Many parents are uncertain of how to keep their children safe on-line. Although most of us use computers in our day to day jobs, we grew up at a time in history where friendship and learning primarily occurred face to face, and not through a screen or electronic device. Children today use electronics to learn, express themselves, entertain themselves, and socialize. Oftentimes, parents feel at a loss with how to understand what their children are doing on-line, and struggle with how to set limits or work with their child or teen on safety issues.
There are some things that parents can do to keep their children safe on-line:
Embrace, rather than avoid the technology
Take time to learn. Just because our children can learn technology faster than we do doesn’t mean we CAN’T learn it. More importantly, we often have the wisdom and impulse control that our children have not yet learned. It is very important that we learn to use technology as well, so we can help them navigate these aspects of digital life.
Familiarize yourself with the social networking sites that your children are using
Review safety standards and privacy settings. According to Dr. Tess Barker from the University of Iowa, some of these sites include: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, You Tube, Ask.fm, Kik, Tinder, Whisper, and others. There are many different levels of privacy, and parents should learn about the levels of your child’s privacy.
Ask your children to show you the social networking sites they are using, and ask them for their passwords
Let them know that you will be reading their posts from time to time. Ask them about who they are following, and whether they know them. If you see concerning posts from your child or to your child, talk to her about it. Calmly discuss what concerns you and why. You may need to set limits on how your child sets up her account. Teach them to avoid geo-location apps and location tagging, as they can reveal your child’s location to unwanted sources.
Teach your child about their digital footprint
Every time we are online, there is a trace. Some content we actively provide, such as Facebook profiles. Other content is passive-the cookies a site stores in your browser, etc. All this data can be collected to build a profile of our behavior. For many social media sites, once content is posted, it stays there forever. If posted online, your child’s silly behavior at a slumber party, or even pictures that are inappropriate, could stay online for many years to come. Make sure your child knows the risks before they post anything online.
Teach your child to always have control of his own phone, i-pod, or electronic device, especially at slumber parties or gatherings with other students
Teach him to NEVER give out passwords to friends. Sometimes peers can post information in your child’s name without your child’s knowledge. Or they may post inappropriate or sexual pictures on your child’s account. If authorities think it is your child, your child or teen could have legal troubles for years to come.
Come up with a plan to follow if your child encounters trouble online
Teach them how to block unwanted contact, and make sure they know how and when to tell a trusted adult if something inappropriate happens.
Consider a family media contract, which puts in writing the conditions for using technology
This contract is something that you could start with your child, and review as time or circumstances change. Together with good family communication, this could be a helpful tool for years to come.
- Barker, T. (2014). “Crossing the Digital Divide. Plugging into your Child’s World.” Presentation given at Willowwind School 5/2/14.
- Common Sense Media (2012). “Common Sense on Digital Life” Digital Literacy and Citizenship.
- Ybarra, M. and Mitchell, K. (2008). “How Risky are Social Media Sites?” Pediatrics, 12 (2), 350-357.