Keeping Your Child Safe Online
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The Internet gives you a direct line of communication with the world. And, while this is primarily positive, that communication goes both ways. Statistics vary about how many, how much or how often children encounter potentially dangerous situations online, but one universal truth remains: being online makes your child more vulnerable to adult content, child predators and cyberbullying.
As a parent or guardian, you play the key role in helping your child make wise choices online. Our tips:
- Set behavior rules. Set guidelines about appropriate language, content and behavior. Teach your child about suitable websites, and what makes them OK, so she can surf safely on her own.
- Agree on time limits. Set ground rules for their time online. This could mean designating the time between school and dinner as Internet free time, and anything after dinner for homework purposes only. Come up with a plan that works best for your family, but stick to the plan.
- Keep an eye on them. Put the computer somewhere central in your home. Kids are less likely to surf for questionable content out in the open. This also helps you monitor online time and behavior to ensure your rules are being followed.
- Do your homework. Check the browser history often so you know where your child goes online. Use security tools and privacy features for extra protection. These may be available through your browser or Internet provider, or you can purchase them separately. Note, however, that no filter is 100 percent effective.
- Friend them. Check out his profile on Facebook or other social networking sites. Others are viewing his pages, so you should, as well. Review his friend lists: does he really know everyone, or are some “friends of friends?" Have him remove anyone whom he hasn’t actually met in person.
- Keep personal information personal. Teach your child that she shouldn’t share information like a phone number, address, best friend’s name or pictures. No party invitations, revealing details, or meeting in person — ever. Children should have usernames that do not give clues to identity and should not post photos or text that make it easy for strangers to locate them.
Cyberbullying is a relatively new online hazard that your children may encounter. It’s important to talk to your children about what cyberbullying is, and how best to handle the situation. Here are some good guidelines to follow:
- Do not respond. Bullies are primarily looking for reaction. If your child doesn’t provide that response, then the bully loses his power.
- Do not retaliate. Getting back at a bully puts your child right back at square one. Help avoid a whole cycle of aggression.
- Collect evidence. Online bullying means that there is a digital footprint. Harassing messages can usually be captured, saved and shown to someone who can help. Stress to your child that she do this even if it’s minor stuff, in case the situation escalates.
- Talk to your child about trusted adults. Sometimes children are embarrassed or uncomfortable talking to a parent about bullying. Let your child know that there are others they can go to for help, such as a school counselor.
- Bully block. Teach your child to use preferences or privacy tools to block the person. If the harassment is occurring in a chat format, leave the “room.”
- Be civil. Research shows that gossiping and trash talking about others increases the risk of being bullied. Even if your child doesn’t like someone, she should treat her as she would like to be treated.
- Don't let your child be a bystander. Even if your child is not the target, watching without acting or forwarding inappropriate messages empowers bullies and hurts victims even more. If he can, your child should tell bullies to stop or let them know harassment makes people look stupid and mean. If he can’t stop the bully, he should at least try to help the victim and report the behavior.
Most importantly, talk to your child. The more that he understands about potential danger online, the better he can avoid it. Explain why you’re concerned, and that you’re not just making rules for the sake of rules. Check in periodically to see what websites he’s visiting, and ask questions about things he may have encountered. Communication is key.
Want to learn more? These web resources can help:
A great feature called NetSmartz411 answers all your questions about Internet safety and helps you decipher the latest online lingo.
Highlights include a “safe blogging” guide for teens as well as a family contract on safe Internet use that you and your child can sign.
Informative interactive modules on Internet safety appropriate for parents, educators, and kids.
Tips and advice on keeping your family safe online.
A compilation of articles and information about online safety.