they monitor their teens’ accounts, with 50 percent of these parents monitoring weekly, 35 percent daily and 10 percent monthly.   Figure out what’s right for your family, and have an open and honest dialogue with your teens about how you’ll be checking in.

A few other tips to remember:

  • It’s not nice to talk about people behind their back, and many families also operate by the old saying “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  So make sure your kids understand not to engage in negative banter about others, or don’t post pictures that they wouldn’t post themselves.
  • Don’t assume that everything is automatically set just how you want it in terms of privacy settings on social networks.  Go in and make sure all your updates, photos and more are visible to your friends only on Facebook or other social media services such as Google+. Consider setting up a family group to allow you all to share information among each other without broadcasting it to everyone else.
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, use the Help section.  All these networks have extensive, easy-to-understand and searchable help sections, too, so if you don’t know how to do anything, you can look it up pretty easily.
  • Bring the dialogue into real-life.  Talk to your teens about social networks.  Whether it’s about a specific funny status update or article you saw to general feelings about the service and current events, using the social network as a starting point can lead to great conversations with your kids.

When Should You Buy Kids Cell Phones?

When Should You Buy Kids Cell Phones?

Modern Dad

News, reviews & trends for fathers – a contemporary parent’s perspective.

It’s the most common question about kids and technology that we’re asked as high-tech parenting experts: At what age should you buy your kid a cell phone or smartphone? The answer: Unfortunately, as we recently explained to Parenting magazine, there’s no magic number – it’s largely a function of family need, children’s maturity level and both how well-equipped that you feel your children are to make good decisions and the safety tools that you’ve put in place to catch them if they should stumble.

However, in the interest of provide a succinct answer that will be of the most service, let’s see if we can summarize. In short, while it won’t be right for every household, many parents first introduce a cell phone to kids around age 13. While some households lean a little younger, this is a fairly reasonable starting point if you’re looking for an opening guideline. That said, when you really should introduce a mobile device to kids’ lives is when there’s actually a meaningful, pressing need – e.g. when they’ll be outside of easy contact, and you absolutely, positively need to keep in contact with them, or be able to communicate on-demand should an emergency arise.

A few other points we share with parents when speaking on this topic:

  • Consider buying a cell phone that dials only your contact number if and when kids need to come home alone. Prepaid cell phones can also let you limit call times and features, restrict Internet usage, prevent access to unwanted features, and monitor overall usage, and usage patterns.
  • If you’re concerned about receiving unexpectedly large bills, or kids’ Internet activity, opt out of texting or endless data plans and choose a basic feature phone that forgoes bells and whistles such as downloadable apps, unlimited Web browsing and GPS tracking to limit children’s online interactions.
  • Always read the manual, research and go hands-on with phones, smartphones, tablet PCs or any high-tech device that provides VoIP or digital calling functionality before you hand them over to children. It’s imperative to know the ins and outs of the cell phone you’re considering for your child before you give it to him or her – a good rule of thumb for any high-tech device for that matter.
  • Consider restricting cell phone usage to only taking place in your presence until kids are mature enough to handle calls, texting and online interactions on their own.
  • Be certain to monitor cell phone activity and usage, and review your bill regularly for suspicious calls, activity or communications made when mobile handsets are supposed to have been shut down, e.g. 3AM on a Tuesday night.

For more information on kids and cell phones, including some of the latest statistics and other digital parenting experts’ input, check out our friends at Parenting magazine, and the in-depth look they provide on the subject.

Save Money on Your Cell Phone Plan

Save Money on Your Cell Phone Plan

Unless you decide to go with a pre-paid phone service, major cell phone carriers typically require a two-year commitment from  you in order to cheaply obtain and use many of today’s most popular and desirable mobile handsets, including both feature phone and smart phone models. Signing up can be daunting, so here are a few things to look for and remember as you’re committing to a cell phone plan, including several tips that can save you money on your cell phone bill. Consider all before making a commitment – after all, early termination fees will apply.

Do the Math

Wireless carriers know what they’re doing when they charge you by the month instead of quoting you a yearly rate.  It’s a lot more palatable to consider spending $100 a month than it is to consider that you’re paying $1200 over the course of the year.  But since we often think of our income on scales of a year, make sure to multiply your projected bill by 12 to make sure it fits into your overall income, and that you’re comfortable making that commitment.

Know Your Limits

Make sure you and everyone on your plan has a clear understanding of their monthly limits for minutes, data usage and text messaging.  Mobile phone providers love charging outrageous overage fees, so your best bet is to sign up for a plan that you know you won’t exceed, and then look at your usage over the first couple of months and adjust as appropriate. A good start: Look at the last six months of your current cell phone bills to get a sense of how many minutes, how much data, and how many text messages you send on average.

Be a Tweaker

Monitor your usage, and make sure you’re using a plan that’s right for you.   Companies make it easier than ever to track your usage, whether it’s from the computer via your account portal or even via easy apps.  Look at your actual usage in terms of time, texts and data limits, and if you’re going way under or way over your limits, investigate other plan options. 

Cancellation Consequences

Know what happens if you cancel on the contract.  Most services will have high cancellation fees in the first year, but they may diminish as you get closer to the end of your contract.  Since life always seems to throw curveballs and changing circumstances at us, it’s good to know what will happen should you need to make an unexpected switch.

Roaming Charges

If you’re traveling abroad, or even think you’ll be close to another country (like in San Diego or Detroit for example), make sure you’re aware of the consequences of roaming.  You can set your plan to not allow these types of charges in order to avoid any fees,  but often you can find that signing up for an international plan for the duration of your trip is more reasonable than you might expect.

Upgrade Options

The old axiom for depreciating value used to be driving a car off a car phone lot, but these days it seems that the moment you commit to a new smartphone, a new and cooler one is announced or released days later, often of the same model.  If you’re one of those who needs to be at the cutting edge as an early adopter, be prepared to pay full price for devices unless you’re within your plan’s window near the end of the contract which allows upgrade.  Ask about this at the time of purchase so you know whether to upgrading is a realistic option for you or not.

Know How To Make Changes

Utilize the management tools your provider gives you.  Know and remember your account password, and download any monitoring apps your provider offers.  Make a habit to check in on these at least once a month, but it’s often useful to look a couple times so you can see how your usage is distributed as the month progresses.  Even though mobile companies are out to make money (and they make a lot of it), they also provide great service and ease for their customers, it’s simply a matter of taking the time to access it.