Parents, think of this…a long dark and creepy road, your child walking alone on this dark creepy road and needing to fend for themselves…do you have that picture in your head? It’s a scary thought, isn’t it? But think of this vision when you allow your child to navigate their way on the internet with no supervision, no boundaries, no education about what to be on the lookout for…how to steer through the long, dark and sometimes creepy internet.
We share this analogy with you to get a true understanding of the importance of giving your children skills to navigate through the internet. Although the internet is a wonderful tool which we all depend on and will be an integral part of our children’s lives, there are pros and cons to what it has to offer. We wouldn’t let our children drive a car without teaching them the rules, spending a year by their side practicing safe driving and modeling good choices before we let them out on their own. Why do we let our children go online where there are known dangers (child predators), adult content (pornography is rampant and accessible with just a click), illegal activity (gambling for example), without providing them with the tools to be safe while online? It is a known fact (and common) that children as young as seven will google the word ‘sex’ just because they can. We as parents need to help guide the many tough choices our children will make on line. And we need to start when they are young.
Our children need supervision and they need boundaries. So parents think about this: Do you want to have a child that comes to you if they are confused by something they see online? (1 in 4 children report seeing inappropriate content online.) Do you want your child to make the safest and smartest choices while online? (only 5% of children tell their parents about something that makes them uncomfortable online.) If you want your child to be safe online, then YOU need to teach them the tools to be safe.
We know some of our children are surpassing us in their use and knowledge of technology, but we can’t bury our heads in the sand and just hope for the best. We need to be the first line of defense in our children’s safety. When you feel you have taught your children how to navigate safely, you can ease up a bit – but never lose the vigilance of watching and monitoring what your children are doing. We also don’t recommend being secretive about monitoring and supervision – be open with your child that you will be monitoring what they do online, because once they begin using technology, there is no privacy – anybody can see it.
So, here are the top tools we believe can help keep children safe online:
Computer should be in an open area of the house (get them out of the bedrooms – even a laptop). You need to be monitoring what they are doing and they need to be aware that you are. Less trouble can be found when the computer sits in the family room or kitchen than behind the closed doors of a bedroom.
Tell your children to never share personal information – (some children think personal information is just their name and address, but tell your children that it is also the school you attend, your extra curricular activities, the camp you go to, your parents’ names and where they work). Teach your children to “CHECK FIRST” with you when asked to give any information about themselves.
Teach your children that what you post online stays online forever!!! (This is a hard concept for kids to get and will need to be an ongoing discussion…)
Teach your children to use their inner safety voice before texting, IMing, emailing, posting or using technology of any kind – they need to ask themselves: what would my parents, principal, police or predator think about what I am going to do right now? This question might be enough for a child to rethink what they are going to post.
We strongly recommend that your children steer clear of chat rooms – even while playing online games…this is where predators are lurking looking for children.
Keep lines of communication open with your children about their safety online. Give them boundaries by writing a "computer safety contract" and let your children be involved in the process. The main reason children don’t come to their parents when confused, uncomfortable or scared by something they see online is because they think their parents will take away their computers.
For more info, visit www.kidsafefoundation.org