Snapchat – Causing Dilemmas For Parents Since 2011

We wrote a post last year titled “Is Snapchat Safe for 10, 11 and 12 Year Olds?

Official age limit aside, our conclusion in that post was, “if you are allowing a tween to download and use Snapchat, you are trusting that she is mature enough to keep herself safe from predators and cyberbullies, and to stick to age appropriate behavior.” While it wasn’t the topic of that post, the same goes for 13 and 14-year olds.

We stick by that conclusion for the most part, but we were struck by a comment left by a reader under that post, which you can read below (emphasis added):

“My parents still won’t let me get it. I am 13 and I never get in trouble. They don’t understand how much I don’t get included into [because] nobody uses text messages anymore. I just hope they understand how much I get picked on at school for being the only one in the whole grade without it. And to be honest everyone just uses it to text and connect with people it would be weird to just randomly text.”

We’ll be the first to say that “everybody else is doing it” is never enough reason for parents to say yes to something. However, we acknowledge that the pressure is on this girl’s parents to do just that. If as this girl asserts, she is the only one in her group of friends who is not using Snapchat, her parents have put her in an unfortunate situation.

From what we’ve seen, there are groups of 8th graders where every kid has a smartphone and is using Snapchat. We have no doubt that some of them are using it inappropriately, and there is no foolproof way for parents to guard against an impromptu gaffe.

If this girl is as responsible as she says she is (we admit there’s no way of knowing that), we’d encourage the parents to let her use Snapchat.

That isn’t the end of our advice. Saying, “Yes” is just the beginning of parenting with respect to Snapchat, or any other social network or app.

Lay out firm guidelines: Be very specific as to what kind of behavior is appropriate. Sexting is never okay. Neither is cyberbullying. Talk about how she should react when she sees a friend being cyberbullied. Talk about which types of friend requests she should accept. Tell her to treat every post as if it’s public and permanent.

Agree what will happen if she violates the rules: If she runs afoul of your guidelines, will she lose her Snapchat privileges? Her phone? Spell it out beforehand, but try not to put her in a position where she will be reluctant to come to you with problems.

Monitor activity: You won’t be able to monitor all of her Snapchat activity. You should be able to get a good idea of how she’s using the app if you talk to her about it often, and you should.

Do some research: There is plenty of content on the web about how teens are actually using Snapchat. By learning a little about Snapchat, you can greatly increase the meaning in the conversations you have with your teen.

Smartphones are definitely here to stay, and Snapchat looks like it is as well. Saying yes to Snapchat can increase your parenting workload an your stress level, but at some point it is the right thing to do.



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Reddit Is a Great Resource for Parents

We’ve written before that social media forum Reddit is no place for the really young or faint of heart, so it may come as a surprise to hear us say that it can be a great resource for parents. The truth of the matter is that Reddit is a great resource for just about anyone and everything. Yes, the site contains more than its share of cyberbullying, adult content and general bad behavior, but all that can be avoided if you know where to look, or where not to look.

snooThe forum is divided up into user-defined categories, called subreddits, (, over 850,000 strong and counting) and its 240 million plus monthly users post and comment on news, research, images, video and opinions. The reasons are many that Reddit just “works” if you’re looking for information:

  • If you’re looking for something specific, you’re likely to find a subreddit that caters to that category
  • Many power users post frequently in their area of expertise
  • Each original post and comment is sorted by an upvote/downvote mechanism that results in the most relevant information floating to the surface
  • The site updates constantly, in real time

If you’re looking for information or ideas and you take to Google, you are trusting that someone has written something relevant on that topic, and recently if it’s topical. As such, Google search results can be hit or miss. Finding a subreddit that that has up-to-date news, advice and information can be a boon for busy parents.

