I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Influence Central for Boys & Girls Clubs of America. I received a promotional item to thank me for my participation.
Now that Gavin is going into 2nd grade and he is going to need to use the computer more for projects, I know that I need to start teaching him how to stay safe online. Lexi started playing on the computer at five and had her first laptop at six, but things have been a little different with Gavin.
I do worry with Gavin though because he is so independent and loves to explore, that he sometimes forgets to ask permission for things. He has such a curious and eager personality and I am pretty sure that he needs extra guidance when it come to playing online. He is also very friendly and every time he meets someone new he has to introduce himself. For example, the pizza delivery guy, the mailman, the street performer and the lady who just happened to be walking by minding her own business and just glanced at him. We always remind him that he needs to be careful, but he gets so excited at the prospect of a new friend that he forgets!
Because of his kind and trusting nature, it is important that I give him the tools he needs to safely navigate the internet. Since June is Internet Safety Awareness month and we have a lot of free time with summer, I am taking this opportunity to do a little more research of my own on how to help him stay safe. I have been taking advantage of the resources that the Boys & Girls Club of America Cyber Safe Futures program has to offer. Here are my tips for keeping your child cyber safe:
Determine if Your Child is Mature Enough to Handle the Responsibilities
All children mature at different ages and you must take this into account when deciding if they are ready for the internet. Lexi was ready at a younger age than Gavin so she was able to enjoy all the fun that the internet has to offer much earlier than him. While they may be mature enough for some things now, such as online games and activities, they may not be ready for social media outlets for many years. Most of those websites have a minimum age requirement, such as Facebook with their minimum age being 13.
Educate (yourself and your child)
Learn everything you can about the various sites that your child likes to visit as well as ones they might enjoy. Social media outlets are probably the most important ones to learn, depending on your child’s age and interests. Research specific trends and threats that your child may come across, such as cyberbullying, sexting, pornography, online predators etc.
Set Boundaries, Establish Rules, and Instill Discipline
Sit down with your child and come up with a list of rules that they must follow, together. Let them know what they can and cannot do online and make sure that they are aware of the consequences of not following the rules. Setting them together with your child, helps them to feel as though they are more in charge of their actions and also helps them to understand the rules more. Be consistent as well, if you set a consequence for breaking a rule, you must follow through.
Explore the Internet Together
Take some time to surf the web with your child. Teach them how to navigate the internet properly and safely. Make it a family bonding moment, they may not always say or show it, but children want us to spend special time with just them.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open and Keep an Open Mind
Make sure that your child knows that they can come to you with any questions that they may have and that you will not judge or condemn them for their curiosities. If they feel that they can come to you, there is a less likely chance that they will get in trouble.
Be in the Know
As a parent, it is your responsibility to know everything that they are doing online. Help them set up accounts and let them know that you will always have access to all of their accounts and passwords. Monitor their accounts but also let them know that you trust them. For example, I know all of Lexi’s logins and passwords and at first, I monitored them regularly. As time passed and I knew that I could trust her, I have been monitoring them less and less but she knows that I can do it whenever I feel that it is necessary. This includes her phone, Facebook, and emails, although I use an email client that I have set up her email to come through, so I see everything. I don’t always read her emails, unless I don’t recognize the sender or the subject line seems a bit off. This rarely happens and it is more often spam. Be aware that kids are much more tech savvy than adults in many cases and they may create accounts that you do not know about so monitoring internet history is important. It is also important to keep track of sites they visit that do not have a social aspect to them because the information could be dangerous. My example for this is the Creepy Pasta website because Lexi was once a fan and at first, I thought it harmless fun. That was until I started reading about kids being overly influenced by the stories and decided to read a few myself. I was disgusted and disturbed and sat down with her to explain why I didn’t want her reading the stories anymore. It took a few days, but she finally understood and is now embarrassed that she enjoyed them in the first place.
While I don’t require Lexi to use her computer in my presence anymore, I used to and will with Gavin for now. If you are not constantly watching them, as most moms are not able to do because let’s face it, we just don’t have the time, pay attention to their actions. Watch for changes in behavior, such as being secretive or defensive. If they exhibit this behavior, it is important to look at what they are doing online more closely and to sit down and talk with them about what they may be hiding.
Be Their Friend
Friend them on the various sites that they frequent, even if you don’t use them or even if they protest it, do it. I know that some teens think it’s uncool to friend their parents on Facebook, do it anyways. Lexi loves it, except when I tag her in slightly embarrassing updates, but usually in a funny “aw gee Mom” kind of way. That being said, try not to really embarrass them with their friends. Respect their privacy to a point here, if they did something really embarrassing, don’t tag them for all their friends to see.
Set Time Limitations
Have a list of times that they can be online, such as all computers must be turned off and phones put away by 9PM. You can even set this up in parental controls on most computers and even some cell service providers. I don’t know which ones do, but I know that Walmart Family Mobile (which I highly recommend) does and it is easy to set up.
Use Parental Controls
Learn how all the parental controls work on the various devices that your child uses. If you feel that the controls are not strong enough or that your child may know how to turn them off (remember, they are very tech savvy these days), install software or apps that provide extra protection. There are many out there to choose from, do your research as the best for your family.
Discuss How to Handle Sensitive Situations
Although a fun and educational tool, the internet can also be a dangerous playground for kids. Talk to your kids about these dangers and how they can best handle them if they come up. Cyberbullying is a big one since most kids have been bullied at one time or another. Cyberbullying can be worse in so many ways because one, the bullies tend to be more brutal online because they think they are safe from repricussions and two because a person should be able to feel safe in their own homes and cyberbullies invade that safe space. Another big one is online predators, make sure that your child follows the list of rules below to protect them from online predators.
Only Friend People They Know
I know that the internet is a great place to socialize but make sure that your child know sot be careful who they are friends with online. You never know who is really on the other side of the monitor and they may say they are the same age as your child and have the same likes as they but that is not always the case. Unfortunately, there are people out there that are skilled pretending to be a kid when they are not and they are bad people they never want to meet.
Do Not Give Out Personal Information
For the reasons listed above, this is dangerous. Let your child know that they should never let strangers know their full name, phone number, address or school name. In fact, they should never divulge their age or what city or state they live in.
Teach your child to show respect, not just for others, but for themselves as well. Showing respect is important no matter where they are or what they are doing.
The Internet is Forever
On the same note as respecting themselves, they need to remember that the internet is forever. Whatever they put out there, will follow them around forever. While for teens, it may seem harmless to post a what they may consider a sexy photo, or funny to a post derogatory status update, their future potential college or employers may not think so. They need to remember that they are a person, deserving of respect and they don’t need to do things they are not entirely comfortable with in order to impress others.
To find more rips and tricks and ask for advice, head on over to the Boys & Girls Club of America Cyber Safe Futures website! The BGCA’s Cyber Safety Ambassadors, a panel of Boys & Girls Club teens from around the world, are there to answer any questions you have and I urge you to take advantage of their expertise! The bonus is that everyone who submits a question will be entered to win one of three iPad minis and $500 to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America of their choice. You can even take an ever so important quiz to see how internet savvy you are, read up on different internet safety stats and learn more about issues that kids today are dealing with. Like, did you know:
- 34% of students reported that they have been cyber-bullied.
- 71% of teens use more than one social media networks, such as Facebook and Instagram.
- 75% of teens have or have access to a smartphone.
- 51% of teens reportedly admit that they have given out personal information to a stranger online.
- 16% of teens have their locations showing in their posts.