Fortunately, there are many resources on the Internet for parents/guardians who want to keep their children safe. You need to familiarize yourself with as many of these resources as possible.
Also, connect with organizations and law enforcement agencies addressing Internet safety issues. Having said that, it’s up to you to prepare young people for the many potential dangers lurking on Cyberspace.
This would be easier if these “dangers” were static but, alas, they are not. In fact, new dangers keep developing or re-surfacing as time goes by. You must be proactive, as you develop strategies that take all known complex facts into consideration.
PROACTIVE STEPS YOU CAN TAKE, IF APPLICABLE
--Purchase and install on all devices your kids have (including electronic mobile devices: tablets, laptops, smart phones, etc.) access to parental control and Internet filtering software. They can block access to certain sites, help monitor your children’s Internet activities, and, as an added bonus, protect your computers from viruses, spam ware, and other things that pose dangers.
--Spend some time using the Internet with your children; ask them to take you where they like to go. Show them what you like to do while online. The idea is to establish better “virtual” relationships with your kids, keep the channels of communication with them open, and help them use the Internet more intelligently/warily.
--Keep tabs on whom your children are communicating with online—this is not spying but, rather, being responsible/caring guardians. Your children may unknowingly be communicating with a serial killer or a child molester. You might be able to spot suspicious communication—most children, however, lack the skills or maturity to tell the difference between “suspicious” and “normal” remarks.
--Openly discuss anatomy, especially in relation to sexuality, with your children. Let them know it’s not normal for anyone (least of all total strangers) to bring up such a subject. Warn them to be particularly wary of anyone that uses obscene or foul language and/or photographs that show any nudity.
--Let your children know that you don’t mind if they make new friends over the Internet. The only rule (and you must explain to them why having such a rule is so important) is that you must meet this “new friend” first, before a face-to-face meeting can be arranged. Offer to take them to the public place that’s been pre-arranged.
Of course, you can set some basic rules—e.g., that the new friends must be in the same age group, that they must have their parent’s permission, that they must meet in a public place under the supervision of an adult, etc. If you, instead, forbid their ever making new friends through Cyberspace, then you run the risk of their going behind your back—this happens more often than you may realize!
--Don’t automatically punish children, if they do something dumb while online. You may unwittingly encourage them to just not tell you anything next time. You want to encourage your kids to openly discuss things with you and to trust that you will listen to them instead of taking rash, anger-motivated action.
--Pay attention to signs that your child is becoming obsessed with making friends online. If your child is withdrawn or naturally introverted, for example, he/she may more likely reach out to someone who appears to want to “talk” to them.
Unfortunately, children may find comfort in the anonymity of the Internet. Sharing special, hidden feelings with an understanding, good-listening-skills new friend may be just what the child may fall for, possibly into the hands of someone with evil intentions.
--Don’t ignore anything suspicious or troubling you may find in relation to your child’s online interactions. If you, for example, see a name on an email or text you don’t recognize, ask the child about it. Don’t be afraid to do your own investigating. You can either respect your child’s privacy or you can make sure they are safe and secure—which is more important to you?
--Be wary of any gifts, mail/email, packages, or texting from total strangers for your child. If the child refuses to say who the person is or makes it a point to keep the matter a secret, this may be a “flag” you simply cannot ignore.
--Use tools other than the Internet to spot trouble. If you, for example, see strange phone numbers on your phone bill, letters or packages from strangers addressed to your child, or other “signs,” investigate them thoroughly.
--Make sure you save all communication from potential child predators. Some parents, out of anger, will erase emails or clean out their children’s computer, hoping that by doing so, the problem will go away. This will only, though, erase potential evidence/tracing material the authorities may find useful, if something goes wrong.
--Don’t be afraid to contact law enforcement with questions, complaints or a request for an investigation. Fortunately, law enforcement agencies today take internet safety involving kids (including cyber bullying, bullying in general, potential predators, etc.) more seriously than in the past. Accordingly, they have departments and personnel who now concentrate exclusively on this ever-expanding, still-mostly-unresolved area of crime.
--Promptly report/take legal action when an incident occurs. Waiting may impair the opportunity to prosecute someone; you may also unwittingly give predators the opportunity to erase/get rid of valuable evidence.
--Use what are being called “Internet Safety Pledges”—in essence, these are agreements between you and your children that they will abide by certain specific rules and principles.
--Encourage your kids to report any instance of bullying or cyber bullying. Some children may have to be told what this is and why they don’t have to put up with it. Make sure your own child is not guilty of bullying or cyber bullying.
--Find interactive games and activities on the Internet that will help teach your children about what to do and not do while online. These can help educate you and your kids, while at the same time letting you have some fun.
One excellent example is the “Webonaut Internet Academy.” It allows participants to watch cartoons casually talking about safety topics that might otherwise seem boring. Kids may not realize that they are being educated but, when it comes to young people, you need to keep things entertaining, not just instructive.
--Explain to your kids what some typical Internet crimes are, including stalking. Kids that are not sheltered from bad things in the world are better able to defend themselves against them.
--Let your children know what a responsible “Cyberspace Citizen” is. There are rules in Cyberspace which, if adhered to at all times, can help keep children safe and secure, even when not being directly supervised.
When it comes to internet safety for kids, you need to stay on top of things and be proactive. Yes, you can trust children to some extent and give them some freedom—you can even respect their privacy.
On the other hand, if you want to protect them from bullying, cyber bullying, pedophilia, kidnapping, human trafficking, and other crimes, you may have to take aggressive action. This may include periodically looking at their emails, finding out what they are texting (and whom), seeing what websites they frequent, etc.
This is your responsibility as a caring parent or guardian—the ultimate question is: “Are your children worth the extra effort?”
Copyright, 2018. Fred Fletcher. All rights reserved.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES