Johnston: Monitoring screen time can help protect children

If you have young kiddos, you may have heard the recent news about Momo and YouTube Kids.

There have been reports about a scary looking character named Momo who shows up in the middle of online children’s programs and tells children to do inappropriate things, such as ways to commit self-harm.

The image is not a real person, it is Japanese statue called “Mother Bird” and has no connection to these allegations other than the image being used.

If you have seen it, the image is scary. Imagine being a small child watching a show, such as Peppa Pig, and all of a sudden a scary looking face comes on. It would be terrifying even if she wasn’t saying inappropriate things.

There have also been reports of pornographic content popping up in several popular children’s programs that have been uploaded to and distributed through YouTube Kids.

There are varying reports of whether these reports or the Momo allegations are true or not, but it brings our attention to an important topic: internet safety for our children.

While parents may think they can safely allow their children to watch YouTube Kids, there is no way to guarantee any internet site is safe, even if the target audience is children.

YouTube has expressed their inability to filter all of the content that gets posted to their site, no matter how hard they try.

It is always a good idea for parents to monitor their children’s online activities. If you decide to allow your children to watch YouTube content or have other access to the internet, we encourage parental supervision.

Here are some tips on how to protect your children as they navigate the internet from Net Smartz (a program of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Kids).

Connect

–— Set some ground rules. Establish clear guidelines like what types of sites children can visit, apps they can download and when they can have access to electronics. It is a good idea to consider ‘blackout’ periods that require children to disconnect at certain times.

— Research before you buy. Learn about a device’s capabilities before you buy. Think about whether it allows unknown people to communicate with your child or if the device will allow children to make purchases without permissions.

— Go beyond safeguards. Installing monitoring software or apps does not guarantee your child will be safe online. Time, attention and active conversation are the best tools to protect them

Learn

— Know the platforms. Online enticement happens across all platforms, so be aware of the sites, games, and apps your children frequent. Ask them to show you how they use them.

— Be proactive. Teach your children to spot common tricks used by online offenders. Common tactics used to entice children online are: developing a rapport with the child through compliments and other behaviors such as ‘linking’ online posts; pretending to be younger; offering incentives for explicit content; sending unprompted explicit images of themselves; directly asking children for explicit images of themselves or offering to mutually exchange images.

— Spot the red flags. A child who is experiencing online enticement may be spending increasing time online, getting upset when he/she is not allowed on their device, taking extra steps to hide what they are doing online or receiving gifts from people you don’t know

Engage

—Talk about it! Your children might not tell you everything, but ask anyway Regular conversations about safety can go a long way in increasing trust and communication.

— Get involved. Challenge them to a duel. If you have children who like to play online games, ask them if you can play too. When you respect their interests, they’re more likely to respect your rules, plus you will get some first hand knowledge of what they games are like.

— Don’t pull the plug. Taking away internet access because they may have made mistakes online or for fear of what might happen does not solve the problem. Talk to them about protecting themselves and respecting others online.

Monitoring your children’s online activity is critical to increased internet safety. Set boundaries about what they can and cannot watch, and always supervise their viewing if you have concerns.

Feel free to reach out to the Clark County Cooperative Extension for more information or resources for encouraging safe online experiences.

Shonda Johnston is the Clark County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences. She can be reached at 859-744-4682 or by email at shonda.johnston@uky.edu.