Even though most people are well-versed in the use of the Internet, it really hasn’t been around that long in the grand scheme of life. Added to the fact that many children are now using Internet resources for school and for play and it has become important to educate everyone on Internet safety. The anonymity of this platform can create a large number of problems, including an unsafe environment and bully online. However, children and adults who are aware of how to stay safe online can greatly benefit from this resource with fewer risks.
Education Is Key
Because many parents didn’t grow up in an era where computers weren’t a regular part of daily life. some of them may use computers briefly in school or at work, but they may not be as savvy as their children have become. Therefore, one of the most important elements to protecting a child’s safety online is to ensure the parents and other adults in their lives are familiar with the Internet and all that can happen there. Parents should set limits on computer use for their children and then monitor that use to ensure the rules are being followed. This is one of the best tools parents have to protect their children.
Privacy Is Essential
Children rarely have filters on what they say. They simply speak what is on their minds. While this isn’t a bad thing in general, it can lead to severe consequences if a child says the wrong thing in an online environment. Child predators know how to coax information out of young children by making it sound as if it is normal to provide these facts. Stress to your children that their privacy is of utmost importance when dealing with other people online, even if the person seems safe or claims to be another child. Never give out the full name, address, telephone number, school or any other identifying information. While the other person could be harmless, it’s not worth the risk.
Internet Safety Tips: Monitor Online Activities
Today, too many parents leave their children to their own devices when it comes to entertainment. Whether your children are old enough to be left home alone or you are simply too busy to sit with your child as he or she browses the Internet, it is important to always know what your child is doing online. If your child is too young to find his favourite sites online, bookmark them in a browser dedicated to his use to make them easier to find. Keep an eye on the browsing history to see where your child has visited. In addition to browser history, it can be useful to set up an email you share with your child for him to use to sign up for membership sites. Check this address often to monitor activity online.
Use Parental Controls
It often feels like too much of a hassle to set up the parental controls on a computer, but this can be a positive tool when used properly. You can block the types of content you don’t want your child to access, as well as particular sites. This will protect your child and keep him or her safe from the dangers of the Internet. If you discover your child is using a site you don’t approve of, simply add it to the blocked list. If you choose to use these control settings, check them often to make any needed adjustments.
Internet Safety Tips: Keep the Computer Visible
Children are less likely to get involved in something that threatens their Internet safety if they are able to watch over their shoulders on a regular basis. This doesn’t mean you have to sit and watch your child constantly. Instead, simply keep the computer in a high traffic area, such as the living room or kitchen. Don’t keep it in a bedroom, the basement or a secluded office. Having the computer in a place where it can easily be seen by others helps children remember the rules and keeps them safer.
Internet Safety Tips: Make a List of Rules
One of the best things you can do for your children is to create a list of rules and limits for computer use. Sit down as a family and work through the list, getting input from the children to ensure it is fair to everyone. Some of the rules you may choose to implement for your family should include:
- Setting age-appropriate time limits for the children in your family. Sometimes adults need these limits as well.
- Create a list of sites each child is allowed to visit. If your child wants to add a new site, it must be cleared with you first.
- Banning children from chat rooms. This is where many child predators hang out under the guise of another child to get information from children.
- Restricting online purchases. The last thing you want is to find unauthorized charges on your credit card because your child was buying game subscriptions or anything else online without permission.
- Monitoring interactions with others online. This can be done by forwarding all emails to a parent’s account or obtaining direct access to the child’s account.
- Creating an open-door policy. Your child should come to you to discuss anything and you have every right to check up on what he or she is doing online.
These are just a few samples of the rules you can create for your children. Every situation is different and may require different rules to accommodate your specific needs or those of your children.
Internet Safety Tips: Helping Your Child Understand What to Avoid
Many children don’t fully grasp the potential dangers that lurk on the Internet. To them, it is a fun place to play and because they don’t actually see other people, it’s difficult for them to grasp there is someone else on the other side of the screen. It is your job to make sure they know what is and isn’t appropriate for online interactions. Without your guidance, your child will not know what they should and shouldn’t be doing, which can lead to trouble. Some of the things you should discuss with your child include:
- Never give out personal identifying information to anyone.
