Supervising the Cyber Playground

Does sixth-grader need a presence on Facebook? Should your 12-year-old be embarrassed because you don’t see the need for him to have an email account when that’s how his teachers communicate with students while off campus?

The advent of electronic communications and social media has brought on these questions and many more, along with a host of new issues for parents. The result is that keeping kids safe on today’s cyber playground takes effort, planning and an understanding that there are rarely ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions.

Learn How it Works

If you’re not familiar with social media, create a Facebook or Twitter account so you can learn how it works. Read about parental controls, how to report inappropriate activity and check out sites like, where you’ll find detailed guides about cyber-safety. Kathy Thomas, Ph.D., director of pediatric neuropsychology at Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa, suggests setting an age minimum for various types of accounts and then reminding your child that you will be a ‘friend’ or ‘follower.’

“This is so you can step in and give feedback and be present when they’re having these (online) relationships,” Thomas said, noting parents should be sure to respect their child’s privacy and refrain from commenting on posts unless necessary. “Because you’re a ‘friend’, you can also provide protection.” Similarly, Thomas says parents should have all passwords to their children’s accounts and let their kids know that, as parents, they have the right to log on anytime to monitor any and all activity on a phone or computer.

Ground Rules Important

Parents should also establish additional ground rules such as where the computer will be used in the home, how much ‘screen time’ will be permitted and what kind of language, posts and pictures are appropriate. After all, she said, youngsters don’t have a fully developed frontal lobe. “It’s the part of your brain that is your ‘wise mind’,” said Thomas, “and it’s not fully functional in children.” If rules are broken, there needs to be consequences, perhaps restricting access or deleting an account.

Until you think your child is old enough, consider establishing a family account, a private Facebook account or a private YouTube channel. This way, your child can still share with family and friends, but on a considerably safer level.

“Families are so different, but the important thing is to talk with the other parent, come up with an agreement and stand by it,” Thomas said.

Just remember your child’s peers may have significantly more free reign — so as with all else in parenting, be prepared to hear about it!