5 mistakes parents make when giving their child access to WhatsApp (and how to fix them).
Your child is 10 years old!
Social position is becoming more important to him or her. And to you.
You want to encourage your child to have friends and to be successful and popular.
But in today’s day and age, this means opening the doors to the world of digital communication, headed by social media chats and messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Snapchat.
Your spouse is literally losing sleep thinking about all the bad people to whom your child could be exposed. But on the other hand, you do not want to hold your child back.
Most of his/her classmates already have smartphones. Perhaps the class has a WhatsApp group already set up. Your child may well feel he or she is missing out.
You feel over your depth, but you know a smartphone is the number 1 tool for communication for today’s kids and teens. Even if you feel a bit embarrassed and overwhelmed, do not be too hard on yourself. Many parents are facing the challenges of the ever-changing digital environment. There is no need to fear giving your child a smartphone with access to WhatsApp.
In this post, you will learn the 5 most important mistakes parents make, and how to fix them or avoid them entirely.
1. Most parents just allow kids to use WhatsApp without any guidance
Many parents just give their children a smartphone and expect them to be able to use it responsibly because it is such an integral part of today’s communication. This expectation however is not a realistic one, especially for younger children. Providing guidance to your children and teaching them the code of good and safe conduct on WhatsApp is probably the most critical step a parent can take to ensure their child’s safety in the wild world of digital communication. A simple fix is to practice together.
Here are five important steps to take:
I. Download the app and help your kids set up a safe account with appropriate privacy
settings (See more about privacy below). Remember to disable the location
services and the “last seen” feature
II. Teach your kids about two-step verification and help them set their code.
III. Show your children how to block unknown people. Remind them of the importance
of communicating only with people they know.
IV. Make sure your kids cannot be added to groups randomly by anyone
V. You can open a group for your family only before you permit your child to join a
class group, or create a group for friends.
Defining various features in your WhatsApp account:
a. Go to Settings in WhatsApp:
In Android: you can find it in the menu that opens when you click the three dots on
the top right
In iPhone: open the app and select Settings
b. Select Account
c. Choose Privacy
d. Various features can be defined under Privacy, including: disabling the last seen
feature, hiding your child’s profile picture and about info, disabling live location,
defining who can add your kid to a group, and viewing a list of blocked contacts.
e. Under Account, you can also set your child’s two-step verification code.
2. Most parents are not fully aware of the risks associated with WhatsApp
If you are not aware of all the ways in which crooks and criminals can get to your phone and private information, then how should your child know what the risks are? For children, there is also a set of social risks that should be considered.
It is important for you to read about and openly discuss common risks such as:
A nasty comment can quickly become viral and fly through the WhatsApp group like a raging fire. The vibe may become so strong it impacts social life outside the app. Teach your kids to treat people with respect, even in a less formal setting. Encourage them not to tolerate bullying of anyone and to block people who display untoward behavior.
WhatsApp, like any digital app, is vulnerable to hacks and attacks. Scams are often run in the app to collect private data. Fake news and incorrect information spread fast. Make sure your kids understand what phishing and sexting mean. Teach them to be careful and what to look out for. Teach them to research and validate information before repeating it.
Lack of privacy:
Although WhatsApp is encrypted, images and screenshots are not protected. The data collected can also be seen. Your kids should be aware that putting content on WhatsApp is putting content on the internet. And once it is out there, there is no control over it- and erasing it is almost impossible! So they need to think twice before posting anything.
It is well known that pedophiles and other criminals do not shrink from grooming children on WhatsApp and then meeting them offline to use them for their own benefit. Speak to your child and explain the problem in a language suitable for their age. There are some first signs your child can recognize when a stranger is trying to develop a relationship with them.
- Asking a lot of personal questions right at the start of the acquaintance
- Promising gifts and treats
- Offering compliments and saying your child is special, even when they do not know the child well
- Asking your child for pictures and insisting on seeing the child (video chat first, offline meeting later)
- Wanting to keep the relationship a secret
- Trying to contact often, even when your child does not respond
- Making the child feel guilty when the child does not do as they ask, or when the child no longer wants to keep in contact
Remember, if these signs turn up even with someone your child already knows, something is wrong. Remind your child of your love and that you are always there to help, no matter what the child has done.