- Never exchange pictures or webcam feeds with someone online.
- Don’t respond to those who send threatening or demeaning messages.
- Always tell an adult if another user is acting inappropriately.
- Never fully trust anyone you meet online, especially without parental approval.
The more children who understand what is appropriate and what is not, the safer the online environment can be.
Internet Safety Tips: Keep the Lines of Communication Open
It’s true that as children get older, particularly into their teenage years, they don’t want to talk to their parents much. However, this is when it is most important to keep the lines of communication open. If you aren’t able to talk to your kids about what they are doing, it can open the door to problems that can become too major before you find out about them. Make sure your child knows he or she can come to you at any time to discuss something that is bothering them or something they have encountered online. This can save a lot of heartaches later. If your child knows you are there without judgment, he or she is more likely to open up and talk to you when it’s important.
Internet Safety Tips: Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is one of the most serious problems that is plaguing the Internet today. Because of the anonymous nature of this platform, it is easy to hide behind the screen and say things you wouldn’t be willing to say in front of an actual person. It has become such a serious problem that many children are committing suicide and falling into depression because of the way they have been treated online. This is not okay. It is important for parents to talk to their children about this behaviour and help them learn to handle it.
What Is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is the act of sending messages that harass other individuals or behaving in a manner that causes emotional harm to another individual. This type of behaviour is happening all over the Internet, making it difficult for parents to predict and control. Children can be bullied through their email accounts, gaming sites, social media sites and any other site where interactions are possible. Talking to your children about what to look for with this behaviour can help them handle it appropriately if the time comes.
If parents haven’t already heard about the statistics on cyberbullying, they will not be able to give their children the tools they need to protect themselves online. Many parents try to avoid hearing about these statistics on Internet safety because they are often shocking, including the following:
- 95 percent of teen social media users have witnessed cyberbullying in some form.
- 90 percent of those users have ignored the behaviour.
- Seven percent of parents worry about cyberbullying, a number that is far too low.
- More than a million children have been cyberbullied on Facebook in just one year.
- 34 percent of those who have been bullied turn around and bully others.
- Thankfully, 68 percent of teenagers agree that cyberbullying is a serious problem. This number needs to be higher.
It is amazing to fully grasp these statistics and realize how many children have been bullied online, particularly through social media sites. It’s enough to make parents second guess even allowing their children to use the Internet!
Internet Safety Tips: What Can You Do?
As a parent, it may seem impossible to stop this behaviour short of telling your child or teen that he or she can no longer use the Internet. Because they often have to use it for school or to maintain their friendships in this technological world, taking social media and the Internet away is often not the solution. Instead, it is up to parents to teach their children how to handle themselves in these situations and make the online world a better place for everyone else. You need to teach your child to:
- Report any bullying behaviour they see to an adult in their lives, as well as the site administration.
- Tell the bully to stop on the website.
- Stand up for the individual who is being bullied.
- Leave the website if the bullying continues.
- Keep copies of any bullying notes or messages they receive to use as proof.
When children are empowered with the tools they need to stop cyberbullying, they are less likely to allow it to continue, saving other children the heartache of this behaviour.
Learn the Right Reporting Steps
Not all websites have the same reporting steps and requirements. Some sites make it extremely easy, while others are more complicated, requiring multiple steps and proof of the infraction. One of the first things you should do when you evaluate whether a website can be used by your children is to determine how to make a report. This will allow you to quickly report any bullying behaviour before it gets out of hand because you won’t have to search for the steps then. It can be useful to keep a notebook by the computer with the protocol for each site. This also allows your child to make reports himself or herself, giving him the tools he needs to do the right thing if the situation arises.
Internet Safety Tips: Social Media
Social media has become the primary tool for teenagers to keep in touch with each other. They use these platforms to connect with their friends at all hours of the day and post pictures and messages about what they are doing. It is all part of the teen culture today. This is why it is important for parents to understand what goes on so they can help their children acclimate to this culture and use it more appropriately.
