There is an old saying: “no good deed goes unpunished.” Although we do not necessarily believe in this statement, sometimes it seems to be true. If there is one entity in our lives which tends to “prove” this, it is technology. Every time there is a new invention that offers significant benefits, it seems someone comes along and uses that technology to the detriment of society. The internet is a perfect example of this.
Although a relatively new technology, the internet has become a cornerstone of our lives. We can no longer picture how we could function without it. This view is intensely magnified in our children. The internet has enhanced our lives in incredible ways, from information to entertainment. Information on just about anything is a click away. Missed a TV show – no problem, as it will be somewhere on the internet. Your kid has a research paper due soon? No need to waste time going to the library – more than likely, all the information he or she needs will be right there on the internet.
Unfortunately, as we all know, there are people who have chosen to prey on others via the internet. Preying has many forms, ranging from stealing personal information to trying to seduce people into personal meetings for abuse purposes. One of our worst nightmares as parents is having our children preyed upon. Although there is no possible way to 100% guarantee that no harm will come when our children/teens go on the internet, there are many things parents CAN do to significantly lower this risk, which we will summarize below.
1. First things first – Location, location, location! How often have we heard this? Many times in real estate, but not necessarily in regard to computers. ALL computers, and this includes any devices that can utilize the internet (tablets, phones, etc.) should be in a public place in the house where there can be direct supervision – NOT in your child/teen’s bedroom. This rule should be adopted from the moment your child/teen begins to go on the internet and should continue until they graduate high school. Although your kids will most likely not question this when they are young, they surely will when they are older. Begin to tell them why when they are young, and reiterate it when they are older: You are not spying on them, but you are there to supervise in order to help keep them safe from unexpected dangers, and be available to answer any questions that may come up. Your teen may fight this, but hold firm and stay calm. Once they know you mean business and that you will not budge, they most likely will calm down and go about their internet business (but then again, you never know with teens!).
2. Although “price” usually comes after location in real estate, in the internet world, it is “trust.” We need to reassure our kids that we TRUST them to use the internet in an age appropriate and responsible way. In addition, we need to let them know that although we will be supervising their use, we will not be looking over their shoulder constantly while they are online. Just like we trust them to ride their bikes (once they have learned how), they still need their helmet to protect them from unexpected dangers/accidents.
3. If trust has a twin, it is “honesty.” As we all know, just like trust, honesty goes both ways. In order for our kids to be honest with us in regard to anything, including internet use, we need to model the behavior. We need to let them know what we will be doing to monitor their internet use, including checking their computer history, installing filters, etc. Once again, if they protest and say “you don’t trust me,” you can reiterate: You DO trust them, but at the same time you are ensuring their safety, and are being open and honest with them on how you are doing this. Honesty and explanation go a very long way!
4. Ultimately, as we all know, there need to be rules/expectations. These will most likely be individualized for each household. A list of the rules/expectations should be written out and displayed for all to see.
5. An age appropriate filtering device to limit the websites your child/teen can access should be utilized. Even if you trust your child, accidental access can still occur, and we want to limit the possibilities.
6. Teach your child to NEVER give out personal information to ANYONE without first asking you. Even if it is to a friend, they need to let you know. As we all know, appearances are not always what they seem. Sometimes it may look like it is someone we know asking us for our information, but it really is not. Personal information includes your child’s full name, ANY address where they could be found (home, school, etc.), age, gender, teams they play on, etc.
7. Remember, communication is key. Whether it is rules, expectations, relay of necessary information, etc., make sure that your communication with your child/teen is clear and understood. In addition, keeping in communication with all school authorities (teachers, counselors, etc.) is very important in helping keep your child/teen safe online. Many negatively impacting issues that occur online begin at school, so keeping up to date on what is going on at school is important. In addition, discuss possible dangers that can occur online with your children. Never assume your child knows all the dangers, even if they say they do! Even if they look at you and roll their eyes with that “I KNOW mom” look, keep talking to them. If you do not think they were paying attention, have them repeat it back to you!
8. One of modern day crimes is cyberbullying. Talk to your children and let them know that NO ONE has the right to say anything bad or spread information about them without their consent on the internet. Tell them that if this happens, even if it seems trivial to them, they should let you know. With that being said, also reassure them that you will NOT intervene on their behalf WITHOUT their consent. This is critical to establishing trust. If they do not want you to intervene, talk to them about it. More often than not, they will eventually agree to your intervention when you explain why it needs to be done, but they need to know you will not do it without their consent.
Prior to your child exploring the internet, talk to them (in an age appropriate way) about cyberbullying, and what it means. You will need to expand on this discussion as your child gets older. In addition, teach them why it is important not only to tell you if it occurs, but how hurtful and damaging to both the person being bullied and the bully him/herself it can be. Although we fear that our children will be cyberbullied, our children can also be the bullies (someone’s child is!). Explaining to them the dangers from both sides can also help prevent them from developing into bullies.
9. There is another side to trust. For better or for worse (and fortunately, usually for the better), children tend to be naturally trusting in nature. As a result, they can be easy victims for people trying to exploit them. Please teach your children to never communicate with someone they do not know online unless they talk to you first, even if a person sounds “really nice.” Teach them that online, people can easily pretend to be who they are not. This kind of deception can be difficult to detect, and some of these people may even do it in order to harm another person. Reassure them that most people are “nice,” but because of the difficulty in determining a stranger’s character and motives online, it is important to talk to you first before communicating with someone they do not know.
10. Finally, be involved in your child’s life! Talk to them. Ask them about what they are doing in school. Ask them about their friends. If time permits, try to be involved in school activities. Stay in touch with their teachers. Let them know you are interested in them and what they are doing. Support them in their activities. Be their advocate!
We hope this provides helpful information in keeping your children safe when they use the internet. If you have any concerns or questions, as always, please do not hesitate to call our office. Until then, safe surfing!