Our kids are online, but that doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing.
These days, it’s not so much about if kids are going to use the internet, but when and how. It was only a few years ago, in 2013, that 57 percent of kids from ages 3 to 17 were using the internet at home. Fast-forward just a few years later, and the online influence is taking over: Today, 1 in 5 kids from ages 8 to 11 and 7 in 10 children from ages 12 to 15 have a social media profile. And it almost goes without saying that just about every teenager goes online daily.
This digital saturation isn’t necessarily a bad thing — internet-connected kids are learning a skill, which some call a “cultural language,” that they’re going to use for career and communication for the rest of their lives. Technology is also something kids are guaranteed to encounter in the classroom, though in-school computer use has not been proven to improve test score. Since technology isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, it’s our job as parents to help guide our kids through the often treacherous waters of the World Wide Web. Having an open and frank discussion about potential dangers is essential for the safety of your child.
We asked the top internet safety experts, and they answered. Here are the most critical online safety tips parents should discuss with their children before they log on.
1. Personal information must remain private at all times — no exceptions
Information like your child’s real name, age, address, phone number, school name and location should never be shared. Taking it a step further, Jarrett Arthur — co-founder of Jarrett & Jennie Self-Defense, as featured on Ellen, Forbes and The New York Times — cautions, “Before becoming online friends with someone you don’t know in person, take the time to research them. Always look for mutual friends you may share, and consider running their profile picture through a reverse image search on Google to see if they’re falsifying information or photos.”
Arthur also urges teens to not share their whereabouts publicly, like avoiding using check-ins and location times on posts and even turning off location settings on apps or setting them to function only when the app is in use, for example. The real issue here is for teens to avoid posting info that could be easily used to locate them. Another biggie? Not sharing class schedules.
2. Think twice about posting and texting pictures
It’s a given that children, and especially teens, are going to post pictures to social media, with the popularity of photo-sharing sites like Snapchat and Instagram booming. But along with this surge in insta-images comes the rise of the sexting scandal, where nude pictures of teenagers have been circulated among friends at school and have even gone viral in some cases.
“There are rules and regulations of being online, just as there are in the real world. ‘Stranger danger,’ etiquette, manners and decency all apply in the digital world too. And most importantly, whatever they put online, stays online,” Jeana Lee Tahnk, Top Tech Mom and family tech expert, explains.
3. Practice basic security precautions — plus a few extras
Every kid should understand the standard internet rules for passwords and screen names, aka internet 101. Using a different moniker will allow your children to maintain anonymity and protect them from having an online acquaintance track them down in real life. Website and email passwords should not be shared with anyone except parents. This can prevent hacking or other problems.
To increase security even further, Bill Horne, moderator of The Telecom Digest, advises, “Turn on encryption on your Wi-Fi. Wireless connections to the internet are too convenient, so they should be only for adults to use. Make sure the password is not easy to guess, and disable any ‘Automagic’ access buttons on your Wi-Fi access point that would allow children to connect new devices without knowing the password.” Horne also nixes using an “all-in-one” cable modem with a Wi-Fi access point that has the Wi-Fi password printed on it.
As kids grow older and reach college age, a respect for internet security still needs to be practiced and encouraged, Ed Han, co-founder of safelink.io, says. “An often overlooked and misunderstood risk that college students take … is to automatically think that digital communication is safe because the recipient is a known person. And it turns out, the other party often assumes the same despite more experience.” Parents and kids sending sensitive docs — like a tax return that may contain a Social Security number — back and forth is a big no-no.
4. Never accept a face-to-face meeting with someone you met online
Let your children know that they are never to meet with someone in person that they met on the internet. This is one of the most dangerous things a child can do. “Online safety is a new concern for parents who did not grow up with internet or social media,” Cara Maksimow, therapist and coach at Maximize Wellness Counseling & Coaching, says. But when it comes to good, old-fashioned “stranger danger,” opening up the lines of communication with kids may be enough. Maksimow advises talking with kids about who they are meeting online, and reinforcing that it’s not safe to physically meet strangers they talked with through the internet.”
5. People online lie
Not everyone online is who they say they are. People on the internet can pretend to be something or someone they are not to lure unsuspecting victims. Besides posing a safety concern, the smoke and mirrors of the internet can also have an emotional impact, Maksimow says. “Another factor of online safety that parents want to be aware of is social comparisons that can affect self-confidence and self-image. So many kids communicate through texting or social media platforms that they think they are ‘connecting’ with others when they are [in fact] more and more isolated. Not only do they have difficulty with face-to-face conversations due to a lack of experience, but they also use these platforms to gauge social norms and make comparisons.”