Social media has opened many doors for teenagers that are positive, but many of them can be negatively used as well. Bullies have always thrived on the ability to embarrass their victims. With the open ability to post from behind a computer screen, these bullies are now able to embarrass their victims with pictures and messages in an open online avenue. Children log into their social media sites and can be bombarded with negative messages all around. This can lead to a lot of problems that can be difficult for the victim to run away from.
Internet Safety Tips: How Can You Help?
Teaching your child how to use social media safely is one of the best ways you can contribute to their Internet safety. These lessons are often difficult for you to learn as well, particularly if you don’t use social media yourself. If you don’t, it is important to learn with your teen so you can stay on top of all the changing trends. Some of the things you can do to protect your teen on social media include:
- Setting the privacy settings to the strictest possible. This gives your teen the greatest amount of control over who can post messages to them.
- Teach your child how to block others from their social media sites. This is useful if someone is using it to harass him or her.
- Accepting friend requests only from those people they know and are friends with. While friends can still bully, it is less likely to happen.
- Thinking before posting. It can be difficult to decipher tone on the Internet. Make sure your children think about what they are going to say before they actually post it.
- Choosing what they post carefully. In many cases, what is posted online can never be fully removed. Teach them that if they post it, they own it, often for the rest of their lives.
- Talking about the negative implications of their behaviour online. Today, many employers are looking online before making a decision on who to hire. Their actions today can impact their ability to get a job later.
- Reporting any issues to the social media sites immediately so action can be taken.
- Being honest about their age. This is another factor that can cause problems later.
Internet Safety Tips: Online Gaming
In addition to social media sites, many children and teenagers also turn to the Internet for their gaming needs. There are many online role-playing games, as well as other genres, that allow children to play while they interact with others who enjoy the same games. These games can be a lot of fun, but they can also be filled with danger. When children are playing games, they are more likely to put their guard down. This means they may more easily give out personal information without even thinking about it. This can be dangerous behaviour.
Before you allow your child to play any game online, it is important to check it out for yourself. Understanding what the game is, the level of interaction with other players and what the dangers are can help you decide if it is appropriate for your child. As you look at the game, check the following:
- Is it an age-appropriate game?
- Is there any violence?
- Are there sexual undertones to the game?
- Does the site have high instances of cyberbullying or other privacy issues?
- Does it use webcams or voice technology?
In most cases, it is best to stick to games with no interaction possibilities for younger children and limited capabilities with older children. If you don’t feel a game is appropriate for your child, block the site with your parental controls. This will ensure your child doesn’t sneak the game when you aren’t looking. This is another reason why monitoring your child’s online activity can be useful.
Understand Gaming Dangers
Any game that allows your child to interact with others will pose certain risks your child should know about. Some individuals like to talk about sex and get into intimate conversations with other players. In most situations, especially for child-appropriate games, this is not allowed by the administration, but some of this behaviour can slip under the radar. It is important to talk to your children about this type of talk. The bottom line is if something makes them uncomfortable, they need to tell an adult and potentially report it to the admin of the game so it can be handled properly.
Another major risk with an online game is child predators. These predators are looking for easy ways to gain a child’s trust. Because it is so easy to lie about age and other important facts online, it is easy for these individuals to interact with young children. They can pose as another user around the same age and spend days, weeks or months having conversations that are designed to build your child’s trust. Once that trust is there, he or she may start asking personal questions or suggesting they meet in person or talk off the game. This is where the danger lies. Emphasizing the importance of never giving away personal information can alleviate this concern, but again, close monitoring is your best defence.
Despite the short history of the Internet, it has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 20 years. Today, more teenagers are carrying the Internet around with them right in their pockets. Mobile devices have made it possible to stay connected, no matter where you are. This brings in more Internet safety issues. Many of these phones will track where you are, automatically tagging any pictures you take with your location. This can make it easier for online predators to find your children. Turning the location features off on your phone should be one of the first steps you take.
In addition to location indicators, there are many other dangers you must be concerned with in regard to mobile devices. Children and teens can easily download content that isn’t appropriate and has private conversations with anyone they meet online. For this reason, it is essential for parents to exercise the same caution with mobile devices as they do with the computer at home. Setting use limits, checking histories and using parental controls can all help keep your children safe, especially younger children.
