Today’s kids don’t even know what it’s like to not be connected to the Internet. But being technology savvy doesn’t mean they are safe and secure.
Since the Internet as we know it was born in the early 1990s, it has become an integral part of our and our kids’ lives. Online shopping, social media, mobile web, and computers in the classroom are as normal to them as riding a Huffy bicycle was to me. For these kids’ parents, the online world often feels too fast and too complicated. Nevertheless, it is essential that parents educate themselves on safe, secure online practices in order to set a positive example and provide guidance for their children as they navigate the web.
Fortunately, safe and appropriate online behavior isn’t much different than in the real world. The main distinction is that on the Internet, it is necessary to be particularly sensitive regarding how and with whom you communicate.
Parents who lack experience with the Internet, computers, or mobile phones must learn the basics before they can adequately monitor their children’s habits. A parent’s discomfort or unfamiliarity with technology is no excuse to let a child run wild on the Internet.
As with any task, one should start with the fundamentals. In recognition of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, let’s go over some of those fundamentals:
- Spend as much time as possible with kids in their online world. Learn about the people with whom they interact, the places they visit, and the information they encounter. Be prepared to respond appropriately, regardless of what sort of content they find. Remember, this is family time.
- One popular tactic has been to set up the computer in a high-traffic family area, and to limit the time children may spend using it. This is still good advice, but it becomes less feasible as more children have their own laptops and mobile phones, which can’t be so easily monitored.
- Teach children to recognize inappropriate behavior. Kids will be kids, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to say mean things, send racy pictures, make rude requests, or suggest illegal behavior. If it isn’t okay in the physical world, it isn’t okay on the Internet.
- Consider investing in computer security software with parental controls, which limit the sites kids can access.
- Decide exactly what is and is not okay with regards to the kinds of websites kids should visit. This dialogue helps parents and children develop a process for determining appropriate online behavior.
- Children should be restricted to monitored, age-appropriate chat rooms. Spend time with your children to get a feel for the language and discussion occurring on the websites they wish to visit.
- Do not allow children to create usernames that reveal their true identities or are provocative.
- Children should be reminded never to reveal passwords, addresses, phone numbers, or other personal information.
- Kids should not be permitted to post inappropriate photos or photos that may reveal their identities. (For example, a photo in which a t-shirt bears the name of the child’s city or school.)
- Never allow a child to meet an online stranger in person.
- Children should be taught not to open online attachments from strangers.