Here are a handful of the subreddits that we think parents should take advantage of:

r/Parenting – (90,000 subscribers) “…anything related to the controlled chaos we call parenting.”

r/AskParents – (1,400 subscribers) A subreddit devoted to answering parents’ questions, i.e. you ask and other parents answer.

r/DigitalParenting – (We started this last year and we’re just getting going) “Digital parenting information and discussion for parents. Computers, cell phones, the internet and social media.”

r/Daddit – (40,000 subscribers) A subreddit just for dads.

r/Mommit – (20,000 subscribers) “Mucking through the ickier parts of child raising. It may not always be pretty, fun and awesome, but we do it.”

r/KidsCrafts – (1,900 subscribers) “a wide range of projects for kids as well as ideas that will help challenge and guide children through whatever subject they investigate.”

r/ScienceParents – (2,600 subscribers) The goal of this subreddit is to “share learning resources geared towards kids as well as experiments you and your kids have done together. Take a hands on approach to teaching science to your kids while having fun.”

There are plenty more valuable subreddits out there if you poke around.

A final note: the search function on Reddit itself is pretty weak. If you don’t know the name of subreddit you’re looking for, you’re better off Googling “subreddit for XXX”. That works just fine.



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Infographic – Parent’s Guide to Teens and Mobile Use

There’s a great new infographic out this month from the folks at CellPhoneCity’s Responsible Gadget Ownership team titled A Parent’s Guide to Teens and Mobile Use.

You can see the full infographic below, but first there are a couple of statistics that caught our eye:

The average US child gets his first cell phone at age 12. This seems like the correct number to us. There was a widely mentioned study earlier this year that claimed the average age is 6 years old, but we didn’t believe that for a second. Of course, it may be appropriate for kids younger than 12 to have a cell phone, particularly latch key kids or those who are active in after school activities. When you do it is an important consideration; what you tell them about it is equally so…

Only 26% of families have a contract for cell phone use. A contract, which spells out what is permitted and what isn’t, is certainly helpful, but the same end can be achieved without a formal document. It is very important that parents spell out the family’s expectations for safe and responsible use.

The full infographic:

While some schools use smartphones or tablets for in-class educational activities, according to the survey 72% of schools do not permit cell phone use in class. 51% of teens take their phone to school every day, so make sure that your child knows the rules and avoids distraction.

Only 17 states have laws on the books regarding sexting, but anyone who watches the news knows that it is a growing problem. Talk to your child early about the risks – before you purchase that first phone.

Smartphones are now part of the landscape, and we’re not going back. Make sure that your child understands the rules and the risks before purchasing their first phone, and monitor things carefully. It’s the safe and smart thing to do.




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If You’re Worried About Internet Acronyms, You’re Already Behind

The UK Department of Education released a parents’ guide to internet acronyms this week, and the press has rushed to cover it as if it will solve all the problems of unsafe and inappropriate youth internet activity once and for all. That’s not the way digital parenting works. A few of the headlines:

Social media teen terms decoded for concerned parents 

Teen chat 101: Fearful parents given guide to kid’s online language

QUIZ: Do you know your LOLs from your GNOCs?

“Social media decoding dictionary launched for concerned parents”

Chat guide to help Parents keep Children safe on the Internet

Sure, there are times when it will be helpful for a parent to know the meaning of an acronym that she happens to see one of her kids using, but by that time the game may be over.

For example, the guide helpfully points out that GNOC stands for “get naked on camera”. If your teen or tween is online discussing getting naked on a webcam, you probably missed an opportunity a couple of years ago to have a discussion about what is appropriate for young internet users, the risks of transmitting explicit selfies, and the importance of knowing exactly who is on the other end of your internet connection. And this might not be the first time it’s happening.

The key is to talk to your kids before inappropriate activity is even on their radar screen. We understand that this might be difficult, because you could end up discussing activities your kids aren’t contemplating, and therefore might be giving them ideas. No one said this would be easy.

Our recommendation is that these talks need to begin in earnest, and frequently, before your child has unsupervised internet access or owns his own smartphone.

This analogy has been used before but it’s true: you can build a fence around your home swimming pool (maybe you have to), or you can teach your child to swim. We recommend the swimming lessons.




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Taylor Swift Talks Teen Selfies, Gets it Right

Taylor Swift, who has been bringing some sanity as well as hugely popular good deeds into the social media news flow of late, had some great comments this week on selfies. Specifically, in an interview with IG-teen-selfieITV, she commented on how wedded teens and tweens are to their selfies, and how that’s a bad idea.

