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Internet Safety for Teens and Tweens: What to Know

As parents actively adopt or introduce new technologies and work to prepare kids to “go online,” it becomes clear that these two seemingly simple and innocuous words can, in actuality, have varied and powerful meanings. Just what precisely does it mean to “go online” or to have your kids connect to the Internet? As explained in Parenting High-Tech Kids: The Ultimate Internet, Web, and Online Safety Guide, ask any two individuals the same question, and you may shocked by just how much the answers differ – here, we’ll attempt to provide a more tangible definition.

Today, connecting online means so much more than the ability to access Web pages that contain text, video and pictorial information. It means the ability for kids to videoconference with friends, family and acquaintances around the globe 24/7 nearly anytime, anywhere. It means the ability to log into social networks and share personal status updates, photos and videos, or engage in group chat sessions, from an endless array of mobile devices. It means the opportunity to send text messages, or post tweets, to others we know without a second thought in a matter of seconds, all of which may live on in perpetuity for future employers and college recruiters to see. It means playing complex 3D video games with voice chat capabilities with dozens of others in real-time even though you may be thousands of miles apart, or participating in constantly evolving virtual worlds within which thousands can interact online at any given moment.

And, most of all, it means having to be constantly aware of how you’re behaving, interacting, leaping in and out of the real world, and interacting with others at any given second, even as the range of options for online connectivity, and ways in which one can potentially use them, grow with each passing day.

Such unfettered access to an array of online opportunities, all of which completely differ in terms of usage and interest by device, interest and individual, is also starting at a startlingly young age. Surveys of parents with children that are under five years in age say that large percentages of their kids use the Internet. Furthermore, 82% of kids who fall into this group actually do so on a weekly basis. Amazingly, amongst these members of Generation Tech, such activity now seems as natural, or even more so, than riding a bike, having grown up as digital natives – those for whom consuming technology is second nature, and an everyday part of childhood.

From a parent’s perspective, this means that in order to best relate to and understand kids’ online activities, you must first understand and (whenever possible) be prepared to immerse yourselves in these activities yourself. Happily for those for whom time is tight, you needn’t become an expert at every new technology, app, gadget or nuance introduced – a near-impossible task. Rather, you must simply become a generalist who’s familiar with the basics of any given product, service, or trend, knows where to turn for information online, and understands the right questions to ask. The good news for parents struggling to cram 30 hours into any given day: Thousands of resources are available right at your fingertips in the form of downloadable apps, online publications and Internet forums, as well as hardware and software creators’ own websites. From “how to turn off in-app purchases on the iPhone” to “configuring privacy settings on Facebook” or “where to setup parental controls on the Wii U,” a simple online query via any major search engine will often turn up a wealth of answers. We offer one such resource at www.AKeynoteSpeaker.com – and steer readers to a sampling of additional resources that supplement each article. Going hands-on with new tech advancements is the best form of learning; in a pinch, however, scanning review sites, community forums, customer support databases, blogs, magazines and more can often provide answers in seconds. It seems simple, but it’s worth remembering: When it comes to kids and high-tech software or devices, you’re seldom the first in the world to ask any given question.

Setting a specific time aside each day or week to research these topics, or conduct hands-on testing sessions with products and services yourself, can help you be a more informed parent and smarter consumer. It can also put you in the right mindset: One that focuses on defining challenges and hunting for specific solutions, rather than agonizing over nebulous concerns. Happily, most hands-on learning that you’ll engage in also often maps well across devices, apps, services, and solutions as well: While not all will share common user interfaces, many recycle common concepts, and are built on shared operating systems. As a simple example, privacy settings may not all live in the same place on specific devices or platforms – however, it’s a safe bet that they’re hiding somewhere in the menu system, and once you’ve discovered what to look for (location tracking, in-app buys, etc.) you’ll know to look for these settings in other situations. Computing may not seem natural to those who didn’t grow up with it: However, today’s devices are built to be more user-friendly than ever. Apart from experience, a technophile’s true advantage is also simply that they’re curious by nature: Don’t be afraid to play and tinker with the tools at hand, as even we tech experts must at times, so long as settings can easily be restored, and are clearly labeled.

Not being able to program a proverbial VCR isn’t the problem – not being willing to learn how to do so is. When it comes to technology, a closed mind is the only barrier. Kids aren’t such whizzes at technology because they’re born geniuses, but rather because they’re curious, and prone to experiment by nature. Likewise, don’t beat yourself up or feel guilty because you haven’t been able to devote every waking minute to learning the latest features introduced in a brand new social networking app – that’s why they pay professionals to report on it, and put the answers a single online query away. Just ask the experts, who’ll readily tell you that managing such issues isn’t easy, even when doing so is your full-time job, given the breakneck speed at which technology evolves. “[Keeping tabs on technology] is really hard,” says Symantec’s Internet safety advocate Marian Merritt. “It changes constantly. Parents need to forgive themselves and understand they’re not going to be perfect.”

To learn more about these topics, make sure to grab a copy of Parenting High-Tech Kids: The Ultimate Internet, Web, and Online Safety Guide as well.

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