Helping Children Navigate Technology Safely

Keeping up with the ever-changing world of technology can seem overwhelming. To help parents become familiar (and stay current) with tech safety, we have assembled information from trusted resources around the subjects our Mason Prep parents frequently ask about. We hope it helps you guide your child to be a responsible online citizen.
Keeping up with the ever-changing world of technology can seem overwhelming to a parent. We want our children to explore the vast information and resources the internet provides and to connect with friends and relatives, but we know that the internet can be a scary “place.”

To help parents become familiar (and stay current) with tech safety, we have assembled information from trusted resources around the subjects our Mason Prep parents frequently ask about. We hope it helps you guide your child to be a responsible online citizen.

How much screen time is too much?
The idea of “screen time” is changing as we recognize that not all screen time is created equal. Computers, tablets, and smartphones are multipurpose devices that have a wide variety of uses. The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens identifies four main categories of screen time.
  • Passive consumption: watching TV, reading, and listening to music
  • Interactive consumption: playing games and browsing the Internet
  • Communication: video chatting and using social media
  • Content creation: using devices to publish one’s thoughts and make digital art or music
  • Clearly, there's a lot of difference among these activities. As valuable as many of them can be, it's still important for children’s overall healthy development to balance their lives with enriching experiences found off-screen. These tips can help:
  • Pay attention to how your kids act during and after watching TV, playing video games, or hanging out online. If they're using high-quality, age-appropriate media, their behavior should be positive. If their screen-time activities are balanced with plenty of healthy screen-free ones, there's no need to worry.
  • If you're concerned about heavy media use, consider creating a schedule that works for your family. This can include weekly screen time limits, limits on the kinds of screens kids can use, and guidelines for the types of activities they can do or programs they can watch. Make sure to get your kids' input so the plan teaches them media literacy and self-regulation, and use this as an opportunity to discover what they like watching, introduce new shows and apps for them to try, or schedule a family movie night.

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What's the right age to get my child a cell phone?
There’s no easy answer as age isn't as important as maturity level, ability to follow home (and school) rules, and sense of responsibility. When you hand your children cell phones, you're giving them powerful communication and media production tools. They can create text, images, and videos that can be widely distributed and uploaded to websites instantly. Parents need to consider whether their children are ready to use their phones responsibly and respectfully.

Here are some questions to consider:
  • Do your kids show a sense of responsibility, such as letting you know when they leave the house? Do they show up when they say they will?
  • Do your kids tend to lose things such as backpacks or homework folders? If so, expect they might lose an (expensive!) phone, too.
  • Do your kids need to be in touch with you for safety reasons?
  • Would having easy access to friends benefit them for social reasons?
  • Do you think they will use cell phones responsibly (for example, not texting during class or disturbing others with their phone conversations)?
  • Can they adhere to limits you set for minutes talked and apps downloaded?
  • Will they use text, photo, and video functions responsibly and not to embarrass or harass others?

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How do I monitor my child’s cell phone?

Providers including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile each offer add-on packages for a fee that let you keep an eye on your child’s digital behavior, including monitoring usage, managing access to features, and tracking the location of the phone. Also, third-party software programs which you can download from the app store and install on your computer, can show you texts, website histories, photos, and more.


How can I protect my child’s privacy on her cell phone?

Settings on smartphones vary, but you can tighten up privacy with these precautions:
  • Turn off location services. That prevents apps from tracking your location.
  • Don't let apps share data. Some apps want to use information stored on your phone (your contact list, for example). Say no.
  • Enable privacy settings on apps you download. Make sure your child is using strict privacy settings on services intended for adults, such as Instagram and Snapchat.

