Are Your Kids Safe and Smart Online? You Might be Surprised


Editor's Note: Greer is a national expert in children's cyber-safety and the fast-changing digital world. With up-to-the-minute information and real-world examples, Greer gives parents strategies to manage access to social media, teach the importance of privacy, and tackle tough conversations. I spoke with Greer about some of parents' common technology concerns, to gauge where we should put our focus.

What's one safety concern or danger re: online lives of kids that most parents might not be aware of?

I think there are many, unfortunately. The problem is that technology is moving so quickly, it's really challenging to keep on top of all the latest trends  — and of course dangers they may pose. One in particular that concerns me is the privacy settings that kids aren't using and parent's aren't aware of.

How should parents balance concern over their children's safety and preserving their children's right to privacy. Do kids have the right to privacy? Should parents be supervising every online and digital interaction?

I think there's a very fine line, and of course the age does matter. However, I am a really big proponent of checking in on what your kids are doing  — no matter what age. Parents did it before these technologies were available, there shouldn't be any difference now that these kids are living their lives online.

What's your biggest concern re: kids and their social identities?

I worry that they truly don't comprehend the concept of what's put out there stays there forever and can't be taken back. This includes pictures taken, shares, posts, texts, even video chats. Records are kept in many different ways, and what may be "cute" or "funny" today, may not be so cute or funny when you're applying for schools or a job in a few years.

Should parents be on social media with their kids?

Absolutely. However, it's no longer sufficient (due to various privacy settings and restrictions) to just be friends with your kids on social networks. I'll give some great tips during my talk to parents in September.

How knowledgeable or concerned should parents be about privacy setting?

This is one of my biggest concerns  — not only for their kids, but for themselves, too. I'm finding that parents and kids are using these apps/sites without even knowing privacy settings exist. There are a lot of dangers in not using privacy settings.

What are the most common online tools being used by elementary-aged kids? Tweens? Teens?

It varies from school to school, state to state, and amongst different ages. I'd say largely photo-sharing apps, video chat apps, and quick social networking apps (not long, involved ones like Facebook) are currently the biggest trends.

What's the trend now with cyberbullying?

It's still there, and it's taking many different forms. Kids aren't just taking to Facebook to say something nasty, they're using things like contests on Instagram to single out peers for a variety of things  — beauty, promiscuity, unattractiveness. It's morphing daily, and it scares me to think where it's headed next.

Are schools teaching digital literacy to kids? If not, why not?

I think more are now than were even a year ago, because they don't have a choice. All of these schools that claim "our school has been lucky, we don't have any technology/digital safety issues" are totally wrong. There is not one school in the country that isn't currently impacted by these things going on  — good and bad  — when it comes to technology and their students, staff, parents and administrators. It's imperative schools be proactive, and not just wait for a major incident to happen to address digital literacy and safety. Let's stop it before it starts, because often times being reactive can have extremely serious consequences.

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