Internet safety is more important now than ever before – especially for children. Kim Parlee speaks with Amber Mac, tech expert and Co-Author of “Outsmarting your Kids Online” on how to navigate parenting in the digital landscape and ways to safe-proof their kids.
If you spend any time online using social media, you know what a powerful tool it can be.
But a few bad decisions and that power can become harmful.
That is especially true when it comes to young people.
A book by tech expert Amber MacArthur teaches you how to outsmart your kids online and help better protect them at the same time.
I sat down with Amber and asked her, what was her motivation to write the book.
For many years, I've been recommending technology and social media to people and saying oh, you know, this is the best thing in the world.
I've been very optimistic and enthusiastic about it.
But at the same time, I've realized over the past couple of years that there's been a bit of a shift, and we know that there are so many dangers when it comes to social media.
So while talking to my co-author, he had sort of a similar experience.
And he's done a lot of work in this space from a criminal side.
And we both decided it was time that there was really a guidebook for parents out there.
What I like about this book is that, you know, there's a lot of what I'll call motherhood and apple pie out there about, you know, don't have your kids online too much and do this.
But you're like, in the weeds.
Like, you tell me what the acronyms are, you're telling me what, you know, ASKfm is, and TUMBLR and Instagram, like, you're telling me all the acronyms, everything.
So I want to just run through some of things you talk about.
And one thing you talk about in the book is, you split things up in terms of ages.
You talk about, there's what's right for 3 to 5-year-olds, 6 to 12-year-olds, and 13 to 18-year-olds.
Let's start with 3 to 5, just from a high level to start with.
What should we keep in mind for 3 to 5-year-olds?
The number one thing with 3 to 5-year-olds is really to think about screen time.
Because you're worried about how much time they're glued to a screen, especially when you have things like blue light.
That's the light reflecting from a tablet or a smartphone, and that light can really affect a child as far as their sleep.
So that's probably the number one thing is, you don't want them spending too much time using a screen.
But the reality is, though, not to interrupt, is just that kids like devices now.
It's not like it was 25 years ago.
I mean, you look at a child, as soon as they're born, probably the first thing they see is not their mom or their dad, but it's probably an iPhone or an Android phone in their face because a parent is shooting video of them.
So I think we know that kids are using technology at a much younger age than I think we're accepting.
And this is one reason we wanted to have the book out there as well.
It's not about just the dangers for teens, but for much younger kids.
So 3 to 5, screen time.
Make sure that we're on that.
6 to 12-year-olds?
6 to 12-year-old is a really interesting phase, because I think when you're talking about those kids who are using technology, it's more about the content.
You know, is the content appropriate that they're using?
And they're starting to get into using social media platforms.
Even though the Instagrams and the Facebooks of the world say that you have to be 13 years old to join, you get a pretty savvy 10-year-old, they can easily sign up for Instagram.
When they sign up for a social media account, this can allow them to have anonymous messages from people out there who are following them.
And all of a sudden, you need to have that discussion about talking with strangers on the internet.
13 to 18-year-olds.
For 13 to 18-year-olds, this is where things can get much more serious.
So you have issues here.
One of the top issues for most children that they'll face is online bullying.
You know that kids can be very critical online and parents sometimes forget, it's not just about your kid being targeted, but maybe your kid is the bully.
You know, that's something we don't talk about that much, but the reality is, your kid could be the one who is doing something online that's hurting another child.
Tell me if I'm wrong on this, but you're almost advocating for a lot of this is, you're stalking your kid online.
Like you're actually getting in there, finding out what they're saying, how they're doing it.
How do you balance between not being that helicopter parent who's like, every single word there online, and then not having any involvement?
I think it was really interesting when we were writing the book.
So my co-author spent 16 years with the FBI doing cyber crime investigation-- And I should say he's not here why?
He's not here because he cannot appear on camera, so I get to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to doing stuff on camera.
And the interesting thing with him is, I'm sure he would like parents to stalk their kids online.
And he's seen the worst of the worst when it comes to the internet.
For myself, as a parent, like you said, I know that a lot of people don't like that term, stalking your kids online.
So we chose in the book to use a term, which is basically monitoring your kids online.
And the good news is, there is more and more apps that let you do that where you're not peering in on what they're doing every second.
But some of these apps will notify you if they see any type of key language that could be of concern, like online bullying, alcohol use, drug use.
The apps will notify you because they're out there doing the hard work in monitoring your child's account.
And one of these, I think, was called VISR?
VISR, this is amazing company, and that's exactly what they do.
They have 22 keywords that they look for when they're monitoring children's accounts, and then they send messages to the parent.
If you think, oh that's not that big of a deal, you can say, put an X on that, say hey, I'm not interested in more content or alerts like this.
And you can really teach the app to get smarter over time.
Now I'm assuming VISR can monitor things like slang terms, the things that I know as well.
And I know, I'm just going through some of the pages that I highlighted in the book.
Top 10 Facebook Slang Terms Parents Need to Know, and you go through them all kind of thing.
Get Naked On Camera?
I mean, that's what's happening more and more with kids is that they're using the short acronyms.
So that may mean that maybe they're messaging on an app and their parent walks up behind them and they're using these short little terms that their parents don't know.
So we wrote a lot of these terms in the book so parents would be aware of these terms and what they mean.
Because if you look at what kids are writing online, they have their own language.
And that can be very scary to a parent.
50% of the stuff is just meaningless stuff.
But there are terms like that that could be of concern.
And some of them are innocuous, like Greatest Of All Time, GOAT.
You know, KPC, Keep Parents Clueless.
