Rawdon Messenger, CEO of TeenSafe, Talks About Online Safety

Posted on January 15, 2016 at 7:00 am

Many thanks to Rawdon Messenger, CEO of TeenSafe, who answered my questions about keeping tweens and teens safe online.

At what age do most kids get their first cell phone or iPad?

The age is getting younger and younger. Pew predicts that 90% of 6 year olds will have a smartphone by 2020.
We are seeing younger children getting iPads (around 5 years) then graduating to smartphones around 10 years.
More research here.

Copyright Nell Minow 2015
Copyright Nell Minow 2015

Ten years ago, parents were most often less adept with technology than their kids. Is that still the case or are today’s parents of tweens and teens themselves young enough to be digital natives?

Kids are learning and adopting new technology faster than their parents. They are also far more socially integrated online than most parents understand. Even though most parents know what SnapChat is, they don’t really understand how to use or communicate using it. Furthermore there are so many new apps appearing that it’s hard for parents to know what’s what. We feel it is very important that parents take time to understand not only what apps their children are using, but also how they are using them. It’s a great way to connect with your child and learn from them.

How did you become interested in “blacklist apps?” What exactly are they?

There are many apps that we think simply are inappropriate for children. No parent would want their thirteen year old using dating apps where they could “hook-up” with adults or using anonymous messaging apps which are full of trolls and bullies. Parents need to be more aware of what these apps are and the dangers they can pose for our kids. They can then make the right decision as to whether to allow their children to use them.

We believe that parents must parent their children’s digital lives to the same extent they do their physical lives. Handing a child a smartphone with no restrictions or rules is irresponsible.

Who develops these apps? Where do kids find out about them?

The apps are usually developed by young entrepreneurs and, if they become popular (which they can very quickly), they often get given lots of money by financiers to grow and establish further their apps. Children learn about these apps from each other as the new cool way to connect and communicate.

How should parents talk to tweens and teens about online safety?

This is the most important thing. A parent needs to think carefully about the issues their child may face in the digital life – bullying, sexting, inappropriate content, too much screen time, distraction, etc. They also need to think about where their child is developmentally. Then talk about what they are doing with their device. Ask the about who they interact with and how? And what they think is bad behavior and how they handle it when they see it. Give feedback. It is very import to be clear about what are the big no-no’s and why.

Do you recommend any special rules or contracts for kids with their first phones?


  • Only allow access to age-appropriate apps
  • Restrict access to the device for gaming/pleasure especially during the week.
  • Take phone away after bedtime, homework time, meal times
  • No strangers on social media. And privacy setting should only allow friends to view their accounts.
  • Parent should have all passwords and be able to monitor behavior when they need


Are schools doing a good job of informing kids about online risks?

Many schools are. They have programs on Digital Citizenship and clear rules on conduct while at school. Things get complicated as children misbehave on social media. Is it school business to monitor and guide children behavior online?

PTAs (many of whom, TeenSafe supports) do a great job organizing seminar for parents and students.
Things are evolving so fast, that it is a big challenge to understand the issues, define policy and then educate on these issues.

Do you have any data on use of these apps?

We do not track the usage of the children being monitored on our service. That data is private and is only available to the parents of the children.

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Internet, Gaming, Podcasts, and Apps Parenting

An App to Teach Tweens About Online Safety

Posted on July 22, 2015 at 3:41 pm

Common Sense Media has developed Digital Compass to help tweens learn about safety, privacy, and “digital citizenship,” as they begin to go online by themselves and get their first smartphones.

Designed by Common Sense for middle schoolers, this engaging game helps teach the valuable lessons that today’s kids need to thrive in our digital world. It’s an invaluable tool to open up the conversation around digital citizenship between parents and their (almost) teenagers to help kids think about the real-world impact of their online choices.

In this animated, choose-your-own-journey format set in a fictional town called Anywhere, players control their characters’ digital fates by making good and not-so-good decisions. Kids have the freedom to safely experiment with the impact of their choices while keeping their real-life digital reputations intact. Kids will be faced with a number of challenges and lessons that explore safe sharing, copyright rules, and dealing with digital drama.

Go to DigitalCompass.org to get the app (also available in Google Play or the App Store

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Internet, Gaming, Podcasts, and Apps Parenting Tweens Understanding Media and Pop Culture
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