Q • Now that schools have been canceled through the remainder of the school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our kids are on their devices upward of eight hours per day. What can parents do to keep them safe online and on their cellphones? It seems like more than ever, my kids are getting spam emails, calls and texts from unknown sources. This is not acceptable, quite scary and exhausting to try to constantly monitor. I'm hoping that you can offer suggestions for their cyber safety, including for their online gaming. Please help us learn how to better parent in today's digital world.
From a readers • Today's kids (and adults) rely heavily on social media to connect and communicate with their friends and family. Dangers typically include cyber-bullying, inappropriate content and potential contact with online predators. These threats are magnified right now because kids may be feeling bored, anxious, stressed out or lonely. One of the most important things to know and emphasize to them is that people may not always be who they say they are online. Talk to your kids about strangers. Some may be friends of friends, or friends of friends of friends, and that’s where a level of uncertainty comes from. As far as online gaming goes, kids can play video games with dozens of strangers from across the world. Many popular multiplayer games have text and voice chat capabilities that can expose kids to inappropriate and offensive content. There have even been situations in which online predators have initiated and developed relationships with children through video games. Check the settings on these and limit their play time. — Titania Jordan, Chief Parent Officer, bark.us, in Atlanta
From Jodie Lynn • It's simple to register landlines and cellphone numbers with the office of your state attorney general's no-call list for unwanted calls or texts. It's available online, free and will cut down on both.
While it does take a few weeks to actually go into effect, it's best to get that done straight away. Do a little research and you'll also find several other government agencies where complaints can be made.
Unfortunately, it's not going to totally eliminate them and that is even truer for robot calls.
Learning some basic rules to share with your kids can also help:
Don't answer any calls that are not in your contact list. If it's truly someone trying to reach you, they'll leave a message. If they don't, the number can quickly be blocked. The same goes for unwanted texts.
The exception in this situation is going to be from “Unknown” or “Private” numbers, which are really hard to trace. However, there are phone apps to help with this.
As far as spam email goes, if it's opened, don't click on any links. Look up how to set up filters and teach your kids how to recognize and delete it.
See bark.us for more safety tips and info on their monitoring service.
CAN YOU HELP?
Many people are getting pets from rescue facilities. This is awesome, but I know of at least two families that have doubts about keeping them once they go back to work and the kids return to school. I think this is particularly harsh and selfish. What are some assertive things I can mention to these people to persuade them to at least give the pets a chance once we are all post COVID-19?
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Jodie Lynn is an award-winning parenting columnist, author of five books and mother to three children. She and her family live in Wildwood.