Some of it is kind of playful, some of it's more serious.
Twitter, one thing that caught my attention in this, too, is that people who use Twitter, I will say, probably use it more for news and that kind of thing, too, but there's all these apps that let you find all the cached Tweets that were deleted.
Geo locations of kids are telling everybody, here's where I am.
That's all available and anyone can find it out.
Oh, it's all available.
I mean, and that's one of the things that I think people don't understand.
And it's not just kids.
It's also adults who are using social media.
Is that so often, if you have things like location services turned on within Twitter, for example, someone can easily look at a map and see where your location is.
Imagine if you had a child, you want to make sure that that's not the case.
And so they have location services turned off.
But every time you go to these social networks, they'll say, hey you want to turn on your location?
It seems like something that isn't that harmless or isn't that harmful, but it could-- it could be in the long term.
Let me ask, I mean, there's a lot of apps, or I should say, applications I was going through here and reading, I've never even heard of.
Snapchat, I think people probably are aware, it's these, basically you take a picture and it dissolves, so to speak.
But there are generous ways of tracking those, too.
Musically, Yik Yak.
Now, Yik Yak is something you kind of highlight as a-- it could be potentially be a problem.
What does it do?
Yeah, so Yik Yak is a little bit similar to a messaging app like Kik.
That means you're allowed to have messaging with people who you don't know.
And that's one of the big concerns right now, I think especially with teenagers, is that they're using some of these apps.
So they think that the messages disappear forever.
That's not the case.
They also think it's OK to message with strangers, but we know how much trouble you can get in in the long term because there are so many examples of how there are potential predators online.
I don't want to scare parents, but there are examples of how a predator could come and say, hey, you know, lift up your top, or do this or that.
And then they start to blackmail these children and say, "If you don't do more of this, I will send this picture that I just screenshotted to your mom or to your dad." Wow.
There's a lot in here, and one chapter you have here is called Parent Patrol.
What is Parent Patrol?
I mean, and how do we talk to kids about all this stuff so they don't actually have those problems you just mentioned to begin with?
I think one of the biggest concerns that I've had just watching what parents are doing online is that they're not teaching children at a young age how to manage their situation online.
So they're not teaching them about online etiquette.
I think for most families, it's really important that you have a set of guidelines that is on a piece of paper that you pin to a room in the kitchen, or in the living room that everyone in the home can see and say, these are our eight rules for using the internet.
That mean-- Like what?
No type of harassing behavior.
No tablets or phones an hour before bed time.
No tablets or phones at dinner time.
I would even suggest that if your child is as young as 6 years old that you sit with them and you create these guidelines together so that everyone in the home knows what's appropriate and what's not.
What about privacy and kids?
I mean, there's a lot of parents, I'll say kind of, who have young kids like me, who, every time their kid does something great, they go, woo-hoo, and they posted it on Facebook, and suddenly, there's 2,000 pictures of their kids online.
What are the implications of that?
I think there are implications of that when a child gets older, because they really don't have the right anymore to figure out how they want to be presented online.
They don't have the opportunity to say, "I want to showcase my life like this" because there's this whole history of them in these funny poses, with funny hats, at birthday parties, in the bathtub, and whatever it might be.
So at the end of the day, I think a lot of parents need to think twice before they post so many photos online.
Or, they need to really lock down their accounts before they are sharing some of those images.
And when you say lock down your accounts, how?
What do you do?
On Facebook, for example, you can lock it down so you have a very tight knit group of friends who are able to see those photos.
And that's one way you're able to ensure that it's just people you know and trust.
And there are more and more apps out there that allow you to share photos in a closed environment.
I wouldn't say Facebook is necessarily a closed platform.
I'd say it's actually pretty open.
But there are apps out there that say, hey, you know what, Kim, you can share this with just 10 people who are your closest friends and family members and you can send all the photos that you want.
What about safe content?
I mean, I know when my son was younger, he was looking at a kid's video and someone had edited this kid's video to be just, for lack of a better term, horrific.
So where do you find stuff that you can safely put a child down for a couple of minutes and say, you know, you're OK to kind of play around in this.
I think, unfortunately, kids tend to stumble across things that they shouldn't stumble across on YouTube, for example, it's very easy if you do a search for something like LEGO, you'll find a first person shooter game that young kids shouldn't watch.
But the good news is that YouTube does have a kid-friendly app out there available for iOS and Android devices that will allow kids to watch content that is just for kids.
You won't get any of that inappropriate stuff.
There are also a lot of services out there like Common Sense Media and Media Smarts and organizations that rate content.
So I would encourage parents to go there before they just let their kid go into this rabbit hole where they can discover pretty much anything.
You talk about it in your book, and we hear about it in the media, these horror stories of kids who are either being dared to do something online, children dying, they meet somebody online, a predator.
What are some of the warning signs?
If you're a parent and let's say your kids are a bit older, how do you know there's a problem?
I think we all know that there are those warning signs out there, but it's hard to really know that as a parent.
So in the book, we talk to Alyson Schafer, who's a parenting expert, and she talked about some of those warning signs.
If something really detrimental is happening to your child, one of the number one warning signs is that your child withdraws from their daily activities.
They isolate themselves from things that they used to love.
They also start to get angry when you take away their technology and they have a bit of an addiction when it comes to that technology.
And also, when they start to hide things and you know that they're communicating with strangers.
The number one thing parents do in that situation is say, "OK, no more technology.
We're cutting it off." But you just can't do that in this day and age, because this is the lifeline for many kids.
So you need to open doors and not close those doors.
Amber, great having you here.
Thank you so much.