Given the fact that children are getting on the internet at a younger age than they did in the past, it is imperative for parents to be aware of cyber safety tips for kids and then teach their kids these tips. Failing to keep kids safe online can result in them viewing inappropriate content, being bullied by peers or even coming in contact with an internet predator.
Recent statistics show that up to 95% of eight to eleven-year-olds get online; what is more, these children not only use a desktop computer to access the internet but also mobile devices such as an iPod, iPod or smartphone. This particular trend poses a challenge for parents, as it enables young children to get online easily without parental supervision.
Another challenge parents face is the fact that up to 45% of children are active on one or more social media platforms. Unlike adults, who often use a great deal of caution when determining what personal information to put up online, children do not seem to think twice about posting their full name, date of birth, age, school and home address and even phone number.
Cyber Safety Quiz for Parents
After considering these facts, parents should ask themselves:
- Are my children able to get online without being at home (and thus under supervision)?
- Do I know what my children are doing online?
- Does my child have a social media account? If so, do I know what he or she is posting on it?
- What sorts of games are my children playing online?
- Do my children know what to do if they see something inappropriate online?
- Do my children know what cyberbullying is and how to handle it?
- Do my children know basic cyber safety facts? Do they understand the importance of it and are they being cautious in their use of social media sites?
What is Cyber Safety?
It is important for parents to understand what cyber safety is in order to explain this concept to their children.
There are two very important aspects of cyber safety. The first aspect involves teaching children how to prevent cyber safety problems such as viewing inappropriate content and/or being targeted by an online bully or predator. The second aspect of cyber safety involves teaching children what to do if something happens to them online.
Unfortunately, the internet is not an entirely safe place for children (or even adults) and this is a fact that is not likely to change anytime soon. Even children who know all about cyber safety for kids will at some point run into problems. Children should understand that they do not need to feel guilty if something happens to them online. They should not only know how to take measures to deal with the problem but also feel comfortable talking to their parents about what they have seen or experienced.
Parents should also note that there are some aspects of cyber safety that they will want to take full responsibility for. These include installing an online filter so that children cannot freely get on any site they click on, using a buddy cyber safety system so that kids do not surf the internet alone and not providing young children with a tablet or smartphone device if these children are unable or unwilling to adhere to basic cyber safety principles.
The first aspect of teaching children online cyber safety is to teach them about online dangers and how to avoid them. Following are some ways in which parents can go about doing this:
- Explain to children (in an age-appropriate manner) that not all sites are good for them. Teach them to discern between age appropriate and non-age appropriate websites. For young children, parents may want to make a list of which sites a child is allowed to get on.
- Teach children basic social media safety tips. These include helping children understand the dangers of putting up too much personal information, teaching them what types of photos are and are not appropriate to post and helping them set their privacy settings in such a manner so that only close friends and family members are able to access their full profile. Children should also be taught to never friend or chat with people that they do not personally know.
- Children should be taught to avoid getting involved in online spats, arguments or fights. Doing so can attract the attention of a cyberbully.
- Parents may also want to find some cyber safety games that children can play online to reinforce what they are learning.
Teaching Children what to do When Problems Occur
As was noted above, children are likely to run into online problems at some point in time. Knowing how to handle these problems can mean the difference between quickly clearing up a problem and having to deal with months of anxiety, stress and/or unhealthy fears.
Cyberbullying is one of the most common cyber safety issues. In fact, statistics show that up to 27% of Australian children have been harassed by a cyberbully at least once. Sadly, experts estimate that the true number may be higher, as many children are too fearful or ashamed to report cyberbullying issues.
Cyberbullying can occur online and/or via mobile phone use. Common tactics include teasing, harassing, inappropriate jokes, posting or reposting inappropriate photos, blackmail and direct threats to a child’s health and well being.
Children should understand that cyberbullying is a common problem and, very importantly, that it is not their fault that they are being targeted by a cyberbully. Because the vast majority of cyberbullies harass their victims both online and offline, children should be taught to immediately report any instances of cyberbullying to a parent or teacher. Children should never taunt, tease or answer a cyberbully online; doing so will anger a bully further and lead to further bullying and harassment.
It is very important for parents to take a child seriously when a child reports that he or she is being bullied online. If the cyberbully attends the same school as a child, then the cyberbullying should be reported to the school principal. If the school is unwilling to take measures to deal with the bully, parents may want to consider moving the child to another school or even schooling the child at home. If the bully is a friend or acquaintance, then parents may need to talk to this child’s parents about the problem. If the cyberbully is threatening physical violence against a child, then the case should be reported to the local police department.
Stalking and Online Predators
Most problems with stalking and online predators can be avoided if children follow basic cyber safety rules such as not chatting with or friending people they do not know and never posting their personal information on the internet or social media sites. However, if these problems arise, children should feel comfortable talking to their parents about what has happened. Parents should make it clear to their children that they will not be punished in any way for reporting such a problem, even if the problem arose as a result of children disobeying the cyber safety guidelines set down as a family.
Instances such as these should be immediately reported to law enforcement officials. Parents should also bring evidence of the problem, such as recordings of phone conversations and copies of text messages, instant messages, emails and/or any other communications a predator has had with a child.
The first step in protecting a child from inappropriate content is for parents to learn about which types of sites and games are popular with children and/or teenagers. Doing so will enable parents to determine which gaming sites and other sites they want to permit their children to access.
Parents will need to clearly explain to their children which sites they are and are not allowed to be on. They will also need to explain why certain sites are not appropriate or acceptable. While making a list of permitted sites for younger children is a good start, older children will need to understand the principles behind what type of content is and is not good for them.
As was noted above, it is also a good idea for parents to install an internet filter on a child’s computer. However, this in itself is not sufficient to protect a child from inappropriate content. It may in some cases be necessary for a parent to access a child’s internet history if the parent suspects that the child has been getting on inappropriate sites.
Parents should also understand that it is not uncommon for a child to click on what looks like an interesting site (or YouTube video), only to discover that the content is not age-appropriate. When this happens, children often do not know what to do and/or will have questions that need answering. Parents should explain to children that this is a common problem and let their children know that they can seek answers from their parents without fear of getting into trouble. Parents should then be prepared to talk to children about awkward topics such as violence, pornography and/or drugs.
The cyber safety definition is multi-faceted. It involves protecting children from online dangers, teaching children how to protect themselves from online dangers and teaching children what to do when they come across problems in their internet usage. Following is a brief overview of the most important points for Australian parents to keep in mind:
- Cyber safety is an issue that every parent should take seriously. More and more young children are getting online every year and these children will not know how to deal with internet perils unless parents get involved and teach them what to do and how to do it.
- Parents can and should set down guidelines for their children.
- Even more importantly, children should understand why the guidelines are in place so that they will want to adhere to them even if their parents are not around.
- Children should know that they can come to their parents to report cyber safety issues such as bullying, stalking and/or the viewing of inappropriate content. Children should feel comfortable talking about these problems with their parents without fear of getting in trouble. Parents should listen carefully when children report online problems and take immediate, appropriate action to protect children from further harm.
Staying abreast of cyber safety issues is an ongoing job and one that parents will need to be willing to shoulder until a child reaches legal age. However, it is a job that is of paramount importance. The internet has much to offer children of any age; however, they can only fully benefit from the World Wide Web if parents help to protect them from the dangers lurking on it.