What can one do about Cyber Safety for Kids? While the Internet may arguably be one of the most wonderful things invented by human beings, it is nevertheless also one of the most complicated, far-reaching, and potentially dangerous environments on earth.
Is it any wonder, therefore, that several whole new industries (social media networking, e-commerce, e-publications, etc.) have arisen expressly because of the Internet? Just as assembly-line manufacturing created millions of jobs in the early 1900s, the Internet has created as many jobs globally.
This economic well-being, however, has come with its own headaches and tribulations.
The Internet has, incredibly, also brought in a whole new market of criminal activity. In fact, Cyber-crime is changing many of the strategies and objectives of the law enforcement community.
“Virtual crimes,” as these illegal activities are sometimes called, however, are anything but “virtual,” especially when they refer to the abuse, mistreatment and physical harm of some of society’s most vulnerable citizens: children.
Cyber Safety for Kids: “Would You Let Your Children Drive Your Car?”
Many parents/guardians who would never let their children drive a car often let their children use the Internet without any kind of meaningful preparation or supervision. This is a huge mistake!
In general, children do not have the maturity, personal skills, or knowledge to safely navigate the Internet on their own. This does not mean that you have to keep them away from the Internet altogether or that you have to constantly supervise them but it does mean that you have to help them develop the skills they will need to stay safe.
Before you allow your child to use the Internet, give them a thorough introduction to what they can and cannot do while on the Internet. This means not assuming that your child knows what you know or that they are intelligent enough to figure it out on their own.
Cyber Safety for Kids also means setting boundaries, giving them strict rules to abide by (with negative consequences, such as loss of computer privileges, if they refuse to abide by your rules), and using every tool available (direct supervision, screening software, permission to use only approved sites, etc.) to make sure your child stays safe.
Cyber Safety for Kids: What Are the Consequences of Not Preparing Your Child for the Internet?
Children will be approached by predators posing as someone else while on the Internet. This is a fact you need to accept with Cyber Safety for Kids. In fact, children need to understand that the Internet is not like a school, a local park, or a local movie theatre. The person emailing, texting or blogging with them may not be who they say they are—in fact, they can be someone much older and with intentions to seriously harm them.
More on Cyber Safety for Kids
Children have been sexually abused, kidnapped, or, in the worst cases, murdered by someone they met on the Internet. Internet abusers, unfortunately, are fully familiar with all the vulnerabilities children succumb to, including:
- Natural curiosity—a desire to learn more, as quickly as possible, especially about “adult” things.
- Sexual development issues—especially for older kids, there is an intense desire for them to explore their sexuality. This is one big reason for blocking out pornographic sites from your home computers. These pornographic sites are easily accessed, poorly protected from minors and are often used by child predators to find victims.
- A desire to please/obey adults. Unfortunately, the same respect a parent depends on to keep a child safe is the same tool some predators will use to lure children into compromising situations. A child will easily listen to another “child” writing to them but they may also listen to someone identifying him/herself as an adult but who has bad intentions, especially if the person identifies him/herself as a friend of the family.
- Fear of punishment if they tell parents/guardians. Children, assuming they ever realize the danger they are in, may withhold important information from a parent/guardian because they fear they will be punished. Child predators count on that fear and may even remind children not to tell anyone, otherwise they will face punishment.
Cyber Safety for Kids: What Can Parents Do?
Fortunately, there are many resources on the Internet for parents/guardians who want to keep their children safe. You need to fully familiarize yourself with these resources. Also, connect with organizations and law enforcement agencies, perhaps finding out how you can help make the Internet safer.
The good news with Cyber Safety for Kids is that many individuals and organizations are working frantically to make the Internet safer and to keep children from harm. You as a parent/guardian can achieve Cyber Safety for Kids and do your part by considering/adhering to the following proactive steps:
- Purchase and install into all the computers (including Internet-accessing mobile devices: tablets, laptops, smartphones, etc.) your kids can get access to in your home parental limiting and Internet screening programs. They can block access to certain sites, help monitor your children’s Internet activities, and, as an added bonus, actually help protect your computers from viruses, spam ware, and other things that pose dangers to you personally.
- Make sure your computers are in high-traffic, easily visible areas—this discourages the use thereof for inappropriate purposes.