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How do I teach my child to use social media responsibly?
It's important to be aware of what your kids do on social media, but looking too much over their digital “shoulder” can alienate them and damage the trust you've built together. The key is to stay involved in a way that makes your kids understand that you respect their privacy but want to make sure they're safe. Tell your kids that it's important to:
  • Be nice. Mean behavior is not OK. Make it clear that you expect your kids to treat others with respect and to never post hurtful or embarrassing messages, photos, or videos. Encourage them to tell you about any harassing or bullying messages that others post.
  • Think twice before hitting "enter." Remind children that the information they post can be used against them. For example, letting the world know that you're off on vacation or posting your home address gives would-be robbers a chance to strike. Children also should avoid posting specific locations of parties or events, as well as phone numbers.
  • Follow the "WWGS?" (What Would Grandma Say?) rule. Teach kids not to share anything on social media that they wouldn't want their teachers, college admissions officers, future bosses — and yes, grandma — to see.
  • Use privacy settings. Privacy settings are important. Go through them together to make sure your kids understand each one. Also, explain that passwords are there to protect them against things like identity theft. They should never share them with anyone, even a best friend.
  • Don't "friend" strangers. If you don't know them in person, don't friend them. This is a plain, simple, and safe rule of thumb.

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The internet can be an excellent resource for kids and is an essential tool. However, the freedom and accessibility that make it so useful can also be the source of hidden dangers. Just as we exercise caution with the real-world environments that we allow our children to visit, the internet should be regarded with a healthy dose of vigilance and awareness. Prior to letting your kids go online, it's important to teach them the basics of digital safety.

10 Internet Commandments for Kids Going Online
  1. Don’t post something you will later regret: Talk with your child to explain that everything you post online stays online and make sure they understand the consequences of regrettable posts. Certain posts can affect future relationships and job opportunities.
  2. Protect your online privacy on social media: Make sure your child’s privacy settings are set to share posts only with friends. When your child first starts to post, review his or her posts and talk about why the information they are sharing is (or is not) appropriate. Help them work through this learning curve.
  3. Don’t fall for email phishing scams: Explain to your child that phishing scams can look like real emails. Teach them to show you any emails that contain a link or download (before they click!) while they learn how to spot phishing scams. Enabling two-factor authentication will help to prevent attackers from gaining access to your information.
  4. Talk about and deal with cyberbullying: Before your child goes online, tell them about cyberbullying so he or she will recognize the behavior if they encounter it. Encourage them to come to you if they or a friend is being bullied. Tell your child not to respond to the messages. Bullying should be reported to your internet service provider.
  5. Behave online: For some children, the internet can seem like a place where normal rules are easier to break without consequence. Be sure to monitor your child’s internet and phone activity to make sure they are not visiting inappropriate sites, engaging in cyberbullying, or posting things they may later regret.
  6. Have different passwords for different accounts: Tell your child to never disclose their passwords. Make sure they know how to create a secure password that is 12 characters or longer; avoids names, places or meaningful words; and mixes capitals, numbers and characters.
  7. Don’t download in-app purchases unwittingly: Go into your child’s phone or tablet and remove the ability to pay for any app services by turning off “In-App Purchases” on iOS or ticking “Use PIN for purchases” on Android.
  8. Avoid the worst places on the web: Educate your child about the fact that there is scary and unpleasant content on the internet which may frighten or discomfort them. Make sure to enable safety mode on YouTube, use Supervised Users in Google Chrome to review visited sites and block sites you don’t want your child to see, and create a safe list of sites you have looked at and agreed on together.
  9. Don’t become obsessed with the internet: Make sure to set boundaries for your child to limit how much time they spend online. Be sure to address any changes in behavior.
  10. Avoid sharing personal information online: Teach your child to use a nickname where possible and to share only required information. Make sure they know not to post their physical address, email, phone number, or date of birth online.
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Finally, we can all use some help when it comes to keeping our children safe on the internet. Luckily, there are many options available for monitoring and protecting your child online. You can find a comprehensive list here:
Parents’ Ultimate Guide to Parental Controls (

Teaching Internet Safety is a Team Effort!

It's important to note that teaching children to be safe online is something that needs to be taught at home AND at school. At Mason Prep, we teach our students how to be responsible digital citizens beginning in kindergarten. If you would like to learn more about our school and our values, download our info packet.
Mason Preparatory School is committed to the education of the whole child in preparation for secondary education through the cultivation of respect, integrity, and personal responsibility within a nurturing environment that results in a productive citizen of a global community.