By Rev. Marty Levesque
Youth spend much of their time online and with their eyes firmly affixed to a screen and with the growing importance of tech in education, social circles and professional demands, it’s unlikely that will change anytime soon.
When was the last time your teenager actually used a phone to call someone?
Knowing these realities, how can we encourage the positive aspects of the digital world while still protecting and guiding our kids? Especially as the family computer in the living room disappears and is replaced by private devices that can be difficult to monitor or control?
It is important to note that the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in the United States prohibits sites from collecting information from or making available information about users under the age of 13. Since many of the most popular social networks are based in the U.S., these sites cannot legally allow those under 13 to open accounts. Either you or your child would have to lie, and I wouldn’t recommend that approach. (Ex 20:16)
Some sites, such as YouTube and Whatsapp have older age requirements to create an account (18 and 16 years old respectively) and some are more proactive about enforcing the restrictions than others. In many cases, it is very easy for a child to lie about their age. Aside from legal restrictions, many sites have mature content and the age restrictions should be considered when deciding if having an account on a given service is appropriate.
Beyond basic age restrictions, here are a few strategies to help you and your kids navigate the digital world safely and confidently.
1.Before signing up for any site, both parents and kids should understand how the platform works, how data is stored and shared, what privacy settings are available, and what kind of communication is possible.
2.Establish usage guidelines. Be clear about what kind of use is acceptable – including the kind of communication, communication partners, what kind of personal information can be shared, and the frequency or time of day that access is permitted.
3.Be aware of who your kids are communicating with and what kind of content they are viewing.
4.Trust but verify. Many parents require knowing account passwords or to be given access when requested as a condition for use of certain applications or sites. This requires a lot of two-way trust but it can be a good way to keep your kids accountable and ensure that you can check on them if you absolutely need to.
The digital world offers amazing opportunity to connect with friends, learn and share ideas and share our lives with others. As we read in Proverbs (20:6), “Start children off on the way they should go, even when they are old they will not turn from it.” A secure safe foundation for our kids will help develop technical skills and the confidence to navigate the digital world.
Rev. Marty Levesque is the diocesan social media officer and rector of All Saints’ in Waterloo.
(Featured image: Matthew Henry/Unsplash)