**A guest post by Ginger Kadlec**
"Here Aunt Ginger, let me show you."
...offered my 14-year old nephew who subsequently held my hand and walked me through the ins-and-outs of my new iPhone. Sending texts, organizing photos and downloading apps such as Instagram, Emoji and even Gas Buddy were something he knew all about. Let's face it... kids are "digital natives" and often seem more comfortable using technology than we adults do. While that's helpful as we test drive our new Twitter account, the downside is that children and teens don't always understand how exposed they can be online.
Online predation is real... 1 in 5 children between the ages of 10-17 will receive an unwanted sexual solicitation, predominantly through chat rooms or email. Another 1 in 25 children in that same age range will be asked to meet face-to-face with an online solicitor.
While online teen usage is trending towards Instagram, Twitter or even Ask.fm, for "tweens" (kids ages 10-12) Facebook remains the most popular social media used. While Facebook users are supposed to be at least 13 years old, 85% of tweens admit to having a Facebook account and a similar percentage say they use it daily.
Alarmingly, most tweens (82%) feel completely safe sharing personal information via social media accounts and more than half say they purposefully hide their online activity from their parents. Research also indicates that teens aged 15-17 are most likely to take risks of sharing personal information online or agreeing to make personal contact with someone they met online.
What can parents do to help protect their children in the digital world?
In simple terms, roll up your sleeves and start learning more about the technology your children are using. You can start with these 5 simple steps...
1) Keep computers in a "public" area. Be sure that children only have access to computers in common areas of your home, rather than in unsupervised areas such as their bedrooms. This helps you keep an eye on the activity on their screens.
2) No phone is their own. More than 1/3 of American teenagers have a smartphone. Define a family policy where you as parent can access your child's phone at any time... and then do it! Make it a point to occasionally check emails, texts, tweets and other activity as part of your efforts to be sure your kids are using technology in a safe way. Any and all application passwords must be shared with you (include that provision as part of your family policy).
3) Try it for yourself. I highly recommend having your own Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, Snapchat or other social media accounts that your child may be using. While you don't need to spend hours playing around with these various forms of social media, having some working knowledge of them can only help you protect your child.
4) Check out "Webwise". A great resource to learn more about social media is Webwise, a site tailored to parents and teachers which profiles all kinds of social media and apps teens and tweens are using. I will also highlight some social media facts in future blogs that I hope will be helpful to you.
5) Install monitoring software. There are all kinds of monitoring software you can install on your computer, tablets and smartphones that will alert you to the online activity of your child. Keep in mind... monitoring really needs to be done without your child's knowledge. If your child knows their online activity is being monitored, they may find a workaround (i.e., go to a friend's house to use the computer, etc.) and it will defeat your purpose. A police officer I know cited a story where a father installed monitoring software and saw that his child was calling him all kinds of names in emails to his friends. The officer reminded the father to keep quiet and not "blow the mission" by busting his kid. As hard as it may be, don't pick on little things your kids are doing online... only address issues of safety as they present themselves. A couple of monitoring software programs I've heard good things about are SpyAgent and Spector Pro. There are a variety of other programs that have received solid reviews, too.
So, hang in there and do your best to have a working knowledge of the social media your kids are using. Your entire family will benefit from it.
Working to improve the world one child at a time, Ginger has made it her life mission to raise awareness of the world-wide epidemic of child abuse. An impassioned child advocate, trainer, speaker and child forensic interviewer, Ginger can be contacted via her website “Ginger Kadlec: 4UrKids™” at www.gingerkadlec.com or find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/gingergkadlec.