The Internet, at times, can be an unbelievably, mind-blowing, helpful resource. On other occasions, it can be a potential danger to our children’s welfare. As parents, a new responsibility that has been added to our list of jobs is teaching and monitoring Internet safety. Here are some tips to help keep our kids safe online and off.
Most of us reading this article did not have Internet when we were growing up. For those of you who did, it may be doubtful that your parents knew enough at the time to advise you on its possible dangers. The time has come, however, where awareness and guidance is necessary to keep youngsters safe while still allowing them the great experiences that the Internet can provide.
The Perils of the Process
Some news material can be alarming and create more fear for parents than necessary. With that said, however, there are extremely unfortunate incidences that that can result from a youngster being online, and parents should take this topic seriously. Here are some grave concerns:
- Approximately 90% of children under the age of 17 have seen online pornography. Many times the viewing has been unintentional. Sexual content is pervasive on the Internet, not just on porn sites, but regularly on random YouTube videos and online games.
- One in five teenagers in America who are regularly online report that they have received an inappropriate, unwanted, sexual solicitation. This would include a request for photos, to look at photos, share in sexual talk, or a request for a sexual encounter.
- Online predators can befriend your child and then exploit them emotionally and/or physically.
- Online predators can gain information from your child and use it to commit identity fraud or steal from you, the adult.
- Everything your child posts on the Internet can be seen or sent to anyone, anywhere. The material and/or photos never disappear. This is called a digital footprint.
- Cyberbullying is pervasive and can lead to extreme emotional disturbance or, at worst, suicidal thoughts and/or actions.
Tips for Keeping Kids Safer
The more information we are armed with, the better we can approach this modern phenomenon known as Internet safety practice. First of all, without frightening your children, explain to them that bad things can happen if they don’t take precautions. Remind them that you are trying to keep them safe. Here are some tips you may want to utilize:
1) Set up filters and blockers on your children’s devices (phone, tablets, computers). It’s helpful to know what programs they are using and what they are downloading. There are also apps that will allow you disable their devices at a preset time.
2) Remove electronic media from your child’s bedroom when it’s time for bed.
3) Monitor your children’s texts every so often. Let your kids know you trust them, but also let them know that you reserve the right to check their media to keep them safe (and especially if you suspect secret activity.)
4) Remind your children to never give personal information. Do not share last names, addresses, phone numbers, and mother’s maiden name. (Online predators will often use social networks and chat rooms to uncover personal information.)
5) Talk to your youngsters about their digital footprint. Remind them that any action they take on the Internet can affect them later when it comes to getting into college or getting a job.
6) Learn who your child’s friends are online and off. Remind your kids that someone they’ve only met online may seem like a friend, but in reality, he/she is a stranger.
7) Be mindful of your children’s emotional life. Let them know they can come to you if they need help. Listen to them (without judgment) and allow them to feel safe sharing their thoughts and feelings with you. (Online predators often act as a “good friend,” listening to kids’ problems, consoling them, and taking their side. Most teens consort with a predator willingly.)
8) Be mindful if your child is acting secretive. Rather than being accusatory, ask your child if there’s something he/she is keeping from you. Remind him/her that it’s OK for them to share with you (or another trustworthy adult like a grandparent, teacher, etc.)
9 )Be mindful if your child seems more withdrawn or depressed. He/she may have been cyberbullied. It’s OK to ask. It’s also OK to check texts and social media.
It is unrealistic to think that you can keep your kids away from electronic devices. It is part of our culture and world, and it is most likely here to stay. How your children use social media will depend on how you explain its perks and pitfalls and how you set up rules. And as any realistic parent knows, our kids will sometimes do what they want to do, regardless of what we have asked. The best we can do is to provide information, safety, guidance, and lots of love—and hope they make good choices.
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