Being online is something that is part of most kids' everyday life these days. That means it is up to parents to teach their children how to use their time wisely, how to make good choices, and how to behave appropriately and safely while on the Web.
Ever heard the phrase "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure"? This is especially true when dealing with kids online. There are so many pitfalls that our children can fall into, and it's wise to prepare them ahead of time so they know what possible dangers to look out for. In this article, we're going to look at five different things you can do to make your children safer online right now, with practical tips to make their Web experience as enjoyable as possible.
Know who they are talking to
There's an old cartoon with a dog typing away on a computer, with the caption "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." This is especially true with young children. They might think they are talking to one of their friends when playing a game or in a new chatroom, but there are predators that scope out these websites in the hope of catching innocents unaware. Know who your children are talking to. Make sure they know never to give out identifying information to anyone they don't know online: this includes first and last names, school name, state, address, phone number, and email address.
We're hearing more and more lately in the news how colleges and workplaces are actively looking at social media profiles when making admission or employment decisions. If your child chooses to post inappropriate pictures or text on their social media profiles, this could adversely affect their college or work plans. Having fun is okay, but parents need to help their children understand that there is a limit to what should be posted publicly.
Bullying isn't limited to the school playground anymore. Unfortunately, this unpleasant phenomenon is spreading to the Web as well, and can spread like wildfire from one person to the next. Using social media profiles, Web forums, and other online sources, cyberbullies can make a peer's life miserable. Know the signs of cyberbullying, and make sure you have an open door policy if your child needs to bring something to your attention.
Learn what to share
Kids these days are more media-savvy than previous generations. They have phones, texting, social media profiles, and many more platforms on which to interact with each other. However, the proliferation of devices and platforms brings with it its own unique problems, one of which is called "sexting". Sexting is the practice of sending inappropriate pictures or text to an underage recipient, usually sexual in nature. If your child has a cell phone or is online, make sure they know that this is considered illegal, and teach them to report any suspicious activity on their various profiles that makes them uncomfortable.
Know the lingo
Parents don't need to know every new acronym and slang word that is cool in their child's world, but understanding the basics can actually be very helpful. Ask your child to explain to you some of the abbreviations that are commonly used, and be aware of any inappropriate or non-child-friendly slang that might be misunderstood.
Why is prevention important?
Instant: Once something is written online, it's there forever. Children don't necessarily grasp this concept. Help them to understand that what they write can make a powerful impact, either on their own life or someone else's.
Privacy: Unlike a personal diary that stays in the bedroom, the Internet is not private. When children post anything online, it’s like standing on a world stage for all to see. What they post can affect their futures as colleges, scholarship providers and employers are checking the Internet to learn about them prior to offering acceptance or making a job offer.
Strangers: Parents would never bring their children into the heart of a major city and leave them unsupervised. Yet every time children sit down at the computer they enter a virtual world that offers zero borders and is virtually unregulated, where they can engage with anyone across the globe, including strangers who may not have the best intentions. Parents need to know who their children are engaging with online to prevent harm from online predators and identity thieves.
Different behavior onlineWhen you have an environment where parents are not involved, their children’s online world included, where kids are running with abandon without supervision, all bets are off with regard to behavior. Kids need supervision, intervention and reinforcement of good behavior habits offline and online, and just because they are flexing their teen independence doesn’t mean parents should overlook the online world. We teach our kids “please” and “thank you” when they are little. We teach them table manners. We teach courteous and respectful behavior offline. That doesn’t mean these habits will be taken to the online world that is their private clubhouse where anything goes.
Prevention means education
The best way to prevent cyberbullying is by proactively teaching respectful, appropriate, courteous behavior online. That means supervising, and verifying that kids are following a code of conduct online, just as they do offline.
This is also true with regard to safety. Parents need to make sure their kids are following online safety rules. There are many inappropriate websites that kids can easily access. Checking to make sure kids are visiting parent-approved websites is another means of prevention. Kids are naturally curious. Whether it’s a porn site, a video chat site, or a violent game, parents need to be aware of what their kids are doing, how they are behaving so that they can instill their own personal values and teach, safe, appropriate online behavior. The Web is a truly wonderful place, and while there are "bad guys" out there, parents can take steps to ensure their children are safe.