As parents, we love our kids and want to give them access to the latest devices -- within reason of course. But how much research are we doing to make sure these "toys" are safe for our kids?
Technology opens a world of opportunities for kids — and some challenges for parents who may discover how easy it is to unintentionally expose their children to strangers and predators.
Managing new technologies -- and children's safety -- is becoming increasingly difficult.
Now that you've purchased those devices, spend a little time understanding how the parental controls work on each of them.
Among the features for blocking inappropriate sites or apps are time-limit settings and locked permissions for installing new apps. Parental controls are often disabled and need to be activated.
Sometimes, activating these features can be challenging. Many companies that sponsor products and services have online instructions and advice for parents.
Here are some examples:
Searching online for instructions on setting up controls on a certain device can be helpful.
Many games and apps include built-in chat or messaging features that, when used online, can expose your child to predators or cyber bullying. Check these features to see if they can be deactivated or played offline only. It is critical that parents have visibility into their children's online activities and interests so that boundaries can be set.
Most video game consoles offer some sort of parental controls, typically aimed at blocking games based on the game's age rating. For example, if you have younger children you can block games with a T (Teen) or M (Mature) rating.
Some newer consoles come with browsers and other apps that allow internet access. Check the parental controls for these. If the console does not provide additional filtering capabilities within apps and games, change settings to prevent their install.
Also, consider that many games are networked — meaning you cannot rely on the console's Parental Controls to filter activity. Do not allow younger children to play online games where strangers can be present; they sometimes pose as children.
Smart TVs and cable service devices may offer the ability to control access to channels and apps that are inappropriate for younger viewers. Use password locks to prevent accidental exposure to mature content. This is especially important when children have TVs in their rooms.
Some social apps are marketed in ways that appeal specifically to children and easily expose them online. There are currently many social media options for kids to display their lives.
For example, Facebook, Youtube and Instagram; even social video apps like Musical.ly attract many younger users who can easily make short videos and post them for others to view.
Snapchat continues to be popular as well. And the whole idea of it is to be able to post images and messages that soon disappear, which prevents parents from monitoring their child's activities on it.
Some sites may offer versions that are "kid safe," such as YouTube Kids. While this is a welcome option that should be encouraged, no parent should rely solely on its ability to filter inappropriate material; it can still make it through these filters.
Kids are naturally curious and will always find ways to test their boundaries and elude controls. Parents must leverage technology controls where available and push vendors to improve these features. The key is to understand your needs and plan ahead when purchasing or installing technologies for children.
Understand what control features you need for a given device and what features each gadget offers. Monitor what apps, games and sites your child visits. Check any photos and videos they have taken on their devices regularly, or that they may share online.
Above all, talk to your children about online risks and what they want to do with their device. Also ask what other kids are doing with their devices; this could indicate future interests or peer pressure to also participate. Kids should alert parents if any strangers try to be friendly or contact them through any game or app. Teach kids to be smart and aware about strangers posing as kids.
Technology can be a blessing. But when children are involved, it is important to make sure they are safe.