The online world offers a world of opportunities right at our fingertips. People of all ages are able to post videos from mobile devices, build online profiles, play games with other players on different screens, create avatars, connect with friends and family, send photos, or broadcast their every move to everyone through social media. These ways of communicating can be very fulfilling. However, they do come with certain risks – inappropriate conduct, inappropriate contact, and inappropriate content. You can review these risks by talking to your kids about how they communicate – online and off – and encourage them to engage in conduct they can be proud of.
Not sure where to begin? Consider the following:
Start early. After all, even toddlers see their parents use all kinds of devices. As soon as your child is using a computer, cell phone, or tablet, it’s time to talk with them about their online behavior, safety, and security. As a parent, you have the ability to talk to your kids about what is important before anyone else does.
Create an open and honest environment. Kids look up to their parents to help guide them. Be supportive and positive. Listening and taking their feelings into account helps keep conversations afloat. You may not have all the answers, and being honest about it can go a long way.
Initiate conversations. Even if your kids are comfortable approaching you, don’t wait for them to take the lead or start the conversation. Use everyday opportunities to talk to your kids about being online. For instance, a TV program featuring a child using a computer or cell phone can tee up discussion about what to do or not do in similar situations. News stories about cyber bullying or internet scams may be another way to start a conversation.
Communicate your values. Be upfront about your values and how they apply in online situations. Communicating your values clearly can help your kids make smarter and more thought out choices when faced with a tricky situation.
Be patient. Resist the urge to rush through these types of conversations with your kids. Most kids need to hear information repeated and in small doses for it to sink in. If you keep talking with your kids, your patience and persistence will pay off in the long run. Work hard to keep the lines of communication open, even when your kid has done something online that you find inappropriate.
Advice for Parents of all ages:
Young children – When very young children start using a computer or tablet, they should be supervised closely. Parents may wish to choose the websites their kids visit early on – and not let them leave those sites on their own. If kids aren’t supervised, they may stumble onto something that could confuse or scare them.
When you are comfortable your young child is ready to explore on their own, it’s still important to stay in close touch while they go from site to site. You may also want to enable safety features on mobile devices or your computer that restrict access to sites that you have visited and know to be appropriate.
Tweens – During the tween years, ages 8 – 12, children start exploring more on their own, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want, or need, to be close at hand. It’s important to be nearby when they are online. Set rules of where in the house they may use online devices. Consider keeping your main computer in a family living area where your child has access to another adult. That way, they can be independent, but not alone.
Many tweens are adept at finding information online which may come in handy for school work and hobbies. They still need guidance through parental controls and you to help them understand which sources are trustworthy. Also consider setting limits on how often they may be online and how long these sessions should be.
Teens – Teens today have more internet access than ever before and more time to themselves as well. So it may not be realistic to be in the same room with them when they’re online. This is why it is important to start early and emphasize the concept of credibility to teens. Even the most tech-savvy teens need to understand that not everything they see on the internet is true, that people on the internet may not be who they seem, or that images they share are seen far and wide. Once something is posted, it is impossible to take it back.
Because teens don’t see facial expressions, body language, and other visual cues, teen may feel more free to do or say things online that they wouldn’t normally say. Remind them that behind the screen is a real person with real feelings. Tell your kids they can’t hide behind the words they type. Talk about how cyberbullying can hurt people and be against the law.
Set reasonable expectations with your teen. Anticipate how you will react if you find out they have done something you don’t approve of. If your teen confides in you about something scary or inappropriate, try to work together to prevent it from happening again. Your teen will learn how to behave and how to exercise judgement about using the net safely by closely watching you.
What can you do? Socializing online can help kids connect with friends and even their family members but it’s important to help your child learn how to navigate these spaces safely. Among the pitfalls that come with online socializing is sharing too much information. Some of your child’s profile may be seen by a broader audience than you or they are comfortable with, even with privacy settings on. Encourage your child to think about the language they use, or before posting a picture or video online. Employers, teachers, coaches, and even the police may view your child’s posts. Here are some practical ways to provide the most internet safety for your kids:
- Remind kids they can’t “take it back.
- Use privacy settings to restrict access online and on social media.
- Review your child’s list of friends.
- Talk with your teen about avoiding sex talk online or sexting through text.
- Know what your kids are doing or looking up online.
- Encourage your kids to trust their gut if they have a suspicion.
- Tell kids not to impersonate anyone else.
- Create a safe screen name.
- Remind kids what information should stay private.
- Talk with your teen about how sexting is breaking the law.
- Talk with you child about cyberbullying.
- Talk to your kids about their online manners and tone.
- Set privacy settings on all devices.
- Ask your kids about who they associate with online.
- Help them pick out strong email or social media passwords to protect their accounts.
- Remind kids not to reply to a pop-up, text, or email that asks for private information.
- Encourage teens to think about the privacy of others before sharing photos.
- Take a stand against cyber bullying.
- Get familiar with any social media your child uses.
- Decide on the right options and features for your child’s cell phone or tablet.
- Set rules and boundaries with clear consequences.
- Be an example.
- Protect your computer by installing software that monitors computer use and viruses.
- Make sure your child always asks before downloading anything.
- Be picky about your permission.
- Review the sites your kids visit.