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The Resource Center Online Security Issues & Protection | post

More Than Ever, Parents Must Educate Themselves about Technology and Social Media

by Joe Mason on

According to the Consumer Electronics Association's researchers, tablets and smartphones are the gifts most Americans want for Christmas. Many would rather get a tablet than money or even "peace and happiness," the researchers found. It seems that 8.3 percent of Americans would like a tablet most of all, while 4.8 percent would like money, and 4 percent a laptop PC. Only 4.5 percent wanted peace and happiness.

If they had limited their research to teens and pre-teens only, their numbers would have likely shot up. Now as we enter the post-holiday season haze, another issue — one that we have spoken about often in the past — comes to the forefront. Parents need to educate themselves as to what their kids are doing online, or with their new smartphones, how they are doing it, and the limits and safeguards of the devices and social media sites they are using.

Recently I talked about the studies done by McAfee both in the U.S. and in Europe that showed that parents — to quote the vernacular the studies used — don't "have a clue" about what their kids are doing online. This is perhaps an overbroad simplification, but in my experience — again generally speaking — kids do know more about technology and about social media than their parents. So now is the time for parents to make a concerted effort to better educate themselves about how their kids are using the technology they may have been given this past holiday season.

How do we do it? Let me offer a few suggestions.

The most obvious is to actually read the manuals for the devices (smartphones and tablets) that your kids have begun to use. Chances are they have never read the manuals — and probably would be horrified at the very thought — as they simply turned the device on and are learning as they go and are happy if the device does what they want and little more.

But if you understand how the device functions, and what safety and privacy capabilities are built in or available, you can work with your children to make them as safe as possible.

Next, you should visit the Internet sites (Facebook and Facebook Mobile, Twitter and Twitter Mobile, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.) that your kids are using. See how they work, read the fine print in their privacy policies, learn about their privacy settings, learn how to access and set various levels of safety and discuss with your kids in depth what they are doing on these sites and develop limits on what they do and how they do it.

You can get help on the Internet by searching for specific topics like "parents learn about social media". You can download guides and tip sheets. You can even go to the bookstore or online book sellers and find a wide range of guides.

All this has one purpose: to give you the knowledge to help your kids stay safe in their online lives. Now is the best time to start.