Keeping Kids Safe Online —
Make It a Priority
By Bernard Freeman
Bullying Gone Digital
One of the biggest challenges facing teens and kids online is cyberbullying, sales which is exactly what it sounds like: the playground and hallway social troubles now in cyberspace.
Unlike school children as recent as a decade ago, children face all kinds of new bullying and taunting issues that can be hard for adults to understand.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services offers some basic tips that can help avoid or deal with cyberbullying issues.
- Don’t respond to and don’t forward cyberbullying messages.
- Keep evidence of cyberbullying. Record the dates, times and descriptions of instances when cyberbullying has occurred. Save and print screenshots, emails and text messages. Use this evidence to report cyberbullying to web and cell phone service providers. Block the person who is cyberbullying.
- Report cyberbullying to online service providers. Cyberbullying often violates the terms of service established by social media sites and Internet service providers. Review their terms and conditions or rights and responsibilities sections. These describe content that is and is not appropriate. Visit social media safety centers to learn how to block users and change settings to control who can contact you. Report cyberbullying to the social media site so they can take action against users abusing the terms of service.
When cyberbullying involves these activities, it is considered a crime and should be reported to law enforcement: threats of violence, child pornography or sending sexually explicit messages or photos, taking a photo or video of someone in a place where he or she would expect privacy, stalking and hate crimes. Though it may seem “less real” because it’s online, cyberbullying is absolutely a real-world problem. It can cause major social issues for teens and lead to depression and anxiety. Serious threats can also manifest into real physical attacks.
Be aware of issues in school
Cyberbullying can create a disruptive environment at school and is often related to in-person bullying. The school can use the information to help inform prevention and response strategies.
In many states, schools are required to address cyberbullying in their anti-bullying policy. Some state laws also cover off-campus behavior that creates a hostile school environment.
Make Rules, Stick to Them
The Internet represents an exciting landscape for kids and teens, with the opportunities to make new friends and explore new things. But, it also comes with some inherent dangers.
Start early with your kids, and set boundaries at a young age. With those boundaries, keep a constant line of communication open.
As your child continues to grow up (and as technology changes), keep talking. The online and social media landscape is always evolving, and as that happens, the rules might sometimes need to change.
Some basic rules
When it comes to safely using the Internet, Scholastic, known for publishing educational materials for schools, teachers, parents and children, recommends a few helpful tips:
- Limit usage. Permit your child free online time for a set amount of time (such as 30 minutes) right after school to chat with friends, play games or visit social networking sites. But, make it a rule that family time starts with dinner.
- Keep kids in sight, and have them use the computer (or tablet or phone) in a centrally located area. A child is less likely to browse questionable content if they know a parent or sibling might walk by at any second. This makes it easier to monitor activity.
- Do your homework. Check browser history to know where your child goes online, and check the sites regularly. Use security tools and privacy features — whether offered by your browser or Internet service provider, or purchased separately — for extra protection.
- Set a code of conduct and time limits. Keeping kids safe means setting guidelines about suitable language, content and behavior. While it’s important to direct your child to suitable websites, it’s even more valuable to help them recognize the redeeming qualities of those sites and what makes them appropriate.
Know the Landscape
From Xanga and Friendster to Twitter and Snapchat, the social media landscape has changed tremendously over the past decade. That can create a challenge when it comes to knowing how your kids are interacting with others online.
If you don’t understand the virtual playground in which your child is spending time, it can be hard to effectively parent and create boundaries.
Ask your kids what they use
Talk to your children about which networks they use and the sites they visit. Make an effort to understand how they work and who your children are communicating with on a daily basis. The Internet represents a whole new world of social options. Knowledge is power, so make sure you know where your kids are spending their time.
Mobile: Where it all Happens
One of the biggest changes in the past few years is the proliferation of mobile devices among teens and children, and the new social networks to go along with them.
From services that are connected to geographic locations (such as campus- or school-specific apps), and apps such as SnapChat that delete messages after they’re sent (which can make it extremely hard for parents to monitor), the Internet landscape is changing rapidly — and mobile is at the forefront.
Talk to your kids, monitor their phones
It’s likely your teens will know about these apps long before a parent will, and it’s amazing how quickly widespread adoption can happen by word of mouth among kids.
Since mobile can be so hard to monitor, the best line of defense is an open and honest relationship with your child about the dangers of these tools and how they can be used responsibly. Set boundaries, and make them very clear.
Make it clear their use will be monitored, and make the difference between “monitoring” and “spying” very clear. Let your kids know you’ll be checking in on them, and what’s expected of them. Keep an eye out for unfamiliar apps, and ask your child to explain them to you if needed.
Consider limiting mobile time
For many kids and teens, mobile phones have replaced the desktop or laptop computer as the primary communication tool. To that end, parents may want to consider setting boundaries for when and how much mobile phones can be used, and which apps are allowed. Cell phones are amazing communication tools, but like anything else, they should be used in moderation.
Careful What You Share
All it takes is a few moments on Google, and a few more skimming over social media sites, to realize a wealth of private information about you or your teen can be just a few clicks away. The reason? We share it.
From locations, to shopping and food habits, to our weekly schedule, we have become a culture that shares a ton of information online. But having grown up in a world with prevalent technology and social media, many kids and teens may not understand what is and isn’t safe to share.
Talk to your kids about the potential threats. The National Children’s Advocacy Center offers a few tips to keep kids safe:
- Never post personal information, such as a cell phone number, home number, home address or your location on any social networking site or through mobile apps such as Snapchat or Instagram.
- Never meet in person with anyone first met on the Internet. Tell your kids that if someone asks to meet, they should tell you right away. Stress that people may not always be who they claim to be online.
- Talk to your children about sharing pictures online, and make clear guidelines about what is and isn’t appropriate. Also, be careful of revealing potential locations in photos (such as a home address displayed in the background).
Nothing is truly private
- Remind kids that everything can be saved and captured via screen grab, so they should be extremely careful what they post or say — even in seemingly private chat conversations with friends.
- Teach your children to be vigilant about who they are friends with and follow online. If they’re a nuisance, or often post or share inappropriate content, remove them.
- Never, under any circumstance, should your child share their password with anyone other than a parent or guardian.
- Research how the privacy settings of the various social networking sites used by your children work. Make sure they’re set at a level your family feels safe and comfortable with.
Some tech-savvy kids can get around software tools aimed at giving parents control over their Internet access — but there are some steps you can take to make it much harder for children to gain such access.
According to Parenting.com, everything from browser tools to third-party safety programs can be a major ally for parents looking out for the safety of their children
Keep tabs on the history
It’s hard to keep anything hidden these days, and all browsers come with cache and history settings that keep a detailed history of which sites have been visited. Use those tools, and let your children know you’re keeping tabs on the data. Plus, even if they do erase their history, the gap in usage time should be fairly obvious to alert a parent that something has been hidden.
Funny now but not later
Social media networks such as Facebook represent a fantastic tool to share family photos and keep distant friends and relatives up to date on your life. But, it’s important to remember who you share that information with and how.
A funny picture of your toddler might seem innocuous now, but think ahead 5-10 years. Will your daughter still think that silly picture needs to be public once she’s old enough to establish her own social media presence? By posting the photo, you’re making that decision for her.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t share photos of your children, but it’s important to think about the long-term effects.