Safety has always been a parental concern. You probably remember being told not to talk to strangers and to “stop, drop, and roll.” You were taught to wear your seatbelt in the car and a helmet on your bike. You’ve passed those safety guidelines along to your own children.
In our digital world, that’s no longer enough.
As parents today, we have a far bigger list of safety and privacy concerns. Thanks, internet.
As a parent, you must have internet safety talks with your children. It’s not a one-time chat, but an ongoing conversation with guidelines that may change as your children grow and as the internet evolves.
Here are a few items to include in those discussions.
It’s important for children to understand what they should and shouldn’t share about themselves online. On social media sites, teach them to avoid giving their address, phone number, or current location publicly.
Explain how companies gather and use their information, as well. Before providing their address, age, or other details with a website, they should think about why they’re providing it and who they’re providing it to. If they’re placing an order with a reputable company, then of course they’ll have to enter their address. However, that should never be a requirement for signing up for an email newsletter, and they might want to think twice before doing certain online quizzes.
Passwords and Privacy
Common Sense Media suggests using the strictest privacy settings on apps and websites. For social media sites, teach your child to make his posts private, so that only his friends can see them.
Create good passwords and change them on a regular basis. Always use a combination of letters (upper and lower case), numbers, and symbols, and don’t use any identifying or easy-to-guess words or numbers, like your own birthday. Online breaches reveal the most common passwords are “123456” and, unbelievably, “password.” Don’t let that be true for you or your kids. You might also insist on knowing your child’s password so you can access her accounts when you need to.
If your child is under the age of 13, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act helps protect your child’s information. “If a site or service is covered by COPPA, it has to get your consent before collecting personal information from your child and it has to honor your choices about how that information is used.”
Your children should avoid “friending” people they don’t know in real life. Some social media sites make this easy; others are based around connecting with strangers.
People aren’t always who they say they are. Your children can connect with and learn from people around the world, but they need to draw the line at sharing revealing information. Ask your child to tell you if anyone they meet online is asking them for personal information or making them feel uncomfortable in any way. This includes bullying, which can often show up in unexpected ways.
Though it may be unlikely that your child would come across an online predator, it’s obviously a serious danger when it does happen. Keep in mind that many predators are patient and crafty: they find creative ways of getting the information they need from your child. There’s no reason to scare your kids, but teach them to be diligent about online users they don’t know in real life.
Long-Lasting, Far-Reaching Posts
The internet lasts forever. Every post, every photo, can quickly be shared with thousands and even millions of people.
That’s why it’s essential for your children to avoid sharing embarrassing or risque photos of themselves or someone else. What’s meant to be a private exchange with a romantic interest can quickly spread through the school if the recipient is not as honest as your child thinks he or she is.
Teach them to pay attention to what they say, as well. Before they put someone down or get into an argument, they need to think about what they’re typing. People can have access to those words for years.
Just like you keep track of where your child goes to after school and who his friends are, you have to watch out for where your child goes and who he makes friends with online.
This isn’t always easy to do. The best approach is multi-faceted.
- First, keep an open dialogue with your child. It’s no surprise that children don’t always share everything with their parents, but the best way to encourage it is with open, honest communication. Let your kids know it’s safe to tell you about what happens online. Make it a habit of asking questions about what your child does online, and be honest about any nosing around you might do. For example, instead of sneaking into her account, let her know from the beginning that if she wants to use a certain site or app, you have to have access to it at all times.
- Set a great example. Watch your own online behavior, taking care not to share photos that could embarrass your child and avoid nasty arguments that result in name-calling. Ask yourself, “Would I want my child doing this? What would he think if he saw this?”
- Stay up-to-date with the internet and social media. New apps and sites are popping up every day. When one of them starts to gain traction, you want to know about it as soon as your child does—or before. Visit the site yourself to see what it’s all about before allowing your child to access it.
- Set guidelines for internet use. Trustworthy parental controls can make it easier for you enforce rules about which sites are off-limits and which hours of the day need to be spent away from a mobile device. You can set stricter guidelines to start, and gradually ease up as your child matures and gets more responsible.
No one said parenting in the digital age was going to be easy, but we’re all doing the best we can in this ever-evolving framework.