You can’t protect your kids online. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

It’s much like life in general. You can reduce the risk of something bad happening, but you can’t completely eliminate it. You can find software to spy on your child’s behavior, social interactions and media consumption. You can filter. You can slow down, but you can’t hold off the flood.

For every means of blocking and filtering there is an easy antidote that any mildly intelligent – and mostly ambitious kid will find.

If you wish to screen their social media, they switch to Whatsup, which is now end-to-end encrypted. If you wish to monitor their driving, they might leave their phone at their friend’s house and tell you they “forgot” it on silent while they’re speeding on back roads. If you activate all the porn filters in the world, they can always use their friend’s cell phone.

And just when you think you put the last brick in the protective wall, you discover they’ve been banned from the coolest Vibe/Line/Whatsup/Tumblr group in school, and everyone is talking about them. So…. good luck with that.

What you can do is understand the three levels of risk your child faces in the media world.

1. Active

Active is anything bad your child can get into because of actions they take. It’s taking a selfie with your school t-shirt on, or street sign in the background, so that a potential predator can show up and “befriend” you – which is easier since they already know a lot about your tendencies and preferences. It’s getting into verbal abuse with hostile grown ups you thought were younger and friendly and getting hurt by that. It’s posting a revealing picture and not understanding it is going to show up when she apply for a job one day.

2. Passive

Passive risk is learning behaviors/language/role modeling that is bad for them. It can be attitudes, reactions, acceptable and not acceptable, getting negative ideas. Passive is spending a lot of time in front of a screen and slowly distorting the brain and over-all development (cognitive, behavioral, and social/ emotional) over time. It is when the line between right and wrong gets blurry because everyone does it online, so why not in real life?

3. Alternative Risk

Alternative risk is considering what other behaviors media consumption is displacing. Your son might have the potential of being a top athlete, but he would never know that if he spends most of his time in front of a screen. Or your daughter could have met her BFF (best friend forever) and have amazing experiences outdoors but….

On the flip side, risk is a relative term – relative to the alternative. If it’s spending their time on the streets of a gang-infested neighborhood, then maybe it’s better to watch bad media indoors all day. If a child is small, weak and being bullied in school, the cyber space levels the playing ground as it’s the tips of the fingers doing the bullying and maybe it creates the opportunity to stand up for one self.

The estimate is that by 2020 – only six years from now – 90 percent of humans over age six years old will have a mobile device. Online is officially part of the human race. Therefore, the risks of online are intertwined with the risks of being a part of society (or not).

Just as with all other risks we protect our kids from, there are steps we can take to manage the risk (and increase our peace of mind.) Here are three.

1. Get informed – Understand the issue, the risks and potential solutions, then get expert’s insights. There’s no shortage of that online. (Beware of any insight coming from people with an agenda, like big brands or industry associations)

2. Get your own opinion – Only you know your child and what’s a real risk given her lifestyle/routine/habits/personality/likes and dislikes. Considering that will help you focus on what’s relevant for her.

3. Get involved – Parenting is an active sport, not something you can put on cruise control. It requires proactive engagement. Online parenting is no different. You need to be part of your child’s life to be able to protect them and guide them.

With a deep background and industry knowledge in digital advertising, Dan Olschwang saw many forces at work, and took a special interest in that media geared towards children. As a parent, he wanted to tool that would help understand and assess the human values being conveyed to kids and what they are picking up from games, apps and media. Unsatisfied with what was available, Dan created Dawn, a tool to discover the potential hazards and benefits of the multi-media children are exposed to – the Dawn of a new digital age. As founder and CEO of Dawn, Dan uses his unique blend of expertise of digital and mobile media to build a tool that parents can use to better determine which apps, games and media are best for their child. Dan has cultivated and curated a team of experts in child development and digital innovation to create an app that is run by parents, for parents as they work together to determine the values of children’s multi-media programming. 

About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the Professor of Advanced Media in Residence at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and CEO of The Palmer Group, a consulting practice that helps Fortune 500 companies with technology, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn’s “Top Voice in Technology,” he covers tech and business for Good Day New York, is a regular commentator on CNN and writes a popular daily business blog. He's a bestselling author, and the creator of the popular, free online course, Generative AI for Execs. Follow @shellypalmer or visit



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