What Can You Do When Your Child Has Secret Chats Online – ETB #162

I was recently asked to do a news segment responding to a story about how a twelve-year-old and their friend snuck out of the house and drove four hundred miles to meet up with someone they’d met online. Sadly the age for children engaging in risky and dangerous behavior online is trending younger and younger. As a parent, how can you keep your kids safe online? What do you do when you find that your child is having secret chats online?

What Can You Do When Your Child Has Secret Chats Online - ETB #162

You need to take a position of balance between fear and caution. Even if you’re a tech-savvy parent, your kids probably know how to get around your efforts. Kids want to be affirmed, appreciated, and noticed so some are easily loured in by predators online. Your child just wants to have fun, but the bad people on the other side of the computer have honed their skills of deception.

Teach Your Kids to Make Wise Choices Now

The goal is for your kids to learn how to use technology and social media well while they are still under your roof. Then when they go out into the world with unmonitored access, they’ve already learned to have good boundaries and make wise choices. How do you set boundaries and teach your kids to make wise choices?

Establish Open and Honest Communication

The first step in this process is to establish open and honest communication with your tweens and teens. Discuss online safety. Remind them over and over again about these issues of tech and safety.

Set Clear Expectations

Next, set clear expectations. Set rules for technology and social media usage. Decide what’s allowed and what’s not allowed. Set time boundaries. Above all else, take time to explain the why behind the rules and boundaries.

Use parental controls

Use parental control options available to you. Set the rules, but use these tools to put guardrails in place. You have to follow up and monitor the rules that you put into place. Block and restrict content as needed. Check your child’s browser history. It’s your job to protect your kids! If you’re less tech-savvy, find tutorials online for how to use various settings.

Monitor Social Media Sites

Be sure to monitor social media sites and your child’s social media profiles. See who they are following. Watch what their friends are posting. Be sure to find a balance between checking and hovering.

Talk to Other Parents

Take time to talk to other parents. Find out about tools and methods they are using to keep their kids safe. What are they struggling with? Keep in mind that your kids are more likely to tell you what a friend did than to share the bad thing that they did themselves.

Tools for Monitoring Online Activity

There are a lot of tools out there for monitoring your child’s online activity. A couple we’ve looked at are Bark and Net Nanny. There are many more services available to choose from and more coming on the market every day. Be aware that some of these tools are using AI to determine when to alert you. You’ll need to decide where to balance privacy and the use of AI to protect your kids.

What To Do About Secret Chats Online

Don’t be afraid to talk to your kids about these topics. Ask them questions. Make sure they know you love them. Talk about the what-if scenarios. Role-play these things out. Remind them not to give out personal info.

But what if your child is already found themselves in trouble? Always watch and observe. Be aware of any secrecy and let that clue you into a problem. If you find that something has happened and your child is having secret chats online consider these next steps:

  1. Breathe
  2. Ask God for discernment and words specific for that child
  3. Don’t overreact

Parents, stay engaged! Ask your kids about their online conversations. Make sure that your kids know that you’re on their side. Give them the guidance needed now so that when they leave your home they can navigate the online world with confidence as an adult.

References and Links

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What Can You Do When Your Child Has Secret Chats Online - ETB #162