Internet Safety Tips: Sexting
Teenagers are often looking for acceptance from their peers. This has led to a major outbreak in sexting activities. What this means is teenagers are taking inappropriate pictures of themselves, often without clothing, that they then send to a boyfriend or a girlfriend. This creates many dangers. For starters, if they are sending these pictures to someone they don’t know, they could be putting themselves in serious danger. However, even when they send it to someone they trust, there are legal implications.
Child pornography is illegal. Anyone who is caught in possession of it can face serious consequences, as well as anyone who distributes it. The problem with sexting is that it usually isn’t restricted to just one person. Once the original recipient receives the picture, he or she may decide to brag and sends it to several friends. Those friends then send it to several friends, and it creates a ripple effect that can reach pretty far. Now there are a lot of teenagers who could get in trouble for possession and/or distribution of child pornography.
What Can You Do?
Short of restricting your child’s ability to send text messages, the best thing to do is talk to your child about it. Most children participate for just a few reasons. They may not want to be left out or fear they will be rejected if they don’t send the picture. Others simply don’t know it is wrong. It is up to the parents to let the child know that this type of behaviour is unacceptable. They should be proud of their bodies, but it is illegal to show them off in that manner. Often discussing the potential consequences can be enough to deter a child. Remember, a charge of child pornography can follow them for the rest of their lives!
Texting and Driving
Another major issue with mobile devices is texting and driving. When teenagers reach driving age, many of them are excited to get behind the wheel and gain some of that freedom. However, when combined with the use of mobile technology, it creates a deadly combination. Too many teens have been injured or killed in accidents caused by them using their phones while they are driving. Showing them videos and talking about the potential consequences can help your teen understand that the phone needs to be put down while they drive. If they must talk to someone, park somewhere and complete the text. You can even download apps that restrict phone use while driving.
Internet Safety Tips: Know the Warning Signs
Now that you understand the different types of dangers the Internet and its use can present, it can be useful to discover the potential warning signs. Sometimes you can do everything right and your child could still experience problems with a predator or cyberbullies. Even if you leave the lines of communication open, it can be difficult for some children to open up and admit they are having difficulties. However, if you pay attention to your child, he or she often puts out cries for help, even if that isn’t the intent. The following are some of the warning signs you should look for:
- Spending too much time on the computer, particularly after he or she should be in bed for the night.
- Find pornography on your child’s computer, especially younger children. Some curiosity is normal, but it can also be a sign of online abuse or other inappropriate behaviour.
- Making or receiving phone calls from unknown callers, especially strange men calling a young girl.
- Receiving mysterious packages or gifts in the mail from unknown sources.
- Changing the screen or turning it off suddenly when you enter the room.
- Withdrawing from family and friends. This can be a sign of other problems but is a warning sign nonetheless.
- Using a different online account and posing as someone else.
- Getting angry when he or she isn’t allowed to get online.
- Acting obsessively about being online.
If you suspect your child could be interacting with a potential online predator, it is often best to involve the police. Talking to your child should be a top priority as well, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you do. Sometimes your child will tell you what you want to hear, but won’t follow through on his or her end. Getting the police involved can protect your child from what could be happening. In addition, it can prevent the same thing from happening to another child.
There are other steps you should also take if you suspect your child is interacting with a predator online. For instance, you should go through your child’s computer in an attempt to preserve evidence. However, be careful not to delete or alter anything. If there is an investigation, the police will want to see everything as it was. To protect your child further, you may also want to invest in caller ID or one of the other methods of obtaining the numbers that are calling into your child’s phone. There are plenty of options available. It can also be important to step up the monitoring of your child’s online activities to protect him or her.
Protecting your child from online predators and the other dangers that lurk there, including cyberbullying, should be your prime focus as a parent. Children too often fall prey to these individuals, whether they are adults or other children. Keeping the lines of communication and educating yourself on everything your child uses can help you keep your child safe, but there is so much more you can do. These Internet safety tips are just a part of what you can do for your child. The Internet is everywhere today. As a parent, it is your job to protect your child from all the world’s dangers as best you can. The Internet is a big part of that protection in today’s technologically advanced world.