This post is sponsored by Messenger Kids and SheKnows Media.
There’s no getting around it anymore. My oldest son is getting old. As much as I try to baby him, he’s seven now and he has OPINIONS! I used to teach third grade, and I loved the banter, the growth, and the personalities that emerged at that age. Even though it’s so exciting to see my dude approaching a familiar threshold, but it also makes me realize that I need to refresh my knowledge on things like keeping kids safe online.
When I was in the classroom, the BIG concern with the internet was…well…the actual interwebs. There are quite a few monitoring and restricting programs that can ensure web browsing is safe for kids. We have all that on lock, of course. Now, we’re realizing that we should also be concerned with the people who can reach our kids through any given site, app, program or game.
The internet is a lot more social than it used to be, and it freaks me out when my son starts asking to chat with his friends or even with teachers. I refused to let him engage with people online for a long time, unable to find a chat program that I found acceptable…until Messenger Kids came along. I’ve already covered Messenger Kids in depth here on the blog: what sets it apart is the fact that it’s based on a UI that most parents are totally familiar with. I use the grown-up version of Facebook Messenger, so it’s easy for me to monitor and even insert myself into the conversation!
Monitoring is Key to Keeping Kids Safe Online
My son is a good kid. I’ve raised him right, and I know that he has no dishonest intentions or outright mischievous thoughts. When he sees his friends playing around on an app, he’s not like, “Yay, this is how I can arrange midnight sneak-outs or get my hands on illicit substances.” No. He’s like, “Cool, online stickers and smiling friends!” If I can simply monitor and make sure it stays in that joyful context, we’ve got a great jump on any would-be problems.
Messenger Kids is Popular for a Reason
Whether or not we intended for this to happen, our son is on the internet. We run a blog, and he’s surrounded by cameras and video stuff constantly. He’s very familiar with what we do. It makes sense that he’d eventually start peeking over our shoulders, realizing that this is a back-and-forth dialogue with readers, and wanting in on the action. He now has his own starter camera and is making little snippets to share with friends and family – a hobby we’re thrilled about!
I’d imagine that the transition to the internet is similar in any household. Parents are online to keep up with work, friends, family and personal interests. We logically turn to the internet to show our kids cool stuff as they get older. Perhaps – just like us – you’ve found yourself handing your phone over with Messenger turned on so that your kids can video chat with aunts and uncles. Shazam! Just like that, your kids are online. Thank goodness that Facebook had the foresight to see this happening and develop an app to put parents at ease.
There are no ads whatsoever on Messenger Kids, and all masks, frames, stickers and GIFs were made to be kid-appropriate. Parents have to approve each and every contact, so there is absolutely no chance that you’ll look over one day and see your kid chatting it up with a stranger. Best of all, conversations can’t be erased! I can hop on anytime and see my child’s chat history. I can even chat with him directly from the adult Messenger, making this an awesome tool for checking in when he’s visiting a friend or neighbor.
Our son uses one of our old phones on WiFi, so he’s limited to being online when we give him the password and take the app out of Sleep mode. So far, it’s just a slew of stickers, emojis, and sweet little compliments. I know that won’t ALWAYS be the case, but I like that we’re future-ready. We’re building our son’s confidence with technology and teaching him appropriate boundaries from an early age. He won’t be abruptly tossed into scary chat rooms like a lot of us were when the internet suddenly became a THING right as we were hitting our tween years (oh man, I’m dating myself here aren’t I?).
As a huge added bonus, I’m realizing that my son is practicing spelling skills every single time he writes out a message! If parents can agree to be involved in the process, we can work toward keeping kids safe online. Better yet, we can actually use the internet as a powerful tool to further our children’s knowledge and prepare them for the future.
As they say, knowledge is power.
Are your kids online yet? What age do you think is appropriate for children to start engaging with the internet and chat apps?