“You have teenagers who are attaching their self worth to how many likes they get on a picture they just posted. I don’t necessarily think that’s a healthy way to see yourself. I want to always be there to tell them, that’s not the most important thing – whether this picture got 50 likes and that picture got 10. Please don’t base your day and your happiness and your sanity on that.”

What does it mean for parents, whose teens and tweens spend more time on their phones than they do with family, and who use the selfie as a mode of communication and the central image of their personal brand? The pressure is on, and you can get started today.

Don’t deny that it’s happening – It’s truer in our experience for girls than boys, but either way, there could be hundreds of selfies “out there” of your child. If you search on Instagram for the hashtag #selfie, you get 288 million results! Also true is the fact that for some girls, how many “likes” those selfies get is very, very important – a measure of popularity or of the strength of your friendships or feedback on your attractiveness.

You should be talking about it – As a parent, frequent communication can ensure that it all stays healthy. As a first step, make sure that your teen always knows that she has your love and support. Ask her which social networks and apps she is using, and what she does there. Help her to be self-confident and resist the urge to look for others for affirmation.

Understand that not all “friends” are friends – If your teen is in the like collecting business, she probably accepts friend or follow requests from just about anyone, since it’s a numbers game. That means that many of her Snapchat friends and her Instagram followers are not real friends. This could be unsafe from a predator point of view, but it’s also unhealthy to be seeking the approval of people who are complete strangers. She should understand this.

You probably won’t be hearing the truth – Your first conversations will likely not be that helpful. Of course she’ll assure you that all is well; that she isn’t gaming the like system. To her, her behavior just feels like regular teen stuff.

You need to keep doing it – Kids change, and just because your teen or tween isn’t on Snapchat today, doesn’t mean she won’t be tomorrow. If she doesn’t care much about her clothes and makeup now, she will at some point. Those changes are likely to play out at least in part on social media. The more often that you’re talking about what she is doing online, the more likely you are to sense that something is amiss.

Day in and day out, you won’t be able to stay on top of everything this is happening with her online life. By communicating frequently and hopefully openly, you will be in the best position to make sure nothing goes off the rails.



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What If You Know Your Teens Are Sexting?

My partners and I were discussing teen sexting last week and working out how best to advise parents in certain real life scenarios. Obviously with issues as tricky as this one, advice from us or anyone might not fit the exact circumstances at hand.

We agree on a couple of basic principles: (a) the wellbeing of the teens involved are the most important factor, and (b) that if a situation can be resolved without involving the police, it should be.

We decided to solicit the opinions of some parents and a few parenting professionals to see what other wisdom could be brought to bear. We posted the following on an Internet Safety group page on Facebook and on Reddit in the r/AskParents sub.

Hi folks,

We’re looking for feedback on something. We all know that teen sexting is a big issue these days, unfortunately/especially when the police get involved. We’d like to crowdsource some ideas about best practices when the following occur:

  1. If a teen tells a parent that his friend sent nudes to a girlfriend, and he thinks/knows that she shared them with others, what should the parent do?

  2. If a teen tells a parent that she shared nudes with her boyfriend, and she thinks/knows that he shared them, what should the parent do?

We got some great, thoughtful responses – it is funny how well the internet works sometimes. The following were edited slightly for clarity.

On putting the teens first:

“Damage control and the well being of the youth involved is paramount…. As we know teens make mistakes and these errors need to be explained and dealt with suitable to the age and maturity of the child.”

“I’d explain the laws surrounding production and distribution of child pornography and other under-age-sex related crimes, then I would do everything in my power to let other kids (and probably parents) know too so that the pictures get destroyed without the police getting involved. A charge of something like that will label someone a sex offender and pretty much destroy someone’s chances of getting a good, easy, high-paying job, and that’s not fair.”

“Since we are discussing teenagers – it is age appropriate – that these situations could be covered in the daily chats of offline parenting. My advice is – don’t forget your daily offline chats today and every day – even if they are only for a few minutes.”

On your involvement of the other parents:

“The parents should discuss what their responsibility is to other parents…”

This is an important point. If the teen whose nudes were compromised is not your teen, you definitely should consider telling those parents as soon as possible. If the situation were reversed, you’d want to know.

Should you look to the school for help?

