Parents, are you doing enough to keep your kids safe online?

Expert stresses power of digital platforms

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat … it can be tough to keep all the social media channels straight. And then you throw in texting, e-mail, the Cloud -- phew. It’s one thing to maintain a personal Facebook account. But when you try to stay on top of all the apps on your child’s or teenager’s phone? It can feel like a full-time job.

But that doesn’t mean you should throw your arms up and just quit.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite -- you should start talking to your kids early in their lives about having and maintaining a respectable online presence, and staying safe in the digital world. Encourage your high school seniors to make a profile on LinkedIn. Tell your children that what they put out there matters. Social media will impact their professional lives one day.

Nicole Hudson, founder and president of Inbound Lead Solutions -- which has offices in the Detroit area, offered up that advice, and plenty more, for parents.

Education on social media and all things digital should start when your child is around middle-school age, Hudson said. These days, there are kids who’ve grown up with a tablet in hand. Perhaps their whole lives will be documented online, based on what their parents have shared. Adults, be aware: This is a much different landscape than the one you experienced as a child.

You should bring up topics such as online safety; and teach your children how to be responsible in this modern era.

It’s easy for kids to make mistakes. That’s part of being young. But with the internet, there’s a possibility those mistakes might be amplified. Furthermore, it can be hard to make those flubs disappear.

“I’ve had parents find me online, just because they know I do this professionally, and ask me, ‘How do I fix or respond to what my child did on social media?’” Hudson said. “Parents are calling a professional -- someone who does this for work, and who’s in the business. Kids in middle school and high school are having communication issues online, which need to be mitigated. Students are getting suspended for things they’ve done or said online. [And although it’s surprising for parents to call], who do you turn to when something like that happens?”

Students ask their parents because they don’t have anywhere to turn, either. Sometimes it seems like no one has the easy answers, or there are no easy answers. Which is all the more reason to play it safe online.

Some parents do everything they can to make sure their kids are perfect -- maybe so that those teens can get into the best college possible, or land the best job after graduation. But one thing the parents can’t always control is what their kids are doing and saying online, Hudson said.

So, rather than just monitoring or policing your kids, it’s really vital to educate and teach them. The easiest way to encourage good behavior online is to model it. It’s important for parents to be aware and active on digital media. Manage your own online reputation and take pride in the things you do, say and post.

It seems as though everyone’s heard of “the talk,” as in the sex talk you have with your children; but there needs to be another “talk,” Hudson said. This one should revolve around cyber security and the value of a strong online reputation, which can be just as crucial.

Parents, if you’re going to put a smartphone or a tablet in your kids’ hands, be aware that the move comes with risks. Just like you wouldn’t give away the keys to your car without ensuring safety first, don’t give away mobile devices without helping your kids browse and post wisely. Teach your children not to share private information, and not to hit “yes” on any app that wants to access your location or personal data.

You hear of young people accidentally charging tons of money on Apple accounts, but it doesn’t have to happen to your family. Parents, you have a new level of responsibility when it comes to digital media, but it’s key to teach your children how to use it effectively.

“If parents don’t teach their children to be good personal stewards of their own brand, where are the kids supposed to learn it?” Hudson asked.

Some final takeaways: Kids know more than ever when it comes to social media -- often times, more than their parents. Some teens aren’t even on Facebook; people in the 12-13 age range are usually more focused in on platforms including WhatsApp, YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat. Stay on top of it as best you can, be proactive, and learn together when it comes to the ever-evolving online space. It’s too important to ignore or gloss over.