With the popularity of online gaming and social media networks, keeping our kids safe while interacting online is a challenge every parent faces. As our kids get older, they want more and more freedom, and nowadays that freedom involves being able to use mobile devices and have constant access to the Internet. Many kids will try to keep up an image online and try to use cool usernames, which may be inappropriate for them to use in an online setting. Below are some tips and information regarding usernames for kids and how to keep them safe while interacting online.
Selecting a username
As children start using different applications and online sites, they want to make themselves stand out by using unique and cool usernames. Usernames are required to play a variety of games, such as Minecraft, and to interact through social media networking sites, such as Tumblr, Kik, Facebook, and Twitter.
A good username for kids to use is one that does not reveal any personal information about your child to others online. The best usernames for kids are those that do not contain any details about their age, name, school, gender, and residence. Some sites offer random username ideas through a username generator that do not have anything to do with the child and his or her personal details.
Other tips when selecting a username, e-mail address and password include:
- Avoid anything cute
- It must be gender neutral
- Do not use a personal e-mail address as a username
- Create a unique password and never give it to anyone
- Double check your child’s username before allowing him or her to use it
Usernames, e-mail addresses, and passwords should not include any of the following:
- Any part of the child’s name
- Any part of the child’s address
- Birthdays, including month, day, and year
- Any part of the name of the school the child attends
- Any part of the city, street, or residence of the child
- Anything that gives a description of the child
- Any information about clubs or sports the child participate in
- Any details about the child’s hometown
Selecting an avatar
An avatar is a photo or graphic that will be associated with a specific username. Many sites encourage kids to use an avatar as a means to play a game or to interact with others online. Just like when selecting a username, you do not want your child to reveal any personal information through his or her avatar.
Some sites allow for generic, cartoon-style avatars. These are perfect avatar options, but caution still needs to be taken when building an avatar. Have your child select one that has no familiarity or resemblance to his or her physical features and characteristics. For example, if your child has blonde hair and blue eyes, select an avatar with brown hair and green eyes.
The avatar should look nothing like your child or represent any of his or her daily routine activities. For example, you do not want your child to select an avatar that is wearing a jersey for the football team he plays on or the cheerleading uniform for her school.
Also, never allow your child to use an avatar that is an actual picture. These pictures, even if just generic ones, can reveal personal information, including a location, lifestyle details, and favourite hobbies. All of these details help predators find your child, even without the child ever giving that information out.
Masking your child’s voice
If you are going to allow your child to play online games that involved voice-to-voice chatting, you need to mask your child’s voice. Many games have a voice-changing option that will disguise your child’s voice. This will help hide your child’s online privacy and reduce the chances of his or her voice being recognized while out in public. It will also mask the fact that your child is a minor from those looking to interact with kids online.
When kids start to interact online, they can become overwhelmed with what they can do. Immediately they are excited to be able to interact with their friends and the last thing on their minds is Internet safety. This is why it is important for parents to take the time to teach kids about the basics of online safety.
Microsoft has created a list of security basics that every child should know before interacting online. Those basics include:
- Keep passwords a secret
- Change password regularly – should be done every three months
- Securely store passwords at home or with a parent
- Never write passwords in a notebook at school or on a backpack
- Never reveal a password through an e-mail or openly over social media networking sites
- Do not type passwords on computers that are not your own
Social network safety:
- Talk to kids about their experiences online
- Establish Internet rules, including how often, who they can interact with, what sites they can visit, and so on
- Make sure your kids are following age limits set forth by individual websites
- Educate yourself about the sites your kids are visiting
- Visit those sites regularly yourself
- Teach your kids to never meet anyone in person that they have only met online
- Encourage your kids to chat with only those they already know offline
- Do not allow kids to use their full name, or any part of their name when talking with someone new online
- Remove any identifiable information from your kid’s online profile
- Set profiles to private not public and if this is not an option, delete the account
- Never allow kids to post photos of themselves online
- Warn kids about online bullying and the signs of bullying behaviour
- If rules are broken, remove the profile and limit Internet access
Knowing online threats
According to Safety Web, there are many harmful effects associated with kids interacting online, especially without close parental supervision. Not only can they come across foul language and inappropriate images, they also are at risk of exposing themselves, making them targets for online predators.
Many predators have turned to the Internet as a means to find and target victims. This is primarily because they can easily hide their true identity, creating profiles that appear to be of other kids the same age as your own children. According to the Department of State, New York online threats include everything from identity theft to sexual exploitation and from cyberbullying to cyberstalking. Take time to educate kids about online threats and how they can pose a threat in real life.
Experiencing positive effects
In addition to all of the potential dangers kids face when interacting online, Safety Web also states that there are plenty of positive effects too. By allowing our kids to interact online, they are able to learn life and social skills, as well as how to build strong friendships that can last a lifetime.
Other benefits interacting online can provide for children include:
- Creates cultural awareness
- Develops their own identity by allowing the child to create a unique profile and avatar
- Keeps them in touch with friends who move away
- Builds self-esteem by allowing the child to feel confident without fearing being rejected
- Helps battle depression by allowing the child to have social interaction
- Offers educational resources that can be used for homework and school projects
Finding safe social networks
There are many sites out there designed to allow younger kids to interact online while keeping their safety in mind. For those parents trying to find a safe social media network for their children who are younger than 13, Safety Web has created a list of those sites that are designed with children in mind. These sites include:
- Club Penguin
Knowing and understanding sites
Keep a list of the different websites your child frequents. Familiarize yourself with the site’s privacy policies and that your child meets the age requirements for the site. Take time regularly to visit these sites using your child’s username and password to verify that no unwanted communications are occurring. Close the account if your child has been abusing the rules and/or not posting appropriate materials for his or her age.
The Internet provides many new ways for children to learn and communicate with others. It also opens the door to a variety of threats including cyberbullying, identity theft, and sexual exploitation. Make sure to monitor your child’s online activity and ensure he or she is following the rules at all times. Doing so will help ensure your child’s safety, even when they are offline.