“The involvement of the school is still beneficial for support of the teen and for risk management strategies to be put in place upon school return…”

“Whether in school or out this will eventually get there. Kids talk and thrive on drama- I’ve dealt with this too much to [not] know what will happen.”

We’re not so sure whether it is the best idea to involve the school, although the counselors there probably have more experience with it than you do. It may be worth it to ask a counselor for advice if you’re at wits end.

What of the police?

“In both cases, the parents should try to seek the advice of a “friendly” law enforcement person who specializes in this type of case. In [my state], both situations are criminal offenses and if reported to the police, criminal investigation and possible prosecution is inevitable. Most time when situations like these happens, I’d be contacted by either the parents or a friend of the parents for advice. Even though I AM a law enforcement investigator, my main concern is damage control. And that is to determine the extent of the sharing and try to prevent from going viral.”

The response immediately above is from an actual police officer with extensive experience in digital issues. We replied, “I’m very concerned about the idea of bringing the police in or counseling other parents to do so. While I understand their advice could be invaluable, the idea of a police child porn investigation – if it could have been avoided – is terrifying. Is there a way to contact the police for advice (anonymously?) without the possibility of an investigation?” His counter:

“The parents could talk to an investigator and present a “what if” scenario. And it also depends on the investigator’s mindset. Does he/she look at this as just another case [that may require] prosecution? Or is he/she looking out for the well being of the teenagers and their family?”

And finally, another parenting expert weighed in:

“Unfortunately police investigations are initiated (whether we like it or not) due to laws and, especially in the cases of the deliberate act of circulating the sext to cause distress to another. Parents requiring advice may like to call a legal office to gain expert opinion and if a situation has occurred, maybe introduce a third party to be involved as a ‘go between’ in speaking with the other parent, especially due to upset on both sides as its extremely emotional for all involved.”

In summary, most of the time it makes sense to:

  • Make sure the teens involved are safe and know that they have your support
  • Move quickly to stop the spread of the photos if they have been leaked
  • Involve the other parents as soon as possible
  • You may want to look to the school for resources, but don’t expect answers
  • If you can find a trusted police officer, she may be able to help, but understand that under some circumstances (perhaps out of your control) an official investigation may result

By all means, talk to your teens about sexting early and often – before it becomes an issue.




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Parents’ Guide To Anonymous Sites and Apps

You have probably been hearing more about anonymous social media sites and apps lately. They have been a big deal in 2014, and look to be unstoppable. Users of all ages are having fun using them, and while some have caused big problems (more below), their existence alone doesn’t violate any laws. IconAs a parent, you should make an effort to know which apps your teens are using, and how they are using them. It’s a great conversation starter, and can serve as a basis for an ongoing dialog. As your teen ages, and the allure of anonymity increases, it is more likely that she’ll try some or all of these.

If you aren’t up to speed on which anonymous apps and sites are hot, and most parents aren’t, allow us to help get you up to speed.

First, anonymous sites generally work on one of three frameworks, or some combination of two:

  • They are associated with some identity, but often not a real name
  • They are location-based and fully anonymous
  • They are connected to your phone’s address book or your social connections, so a user’s network consists of “friends”, but the sender’s anonymity is preserved

Identity-based – With 135 million registered users, is not flash in the pan. Anonymity is completely optional on Ask. It is structured as a Q&A forum and is available online and via an app. Cyberbullying is exceedingly common on Ask, at least in part because the “good” kids tend to use their real names and open up, and the cyberbullies are almost always anonymous. has been linked to numerous teen suicides.

Recommendation – Keep your teens off of There are plenty of alternatives with less cyberbullying.

Reddit – Reddit is almost totally anonymous. Users can choose their user name, but the number of non-famous people using their real name in very small. Reddit has been around since 2005, and has 115 million monthly users spread across 190 countries. Reddit content is organized in categories, called subreddits. If your teen is interested in video games, you’ll probably find him browsing r/gaming, r/minecraft or r/leagueoflegends. Many other niche interests are served by Reddit categories. Reddit users who either post or comment need to have a thick skin, because cyberbullying is a very frequent occurrence.

Recommendation – Teens possessing both the maturity to avoid the adult content, and the self-assuredness to ignore the trolls might find that the good outweighs the bad on Reddit. Tread carefully.

