As a parent or guardian, life is full of teachable moments, some of which aren’t as easy as others. With smartphones and tablets becoming more readily available, especially to children and teens, the conversation about keeping safe online is an essential one to have. If you’re not sure where to begin, here are some great starting points to touch on with your kids, whether they’re first-time tech users or they just need a refresher on Internet etiquette:
1. Remind them of the responsibility that comes with using the Internet.
As many of us know, the Internet serves as a great convenience. It allows for instant connection to anyone in the world, minute-by-minute news updates, easy purchasing through online stores, and in-depth research, all at the palms of our hands. With this convenience, however, comes great responsibility. It is important to communicate to children and teens the responsibility they are given by using the Internet.
Along with the beneficial features of the Internet is a potentially dark and dangerous side. Whether it be through cyberbullies or cybercriminals, the Internet runs rampant with threats. Parents of school-aged children should remind children of the gravity of the situations that occur on the Internet, such as advances from child predators or cyberbullying from classmates. Giving them the responsibility of using the Internet, with certain parameters, will allow them to feel trusted and help develop their personal agency.
2. Explain the consequences of being unsafe online.
Parents should also let children know what can happen if they are unsafe online. This is not to be used as a scare tactic, but more as a way to keep them aware, as well as to create an open line of communication with children if anything potentially dangerous does happen.
Among the most common online threats to children and teens result from cyberbullying and cyberstalking; these behaviors can have a much higher success rate for bullies and cybercriminals when children share too much information online. Sharing personal details such as street addresses, school locations, and phone numbers can be goldmines for bullying and stalking tactics, and can even leave children open to identity theft. If you are worried that your child is or may become a target for having their information stolen, you can always invest in an identity theft protection service. Set expectations and let children know what is at stake when they choose to share too much with a stranger or an entire online platform; in the conversation, also let them know you are there to support and help them through sticky situations.
3. Encourage positive Internet behaviors.
There is no better way to keep positive behaviors going than by encouraging and praising them. Monitor your child’s behaviors online and recognize when they show kindness to their peers on a public forum, or when they deny a friend request from a stranger. Being specific and sincere in your praises will help to reinforce positive behaviors and encourage children to continue them.
As a parent, it is important to trust your children, but also understand that they may make mistakes down the road. Ensure their safety by reviewing privacy settings and parental controls on social media and Internet activity, as well as disabling location sharing on their devices. Though the work can be tedious, it is worth it to protect your child while still allowing them to explore all the benefits the Internet has to offer.