To report abuse to WhatsApp, under Settings you can select Help and then click on Contact Us. Then you can write a short message to detail the abuse.
To block or report a contact or a group. Tap the contact information and then scroll to the bottom to select the “Block” or “Report” icons marked in red.
3. Most parents do not check their kids’ WhatsApp
WhatsApp is free and fun for your kids to use. Your children also perceive it as more private, as many parents do not regulate what is going on. The solution is simple. Openly tell your child that you will be monitoring the activity on WhatsApp periodically. Make this a stipulation to your child receiving a smartphone and access to WhatsApp in the first place. The simple way to do so is to simply take your child’s smartphone at the agreed time and browse his or her communication.
You can also use a parental control app (MobileSpy, mSpy, FlexiSpy, Keepers, etc.) to monitor communication and filter bad language or suspicious people, but remember that there are workarounds. Your kids will delight in these types of hacks to thwart your monitoring.
If you do detect anything suspicious or unacceptable topics and language, you should openly discuss this with your child to ensure the unwanted behavior stops. This is a very good opportunity to again highlight the dangers to your kids, using the real (and unfortunate) examples from their lives to drive the message in.
4. Most parents believe their kids are aware of the common pit falls of digital communication
You have probably told your kids since they were 4 years old not to talk to strangers, and yet on WhatsApp, they will be communicating mostly with strangers because that is how the app works. WhatsApp allows for groups of up to 250 to be created. Your child does not always have control over who the group members are. That is why controlling your child’s contacts list is difficult.
While you cannot expect the exact same boundaries in the offline and online world, you can and should make sure your children are indeed aware of the dangers of being active digitally and the consequences of certain behaviors. You should openly discuss the topics of security and safety on smartphones with your children. Put together a list of behavioral tips and rules for them and discuss it.
5. Most parents do not demand their children recognize their own online responsibility
Just like anything else in life, parents should teach their children to be responsible for their actions. Being present online carries with it a new set of responsibilities and consequences. Adults are not always aware of them all, so how can children be?
The solution lies in imitating reality. When you purchase a mobile phone line or internet connection, your supplier demands that you sign a contract. You should do the same with your children. Start with a simple list of rules and conditions that your child should fulfill to receive and keep a smartphone. Add tips and rules for digital communication. Then have your children sign the list as a contract, thus enhancing their commitment to following these rules.
WhatsApp and smartphone rules could include the following commitments:
The child will:
- Never share the password/PIN to the phone or to WhatsApp with anyone (except parents)
- Answer parents and family promptly
- Not use the phone or WhatsApp at school (unless the school permits)
- Agree to parents using a parental monitoring app in which all communication is visible
- Turn the phone or WhatsApp off at bedtime
- Let parents know if anything feels uncomfortable or goes wrong
- Ask permission to make purchases using the phone
- Always use proper and respectful language when texting (will not write anything that will not say in front of parents or to close friends)
- Not bully or harass anyone
- Not share inappropriate pictures of anyone
- Not uninstall apps or change settings applied by parents
- Keep phone charged and in good condition (The child is responsible for the smartphone and should look after it)
- Know and agree that misbehavior will be followed by usage restrictions or even phone removal
You should discuss these points with your child and rephrase them in simple language. Encourage your child to write up the contract and sign it. You can create a poster (or encourage your child to make it) of the rules, and hang it in a prominent place in your house, so everyone remembers what to do.
Gain peace of mind
Managing your children’s behavior in WhatsApp and the digital world is a skill you can learn. Regardless of the huge variety of apps out there, the dangers and pit holes are common to many. Discuss your concerns openly with your child and make sure that the dangers and the ways to deal with them are understood. Make sure your child knows you are always there to help.
Open discussion fosters trust. Your trust and openness will boost your children’s self-assurance and maturity. You gain peace of mind when you know you have though your child how to get on.
Just imagine how wonderful it is to be sure your kids remain level-headed in the wild world of web, apps, and social media.