Advice Column, Tech

Parenting 101 on Keeping Kids Safe on the Internet

  • Bill Corbett
  • Category Advice Column, Tech

There’s going to be a lot of Internet-Enabled devices hidden in gift-wrap this coming holiday season and many will be for children and teens.  With this fact in mind, the timing for this topic may be right on schedule.  Consider printing off this list of guidelines for you to read or share before turning your child, tween or teen loose with new access to the Internet.

For most adults, the memories of the “playground” conjure up the play area located behind the school or down at the local park.  It usually included swings, the slide and jungle gym climbing bars.  But now that we live in the digital age, the playground for today’s child has become the Internet.  They are on their smart phones on their way home on the school bus, they jump on the computer once they get home, or they can be found with a microphone/ear piece attached to their head while playing Call of Duty on their xBox game console.

According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, in 82% of online sex crimes against minors, the offender used the victim’s social networking site to gain information about the victim.  Predators out to victimize children did exist when we adults were children, but were less likely to approach us on that playground.  They weren’t as brave and many did not want to risk being seen.  But predators are braver today and can easily hide on the Internet.

Here are tips for parents on helping keep kids safe on the Internet:

Invest in the Relationship:  It’s been stated that rules without relationship can result in rebellion, so before you put rules in place and enforce them, work on developing your relationship with your child.  Spend time talking about Internet safety and share with them how best to use the Internet safely.  Set up movie nights with the family to watch the 2010 movie ‘Catfish’ or the 2011 movie ‘Cyberbully’ with your tween or teen child.

Know your child’s friends:  If she is invited to a friend’s party, consider setting up a meeting with that other parent to get to know them.  Use that time to share your values to assess how safe your child will be in the care of the other parents.  When dropping her off or picking her up at/from the party, physically go to the door to make the exchange.  If any of her friends live in homes with few or no boundaries, don’t ban that child from your child’s circle.  Instead, establish a rule that this friend is always welcome in your home, but limit your child’s visit to that other home.

Establish ground rules:  Set up rules around the use of computers, the Internet and social media.  Rules such as, only accepting friend requests from people your child has met in real life and only using the computer when an adult is at home are good guidelines to start with.  Encourage your child to notify you if they receive messages from anyone they don’t know.

Become Educated:  Avoid turning your child loose on a device or application that you yourself have not yet used comfortably.  If you allow your child to use social media, become familiar with all of the application’s capabilities and security options.  Using the excuse that it’s too complex is not acceptable if you plan to allow your child to use it; ignorance is no excuse when it comes to a child’s safety.

Be a Parent, Not a Friend:  Determine time frames that your child can use devices and the Internet, and enforce the limitations.  Secure your wireless router with a password and change it often.  Working with your router can be a bit complex so consult your wireless router’s manufacturer to learn how to do it.  Ban Internet-Enabled devices in your child’s bedroom and during established homework time.  It was reported that the mother of the 12-year-old Florida girl who committed suicide, gave her daughter the smart phone because she wanted her daughter to like her.

Take Charge of the Computer:  Locate the computers your child uses in a common area where adults are likely to walk by often, and learn how to check the history of your computer’s Internet browsers to see where your child has been.  Children have codes or acronyms they sometimes use to warn friends while instant messaging.  POS may mean “parent over shoulder” or PIR can mean “parent in room.”  Do a search on the term NETLINGO to learn more.  Lock up Internet enabled devices when adults are not at home.

Use Parent Controls:  There are many software packages available at a reasonable price that can be downloaded and run that filter what websites your child can visit.  Many others can capture keystrokes and website addresses and even generate reports for parents to review off line or after hours.  Our children’s safety trumps privacy in the digital age.  You don’t want your child to frequent sites such as Omegle.com, Chatroulette.com and Chaturbate.com.  Not sure what I’m talking about?  Visit those sites when your children aren’t around and see for yourself.

Educate Your Children:  The three biggest dangers on the Internet to our children are bullying, sexting and predators.  Take time to explain each one and why they are a problem.  Remember that education is a powerful weapon that can keep your children safe.  Set up guidelines regarding sharing information about their likes, their friends and locations.  Promote positive relationships around your child and be an example for them to learn from.

Don’t Suffer From the Halo Effect:  The term is a psychological description of a type of cognitive bias.  It’s when our overall impression of a person influences how we feel and think about his or her character. I’m borrowing this term as a way of describing how some parents have difficulty considering that their child might do something inappropriate.  When a child demonstrates an inappropriate behavior on the Internet, they are not a bad child.  They were most likely influenced by their own curiosity or peer pressure.

Finally, if you discover that your child visited an inappropriate website or participated in some inappropriate behavior, such as bullying or sexting, remain calm and do not get angry.  Treat your child as you would if they had made any other mistake; with complete respect.  Shut down or limit their access temporarily until you’ve had a chance to discuss with them what you discovered.  Lying is absolutely a normal behavior so avoid the urge to react to it.

Work with your child in setting up temporary boundaries as consequences and establishing next steps for rebuilding trust.  Examine the safety limitations that you originally had put in place to see if they need modifications.  Talk with your child about what took place and why it may have happened, and share the reasons for your concerns.  Most importantly, remain approachable as a parent until your trust in them is restored.

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