By Jocelynn Buckentin, Technology Innovation Specialist
Social distancing, by its very nature, has caused us to be apart from those in-person human connections that we took for granted. After 6 weeks of being isolated from others, many are starting to feel that absence of connections amplified as we itch for life to return to the way it was. While the future may be uncertain at the moment, there are many ways that we can restore some of those human connections with family and friends while keeping safety in mind.
While we tend to focus first on the academic importance of school, it is equally important to note that kids are missing those same in-person connections as we are. Many teachers have sought to remedy this by providing opportunities for students to chat with their classmates through live class meetings. Many kids are also turning to popular social media apps like TikTok and Snapchat to maintain connections with friends online, but those apps are only open to kids over the age of 13 and are a cause of concern among many parents with fears of inappropriate use and oversharing among others.
There are some safer options out there for parents to consider. Facebook’s Messenger Kids app is a separate but related app to Facebook Messenger. It allows kids too young to join Facebook to use their parents’ Messenger account to interact with a predetermined set of contacts. Parents have full access to their child’s account and must pre-approve who their kids can interact with. Kids, in turn, get to text and video chat with their approved contacts. They can interact through games, photos with fun filters, and stickers. The best part is, parents have a dashboard of controls that allow them to access chat logs, recent contacts, and more. Think of it as social media on training wheels. Parents can think of Messenger Kids as another tool that can help kids maintain friendships at a distance while prioritizing online safety.
While there are online apps that can be used to bring us together, there are others that parents should be wary of. YOLO is a Snapchat Add On that came out around this time last year. It allows teens to add a sticker to their Snapchat Story that asks followers to give them feedback or question them anonymously. The major problem with anonymous apps is that they are “notorious hubs for cyberbullying,” according to Common Sense Media.
Parents can combat the installation of apps like this by enabling protections through apps like Google’s Family Link (for android phones and tablets) or Apple’s Screen Time (for iOS phones and iPads.) Parents can set up time limits, content filters, and increased protections for student account and device use while at home to keep kids safe and help them to navigate the complicated world of the Internet in a guided manner.
Finally, you may choose to seek out connections with friends and relatives at a distance by scheduling weekly zoom chats, or even hosting a family game night online. I am in the process of planning my daughter’s 7th birthday party and my sister-in-law’s baby shower over live video chat, and while I would rather be able to do those things in person, I am thankful for the ability to bring people together in some way, however small that may be.