Tips for keeping children safe online
The proliferation of social media, online gaming, online forums, and the use of cell phones have given today’s children technological access undreamed of just a generation ago. Children now have access to a staggering amount of online content, people and information. With these advancements, parents now have even more challenges when it comes to keeping their children safe and happy. They want to be protected from predators and happy in the sense that they are free from online harassment. Both concerns are at the forefront of parents’ minds as their children create Facebook pages, play online games, and write incessantly.
Here’s a rundown of some of the main threats to your children’s well-being. In an ever-connected world, knowing where danger lies is the first step to prevention and safety.
According to enough.org, there are currently over 600,000 registered sex offenders in the US, and more than four percent of all children will be exposed to some form of alleged attraction by an adult while online. Naive or unruly children can fall prey to these online predators.
Bullying by peers
The media has covered some high-profile cases of teen suicide and online bullying in the past few years. According to some statistics from the US Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 52% of students report being cyberbullied at some point, while 25% report repeated bullying through their cell phones or social media profiles (statisticbrain.com) .
Pornography and inappropriate content are everywhere on the internet. According to Alexa.com, four of the top twenty sites with the highest web traffic are pornographic in nature. When you consider what often comes up in a search engine when entering a seemingly innocuous search, or the amount of inappropriate spam emails you receive, it’s not hard to see why this is such a problem with isolating kids from inappropriate content.
Narcissism and compulsion
Children and especially teenagers are hyper-aware of social status and image. This way of thinking can lead to spending unhealthy amounts of time on social media like Twitter or Facebook. Kids get caught up in trying to be constantly informed, connected, and interacting online in hopes of gaining acceptance or becoming more popular.
Additional data from the US Department of Health states that only 52% of teens exposed to bullying or inappropriate attraction report the incidents to their parents. There are no figures for exposure to inappropriate content, but it’s probably safe that many of these incidents also go unreported.
All of these threats are very real and, given the amount of time children spend online, could present themselves on a daily basis. Here are some tips to help you keep your children safe while bridging the gap between parental monitoring and proper education for your children.
• Children should “friend” their parents on Facebook and allow them to be “followed” on Twitter. Parents are sure to get pushback as teens get older, but it’s a surefire way to see what your kids are posting and what’s being said about them. It’s a fine line between observation and interference, so caution is advised.
• Do not allow children to create their own personal email addresses until they are of a more mature and responsible age. Any account that is created online must be linked to the parent’s email. Not only will this allow you to monitor what sites your children sign up for, but it will usually require you to authorize the use and give you time to either discuss any concerns with your children or decline the request.
• Make sure your children are taught what is appropriate to post online and that they never provide contact information or post inappropriate or suggestive photos of themselves. In today’s world of social media, kids can be their own worst enemy. They shouldn’t post anything online that they wouldn’t want on a billboard because that’s what online posts are all about. And removing or controlling content on the Internet once it’s there is no easy matter.
• Young adults tend to want to add as many other peers as possible to their social media circles. But the reality is that many of these “friends” do not have your child’s best interests at heart and often become a source of teasing or cyberbullying. Make sure your kids only accept requests from friends they know and trust.
• Strict rules and guidelines should be set and agreed upon before children are allowed online. These policies and guidelines should also be reviewed frequently as your children’s online experience grows. You need to set boundaries of what is acceptable, limit the time spent online, and make them understand what you will and will not accept in terms of behavior.
• Children are naturally naive, curious and trusting. This is dangerous. So monitor your kids activity. View their browsing history through the browser tools. You can also purchase programs that will enhance your monitoring capabilities.
• Set parental controls on your computer. Every operating system and browser has a set of parental controls. You need to make sure that you set the appropriate restrictions or settings for each. You can also adjust the settings of Google and other search engines to be strict, ensuring that only relevant content is returned regardless of the search.
Educating yourself and your children is ultimately the most important step you can take. Sit down with your kids and establish ground rules. Review these ground rules every time your kids get a new device, create a social media account, or sign up for an online game. Parents have the unenviable task of walking the fine line between building trust and protecting children. Applying a combination of education, guidance and monitoring should help.
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