4chan – Since user registration is not required or permitted on 4chan, nobody seems to know how many users they have, but it is definitely in the millions. The founder of 4chan is a big advocate of both free speech and the right to be anonymous, and as such 4chan almost no rules, and has some of the most reprehensible content, comments and vicious trolls on the internet. As with Reddit, though, some of the content, also arranged by subcategory, can be very valuable and esoteric.

Recommendation – We have no problem whatsoever recommending that teens avoid 4chan.


yik-yak-hcYik Yak – Anonymous message board Yik Yak serves as a news feed for all users within a 1.5 mile radius. The company claims that it is intended for college students (18 year-old age limit!) but every week there are reports of bomb threats and harassment at high schools. Yik Yak doesn’t disclose its number of users, but claims to have active communities at over 250 colleges in the U.S. Yik Yak does quickly comply with the police in the event of threats, and has claimed to block the app at most high schools, though this does not appear to be an effective solution. Cyberbullying, teacher bashing and confessions about drug and alcohol use are frequent.

Recommendation – Parents with a smartphone and 5 minutes to spare should check out Yik Yak for themselves. This app is not for teens, and wreaks havoc at high schools.

TinderTinder (10 million daily users) is rapidly replacing online dating for the younger, racier crowd – it is a hookup app. It might be positioned as a “find friends” or dating app, but it isn’t really being used that way, and yes, you are anonymous on Tinder until you decide to meet up with someone. It is also used by predators, as was highlighted in a number of cases recently.

Recommendation – This app is not for teens.

whisper-sexWhisper – The Whisper app is a location and image-based confession app. All users are anonymous, but users can reply to others’ posts, which can lead to contact via other messaging platform or in real life. Whisper does a very good job of monitoring and taking down bullying posts and nudity, but some adult content is permitted. It has been reported recently that Whisper tracks user location even when users turn the GPS feature off, and just a quick look at the posts on there reveal that some users are prone to self harm, including cutting and eating disorders. Predator risk is also an issue.

Recommendation – If your teen is looking to get things off his/her chest, Whisper isn’t the worst option. Teens should use it with caution, though, and parents should be aware of why they are drawn to it.

Address book-based

Secret – In the words of the NY Times, “Cyberbullying is bad enough when you know who is doing the bullying.” Secret connects to your phone’s address book, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and allows users to send anonymous messages. Obviously this app can used in a very negative way, including cyberbullying.

Recommendation – While Secret has reportedly been working on better safety protocols, the risks outweigh the benefits, if there are any. We say no.

TruthTruth is an anonymous messaging app designed to allow users to send secret text, photo and video messages to anyone in their cellphone address book who is also a Truth user. While Truth is used by teens to stalk romantic interests and in some isolated cases for targeted cyberbullying, it’s neither the worst nor one of the most popular anonymous apps out there.

Recommendation – While not the worst, there is no good reason for teens to be using Truth. We’d avoid it.

Studies have shown, not surprisingly, that anonymity enables a number of negative behaviors, particularly in teens. With anonymous apps, if your teen is being cyberbullied, you need to be aware of it to help. If your teen is doing the bullying, or engaging in other inappropriate or illegal acts, by the time the school or police get involved, it may be too late. Do your family a favor and talk to your teens about what apps are on his phone, and why.


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Is Teen Sexting Now Part of Normal Courtship?

It might be, but that doesn’t let parents off the hook.

An expansive new study was published by La Trobe University in Australia this week, titled National Survey of Secondary Students and Sexual Health, and it is causing a number of media commentators and industry experts to dust off their opinion about whether teenage sex and sexting are bad, and just how bad, or not bad at all.

The study, led by author Anne Mitchell, polled 2,136 boys and girls in grades 10 through 12, and asked them about everything from HIV transmission to use of technology to drug and alcohol use. The full results of the survey can be found by following the link above.

