The internet has opened up the world to us. In a way never before possible we can now access unlimited information and connect with people across the globe. It can be a learning tool, a way to keep in touch with family and friends, a great way to handle business and, often, just plain old fun and games. It has become an integral part of most people’s day to day lives, including our children’s.
As with anything concerning our kids, we want to make sure they are always safe. This goes for the online world as well as the real world. In some ways the online world has more unseen dangers lurking than in day to day life. So it’s important to take precautions to insure kids stay safe while still reaping the many benefits the internet has to offer.
The first and most important step is to be involved. Know what your children are doing online, know what sites they visit and know who they communicate with. Just as you would be involved in the types of shows they watch, the kinds of foods they eat, the places they go and the people they spend time with, you should do the same with their online activities. The younger they are the more supervision is needed. Even as they grow older, staying in touch with what your kids are doing and keeping the lines of communication open is key.
Another important step is to talk to your child and discuss how to be safe online. For example, be clear about what information they should never post or share with anyone online and what information is okay to give out.
Facebook is an example of a very popular site that heavily encourages constant sharing of all kinds of personal information. Many kids of all ages have Facebook profiles. Even though the age requirement is thirteen years old, there are many younger kids using the site. Since the site can only monitor this restriction based on the information users provide it’s easy to change the year of birth to gain access. If used carefully, Facebook and similar sites can still be a great way for kids to keep in touch with family and close friends. You, as the parent, should decide what sites you feel comfortable allowing your child to use and then closely monitor their profile information and activities.
Here are some basic rules to keep in mind: Limit the amount of information they enter in their profiles. Make sure they have the proper and safest level of privacy settings selected. Know who they are ‘friends’ with and regularly check the content of what they are posting and what is being posted on their pages. These are good tips for us adults, too!
Parental settings are another valuable tool to help keep your child safe online. Most search engines offer some form of parental settings that can be used to filter and/or block websites and even the type of search results returned based on adult or questionable content. Parents can set limitations on what types of sites can be accessed and what search results to allow based on user profiles or with password protection. You can also block access to specific websites and instant messaging.
Speaking of which, two other areas you should keep tabs on if your kids use them is instant messaging and email. Depending on their age, you should know their passwords and who they are communicating with. The younger they are the more involved you should be. Even as they get older, you want to insure they are being safe and only communicating with people they know and have met in real life. Talk to them about the same potential dangers of meeting strangers online as in real life. Particularly, because they may perceive online strangers as less threatening or even harmless, therefore, feel more comfortable letting down their guard. It’s important they understand the dangers are just as real online. They should always tell you if someone they don’t know has sent them an email or instant message. They should never give out any information to anyone in these scenarios.
With older kids who may be going into chat rooms and other social sites looking to meet new online friends it’s very important to go over safety rules and what information is okay to share vs. what information should never be shared. It’s also important for them to understand that unless they’ve met the person face to face, they may not be who they say they are. Unfortunately, many people use false profile information. Some of it may be harmless, but often it is done intentionally to invite and attract certain targets for dangerous reasons. As cliche as it sounds, it is always better to be safe than sorry.
As with almost every situation in life, communication is crucial. Keep the lines of communication open with your kids and do your best to create a welcoming environment where they feel safe talking to you about anything. Stay involved and aware of what they are doing, where they are going and who they are talking to online. Give your children the best defense by educating them about online safety. Sit down and discuss the potential dangers the online world can have and how they can protect themselves in different situations.
As parents, it’s natural to want to shelter our children in order to protect them from harm and all bad things the world might throw at them. However, an important part of growing up and having a rich and full life is to experience the world around them. The internet has now become an integrated part of that world. With some involvement from you, open communication and lessons about smart and safe internet use you can feel good about letting your children enjoy the many benefits of world online.