The internet can make our lives richer, simpler and easier, and it’s getting easier to access anytime and anywhere with the advent of smartphones and tablets. What’s alarming, though, is that children are getting online at a very young age, exposing themselves to the vagaries of a world that can be delightful at best, and immensely scary at its worst. With the month of February celebrating Safer Internet, learn how to protect your child in a digital age:
1. Public vs Private
It’s imperative that you draw your child’s attention to the distinction between what’s alright to share publicly, and what remains private. They need to understand that they have no control over what they share online, since all it takes is a few clicks for something to be accessible to total strangers. Even when they think they’re sending messages and images to others privately, those items can be viewed by almost anyone, who can take a screenshot or photo of them and share endlessly. It doesn’t help that phones can be lost, passwords stolen, and accounts hacked. It really is better to be safe than sorry.
2. Being Respectful
Social media networks are intense places to be, giving people the power to judge your appearance, personality, lifestyle and choices. But their comments often say more about them than the object of their criticism or praise. Encourage your children to be respectful when commenting on others, with a reminder to say nothing if they can’t say something nice. Conversely, alert them to the fact that if they come across something disturbing, they ought to tell you instead of reacting to it with a ‘Like’, or a comment. They also need to think twice before putting their friends or family in a compromising position by sharing information or an image that will make someone look bad.
3. That’s TMI (Too Much Information)
As kids struggle with the growing need to define their identity, they may sometimes be tempted to boast, shock or provoke in a bid for attention. Teach them about self-control. Certain things should only be shared offline, such as jokes that might be offensive, personal milestones, or even information about family and other private things. They should be wary of giving out details about their location, schedule, family travel plans and, yes, even their pet’s name, all of which can be misused by hackers.
4. Providing Permission
Check all privacy settings on your child’s email and social media accounts before they start using them regularly. You could gently and openly request that they share their passwords with you, which is better than snooping behind their backs. Also make sure every device’s parental controls are on so you can monitor what sites they visit.
5. Choose Wisely
Kids may think it’s literally all fun and games when they answer quizzes, play games, and use different social media apps. Urge them to be selective, as every time they sign up they provide access to their account information (with all their photos), contact details, and even location, all of which can be misused by predators online. Choosing friends can be a minefield on social networks, especially when a child may want to come across as popular. Remind them that every time they accept someone as their friend online, they give them a free pass to their private information and photos.
6. Parental Pitfalls
As a parent, you may be terrified of appearing obsolete and ignorant when it comes to fast developing technology, but giving up control will leave your kids vulnerable. Read up as much as you can, educate yourself on parenting websites and discuss pressing matters with other parents and teachers on online forums or offline. Be flexible, yet vigilant about your child’s online behavior, but always remember that you are the parent, so what you say is the last word.
7. Damage Control
Just in case you missed catching it and your child posts something objectionable online, whether it is a comment, post or status update, delete it immediately. There is disturbing evidence to show that certain social media sites never truly delete your information until and unless you delete the entire account. Do whatever you can to minimize the impact of their post. If someone else makes nasty or inappropriate comments about your child, advise them not to get annoyed or angry and retaliate. Instead, they should report it to you. Delete the comment (take a screenshot first), block the person, and report the incident to the website owner or service provider. If you find your child becoming the victim of cyber bullying, you can reach out to support agencies such as Stop Bullying, which is a federal government website managed by the US Department of Health & Human Services.
With these tips in mind, you can help your child become an alert and intelligent internet user.