The high level conclusions from the survey, specifically with respect to teen sexuality and sexting, are as follows:

  • 69% of students had experienced some sort of sexual activity
  • A majority of respondents reported using some form of contraception
  • 14% of sexually active respondents report that their last partner was under 16
  • 17% of students were drunk or high last time they had sex
  • 87% of respondents use social media or apps at least once a day
  • Over half of respondents reported having received sexually explicit messages
  • Over a quarter of respondents reported having sent sexually explicit photos of themselves
  • 9% of respondents had sent a sexually explicit picture or video of someone else

One conclusion from the survey authors:

“The use of social media is almost universal and clearly plays a large role in the negotiation and development of sexual relationships. This includes the now common sending of explicit messages and images, most of which appear to occur within relationships.”

There is a natural desire by journalists and experts to fit controversial topics into neat categories for easier dissemination and discussion. Case and point the articles this week “‘Sexting’ is new courtship’, parents are told” and “Study finds no reason to panic about teens, sex and technology”, both of which used the study results as a centerpiece for discussion.

Is this new normal with respect to sexting okay? Perhaps some level of sexual activity is inevitable. The fact that most kids are using contraception is encouraging. Maybe sexting is not a problem for consenting partners who are older teens; after all, it is undeniable that teens have chosen technology as their go-to medium of communication, and teen pregnancy and abortion rates in this country are at an all time low.

On the other hand, sex with minors under 16, sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or transmitting sexually explicit images of someone else – all not okay.

We shouldn’t stop parenting just because most worst-case scenarios are not playing out in our homes. To wit:

  • Just because lots of people are doing something, doesn’t make it okay
  • Just because something hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean it won’t
  • “Not in my house” or “not by my kids” might be wrong
  • If your teen’s sexually explicit photos get posted to the internet, bad things will happen

The proliferation of technology is supposed to have made things better, and in some cases it has, but accepting risky behavior as normal because (a) it’s probably going to happen anyway, and (b) we’ve gotten better at managing the consequences, is silly. Talk to your teens about how they’re using technology, and make sure they understand the risks. Let’s not stop parenting.


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The Mobile Digital Parenting Challenge

teen-cell-phoneNow that “everyone” has a smartphone, what does that mean for digital parenting? A lot.

In our household, our teens tend to have their cell phone in their hand or pocket most of the time, and they almost never make a phone call. If you ask most parents what their kids are doing on their phones, the answer will usually be, “texting or playing games.” Some may say/know that they’re also watching videos on YouTube, or checking out something funny or interesting on the web. In many cases, it’s a lot more than that, and creates a challenge for parents who want to stay on top of their kids’ online activity.

Let’s look at some statistics that back this up, and keep in mind that since teens tend to be early adopters of technology, many are undoubtedly ahead of this curve, and not just in line with the average. (h/t to VC Chris Dixon (@cdixon on Twitter) for sharing this week)

First of all, in 2013 for the first time the number of mobile internet users surpassed the number of desktop users.

Source: comScore and Morgan Stanley

And when cell phones users are online, a whopping 86% of their usage time on is an app, not on a mobile web browser.

Source: Flurry Analytics

Separate stats from the Wall Street Journal on social network usage also bear this out. Obviously, apps like Snapchat, Vine and Instagram that are web-only or web-mostly confirm this trend, but even networks that were computer platforms first, like Facebook and Twitter, see more than half of their usage coming from mobile.

Source: comScore and Statista

Original statista article can be found here.

As a starting point, parents wishing to get a better insight into kids’ phone usage should keep the following in mind:

Texting is happening via app, not SMS – Which messaging app is your child using – WhatsApp, Kik, Line, Snapchat or something else?

Photo apps are actually messaging platforms – Instagram, Snapchat and the like are not just for sharing photos. Especially by teens, they are being used for one-to-one or one-to-many messaging.

Kids are on more networks than you think – Sure, you might be friends with your teen on Facebook, but is she also using Twitter, Tumblr, or a network that you’ve never heard of? Is she using an alias?

Kids have a better chance of figuring out their phone than you do – Put a group of teens together and they will have an infinitely better chance of figuring out how to do something on mobile than the average parent will. Parents are behind the curve. Just because you don’t know how to do something on your phone doesn’t mean your kids are similarly challenged.

The age-old  (in internet terms) advice that parents need to confine kids’ internet activity to a shared computer in a central location of the home just doesn’t work any more. It’s still good advice but it isn’t enough in the smartphone era. Parents would be well served to spend more time figuring out what their kids are actually doing on their phones.


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