Kids who spend a lot of time on social media fall into that all-too-easy trap of comparing themselves to friends and even the celebrities they follow. As you might guess, this contributes to unhealthy and unrealistic assumptions of what kids should think and do IRL. “Poor self-image can be a result, making teens vulnerable to anxiety and depression. Keep an eye on social media, and talk with your kids about what they are seeing, following and doing online,” Maksimow says.
6. Report questionable activity
Make sure your child knows to immediately log off the computer and inform you if they encounter anything or anyone suspicious while online. Online predators are a real threat, but discussing online social behaviors and particularly cyberbullying may be one of the most important conversations you have with your kids. A random 2015 sample study of 11- to 15-year-olds in the Midwest found that more than 34 percent of children had been the victim of cyberbullying.
“If someone is bullying you via text or social media, immediately block their number, and block them on any social media channels. Do not respond to any messages, but keep them as documentation. In many states, threats of violence via text or social media constitute a crime. If you’re being bullied, in person or digitally, it’s important to tell trusted adults — parents, teachers, counselors, etc. — to get support and assistance. Consider joining one of many online support groups for kids who have been targeted by bullies. Isolation is one of the worst consequences of bullying, so seek valuable support early on,” Arthur says. “Remember that responsibility for the bully’s behavior rests squarely with him or her, not you.”
7. Set guidelines and expectations
Bookmark sites that are acceptable for your children to visit, and let them know which sites they are prohibited from. Determine the amount of time they are allowed to spend on the internet daily. Establish consequences if rules are not followed. “When kids first get a mobile device, there should be an understanding by all parties that the parents have full access to the contents of their phone and can also revoke privileges at any time,” Tahnk advises. “Parents should exercise the right of full access, checking the phone regularly and also serving as the ‘app approver’ of each app that your child wants to download. Of course, additional parental controls, like browser/privacy settings, should be implemented as well.”
8. Practice digital manners
Today it’s not so much about keeping computers in a public area of the house for safety purposes. That’s pretty unrealistic when you consider that both kids and adults are using internet-connected devices, whether it’s a phone, tablet, laptop or PC, anywhere they please. This brings us to one of our biggest points — maintaining social awareness, even with mobile device use. And these manners start from the top and work their way down, Tahnk says. “In terms of digital etiquette, parents are the first line of modeling and should exhibit behaviors they want their kids to emulate, now and in the future — that is, no phones at the table, making eye contact and not hunched over phones when being spoken to, no phones while driving, etc. Introducing kids to a digital world involves common sense, common courtesy and communication.”
9. Install parental filters
The basic wisdom used to be — know what sites your children are visiting, and password-protect sites that are not acceptable for your family. Now, for parents, there are a lot more tech filters to take into account, but fortunately technology is also on our side. At the very least, Horne recommends, “Spend the time or money for good blocking software. You want to have a ‘nanny’ program in the public PC that blocks any site that you or your spouse have not approved in advance. Never install software which works in reverse — that is, the kind that blocks only sites you have forbidden. There are dozens of ways to get around them.”
MomSecure Agents will install your Parental Filters for you and answer any questions you may have. Our cyber agents will enable the filters on your Kid’s tablet to restrict access and exposure. MomSecure provides a unique level of customization and protection. The MomSecure service is designed to create a safe environment for children to use technology and to educate parents on emerging development.
10. Connect with your community
Last but not least, Owens suggests reaching out to others to make the internet safety message you’ve been yammering about stick. “Every parent knows that our kids aren’t just influenced by the things we say and do. Other families’ choices may influence our kids too. They may have different rules about when, where and with whom they use the internet and what they are allowed to see and do while they are there. So talk to other parents, neighbors, relatives and even your child’s teachers.”
Reaching out to other families and relatives allows you to learn from one another, and it may even give you some much-needed support when online issues pop up — like that hot, new and potentially dangerous app all the kids are using. “The internet is a powerful tool and a vast place full of people and knowledge, and the rules and norms of it are still being written. As parents, we should be with our kids every step of the way as they learn to traverse it and become safe, responsible and savvy users of it,” Owens says.
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