Unlocking online safety: The secret text code every family needs

Feb 12, 2024, 4:05 AM

Family siting on couch....

(Pexels Photo)

(Pexels Photo)

When my son, Ian, was 3, I bought him a cellphone. It had three buttons: “Call Mom,” “Call Dad” and “Call Grandma.” He was young, but it helped us feel better he could reach us in case of an emergency.

There may be situations where your child, partner or parent can’t make a phone call. Or, worse, they could have someone looking over their shoulder when they text. That’s when a secret emoji could save the day.

It’s a way to ask for help quickly and you can do this without alerting anyone, unlike if you made a phone call. I’ve shared this with my family, too, so we’re all on the same page.

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Why an emoji?

These little images are worth a thousand words, especially if they’re part of an inside joke with family and friends.

In an emergency, an emoji is a lot less conspicuous than a word or phrase. If your kiddo can’t call you or someone’s watching them text, an emoji can serve as the perfect (private) distress signal.

Which should you pick?

Make sure it’s easy to remember — but not one your family usually uses in conversation. That’s going to cause unnecessary confusion and concern. Don’t use commonly used emojis, like hearts or smiley faces.

Here are 10 emojis that could be used as a secret signal in case of an emergency:

🐙 Octopus

🦒 Giraffe

🦄 Unicorn

🍄 Mushroom

🌋 Volcano

🦉 Owl

🎠 Carousel horse

🛰️ Satellite

🎏 Carp streamer

🛎️ Bellhop bell

How to have the talk

Don’t just mention this in passing. Have a formal sit-down to discuss the plan. Make sure everyone knows your family emoji should only be used in emergencies — no funny business.

Explain which responses anyone should expect from you if they use it. When they send you the emoji, will you follow up with a phone call? If so, what will you say?

🦒 Let’s say your teen texts you the giraffe

He went to a party at a friend’s house. Things there are making him uncomfortable. He wants to leave. You can text him back the giraffe, which means you’re on your way to get him.

If you don’t know where he is, look him up on the Find My app (Apple) or Family Link app (Android). Depending on the situation, you may want to consider contacting the authorities or reaching out to other trusted adults nearby.

What about your parents? They can text you an emoji if a caregiver is less than caring and can’t talk around that person. Make it a point to revisit your plan every three months. Set up a family meeting once or twice a year to review so it becomes natural in a real emergency.

If you need more help talking to your kiddos about tech, check out my free kids and parents tech contract. And be sure to share this with anyone in your life that has little ones around.

Keep your tech-know going

My popular podcast is called “Kim Komando Today.” It’s a solid 30 minutes of tech news, tips, and callers with tech questions like you from all over the country. Search for it wherever you get your podcasts. For your convenience, hit the link below for a recent episode.

PODCAST PICK: The meaning of “i” in iPhone

Do you know what it stands for? Plus, Drew Barrymore fell for a catfishing scam. Also, an AI-created ad targeting Hamas somehow lands on Hulu — we’ll dive into that. Ever wonder what it’s like to work for Bill Gates? I’ve got some insider info.

Check out my podcast “Kim Komando Today” on Apple, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player.

Listen to the podcast here or wherever you get your podcasts. Just search for my last name, “Komando.”

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Unlocking online safety: The secret text code every family needs