Teaching your kids about online safety may seem like an extremely daunting task, but it’s really not. It just requires that you actually take on the role of a parent in your child’s life and make some rules clear.
Here’s what you need to know:
Keep Lines of Communication Open
The single best way to teach your kids about online safety is the same piece of advice that child rearing experts have been giving parents for nearly a century now: talk to your kids. Too often, we’re afraid to talk to our kids about touchy subjects such as sex, drugs and bullying and so we leave it to them to find out the rules for themselves. However, if you simply keep the lines of communication open, you’ll find that teaching them to protect themselves is easier.
Encourage Kids to Tell You about Things that Bother Them
The other side of this equation is that you need to listen to what your kids are saying. If they tell you that something is bothering them about something they saw online, don’t dismiss it just because you think it’s not important. Tell your kids that their thoughts are important and that you genuinely want to know what they think. Don’t be a bully about it either – help your kids talk it out rather than simply making a definitive choice without letting them be heard.
But Do Be a Parent
At the same time however, you need to remember that you are the adult here. This means that there may be times when, in spite of having tried to talk to your kids about it, they are insistent that something they saw isn’t a problem. In this case, you need to be the adult and make a judgment call about what you’ll allow them to do online.
Speaking of that – Set Clear Rules
Speaking of being a parent, another thing you can do to teach your kids about online safety is to set up clear rules for them. Give them enough trust to let them explore online, but make the rules clear – the porn sites are obviously off limits, but what about sites which review video games? Are those okay? You need to make a judgement call.
Similarly, you need to make a rule regarding sites that they are allowed to visit. For example, if someone tries to friend them on Facebook whom they don’t recognize, they should decline. If someone is bullying them, they need to tell you about it and of course, their own bullying of someone else online will not be tolerated.
In Person Meetings Are a No No without You Vetting Them
Another good way to encourage your kids to be serious about online safety is to make a rule that if they do meet someone in a chat room or on Facebook, they may not meet them in person without your having vetted them first. This means that you talk to the other child’s parents and determine that you are comfortable letting your child go to meet this person. This is also probably the best way to deter online predators – they will pretty much never agree to talk to you about meeting your child since they tend to try to get kids who are alone and vulnerable.
First Names Only (and No Year in Birthdays)
Another practical thing that you can do to help teach your kids about online safety is to encourage them to use a nickname or a first name only online, especially in chat rooms or areas where they can’t vet who sees their information. It’s also helpful to have them set Facebook to display only their birthday without the year being listed. This will help prevent predators from finding them based on their age.
Educate Yourself about Privacy Settings
Virtually all online sites which collect personal information include privacy settings. This encompasses more than just Facebook or Twitter. MMPORGs (Massively MultiPlayer Online Role Playing Games) also collect personal information and need to be vetted. It’s also important to be aware of your child’s use of these sites as they will interact with people of all ages while playing such games.
Check Your Child’s Photographs
On Facebook, tell your child not to post revealing photographs which could show their address or location. It also goes without saying that photographs which are suggestive (i.e. in their underwear, etc.) should NOT be posted online. It’s also helpful to suggest to your child that they remove auto tagging of their pictures with face recognition.
Be Sure to Remind Children Not to Share Personal Thoughts with Strangers
It’s important as well for your child not to express extreme vulnerabilities to the world at large. They should restrict such thoughts only to their friends and then only to friends they trust. Many children use Facebook and other such sites as a kind of diary to post their innermost thoughts and as such, it’s important to help them monitor this so that predators can’t try to take advantage of them. Google+ is excellent for this since it allows you to post information which will only be available to a specific group of your friends rather than to everyone you have ever friended through the site.
While this article focuses mostly on protecting your child’s privacy online, it’s also important to worry about cyberbullying. This means that you need to concern yourself as to what others are saying about your child and what your child is saying about others. Talk to your kids and explain why this is wrong and malicious. Ask them to tell you if they feel threatened and take it seriously. If need be, talk to school principals and teachers about cyberbullying.
Remember that children are vulnerable and won’t necessarily have the thick skin needed to “tough it out” when they see vicious things written about them online. While you obviously cannot control what others do, you can at the very least be aware and help your child deal with it, if they are being cyberbullied.
Encourage Kids to Think for Themselves
Finally, encourage your kids to think for themselves about how they can protect themselves online. Have a frank discussion with the kids about online safety and ask them what they think they should do. Often, your kids will surprise you with creative ideas that you never thought of.
Frank Anderson is a parent and blogger. He writes about technology and family issues. When not writing he maintains exchange hosting servers.
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