- Spend some time using the Internet with your children; ask them to take you where they like to go. Show them what you like to do while online. The idea is to establish “virtual” relationships with your kids and to keep open the channels of communication with them. You don’t need to keep them from the Internet but, rather, to help them use it more intelligently/warily.
- Keep tabs on who your children are communicating with online—this is not spying but being responsible/caring parents/guardians. Your children may unknowingly be communicating with a serial killer or a child molester. You would be able to tell what is suspicious—most children, however, lack the skills to tell what is suspicious and what is “normal” communication.
- Openly discuss anatomy with your children. Let them know it’s not normal for anyone to address such a subject over the Internet.
- Let your children know that you would be happy to see them make new friends over the Internet. The only rule (and you must explain to them why having such a rule is so important) is that you must meet this “new friend” before they can meet with them. Offer to take them to the public place that’s been pre-arranged. Telling your children, instead, that they cannot go meet anyone on the Internet may only make them rebel and seek out their own means of transportation for a meeting. It’s better to accommodate your children’s desires than to simply pretend they will blindly obey your demands.
- Don’t automatically punish children if they do something dumb while online. You may unwittingly encourage them to just not tell you anything next time. You want to encourage your kids to openly discuss things with you and to trust that you will listen to them instead of taking rash, anger-focused action.
- Pay attention to signs that your child has become more inclined to turn to a new friend online. If your child is withdrawn or naturally introverted, for example, he/she may more likely reach out to someone who appears to want to “talk” to them. Unfortunately, children may find comfort in the anonymity of the Internet. Sharing special, hidden feelings with an understanding, good listening skills new friends may be just what the child needed.
- Don’t ignore anything suspicious or troubling you find on your child’s computer or their communication online. If you, for example, see a name on an email you don’t recognize, ask the child about it. Don’t be afraid to do your own investigating. You can either respect your child’s privacy or you can make sure they are safe and secure—which is more important to you?
- Be wary of any gifts, mail/email, packages, or texting from total strangers for your child; if the child refuses to say who the person is or makes it a point to keep the material hidden, this is a “flag” you simply cannot ignore.
- Use tools other than the Internet to spot trouble. If you, for example, see strange phone numbers on your phone bill, letters addressed to your child, or other “signs,” investigate them thoroughly.
- Make sure you save all communication from potential child predators. Some parents, out of anger, will erase emails or clean out their children’s computers, hoping that by doing so, the problem will go away. This will only, though, erase potential evidence/tracing material the authorities may find useful.
- Don’t be afraid to contact law enforcement with questions, complaints or a request for an investigation. Fortunately, law enforcement agencies today take internet safety for kids (including cyberbullying, bullying in general, potential predators, etc.) very seriously. Accordingly, they have departments and personnel who now concentrate exclusively on this ever-expanding, still-mostly-unresolved area of crime.
- Keep handy contact information useful for reporting incidents and getting more information (e.g., the CyberTipLine, 1-800-THE-LOST or www.cybertipline.com). You never know when you may need it.
- Promptly report/take legal action when an incident occurs. Waiting may impair the opportunity to prosecute someone; you may also unwittingly give predators the opportunity to erase/get rid of valuable evidence.
- Use what is being called “Internet Safety Pledges”—in essence, these are agreements between you and your children that they will abide by certain specific rules and principles.
- Encourage your kids to report any instance of bullying or cyberbullying. Some children may have to be told what this is and why they don’t have to put up with it. Make sure your own child is not guilty of bullying or cyberbullying.
- Find interactive games and activities on the Internet that will help teach your children about what to do and not do while online. These can help educate you and the kids, while at the same time letting you have some fun. One excellent example is the “Webonaut Internet Academy.” It allows participants to watch cartoon figures as they casually talk about things that might otherwise be boring to listen to. Kids may not realize that they are being educated but, when it comes to young people, you need to keep it as entertaining as it is educational.
- Explain to your kids what some typical Internet crimes are, including stalking. Kids that are not sheltered from the bad things in the world are better able to defend themselves against them.
- Let your children know what a responsible Cyber citizen is. There are rules in Cyberspace and, by following them, children can stay safe and secure.