The internet is such an omnipresent part of modern life that it comes as second nature to our children. While many of us are still getting to grips with the online world, children are born into it.
This can be a great thing. If a curious child has a question, the answer is only ever a Google search away. Naturally, however, this is not always a good thing. Anything that can be used for good can also be exploited – especially where children are concerned. There is a fine line between innocence and naivety.
It’s important that we keep our children safe online. Thankfully, even though the internet can appear to resemble a lawless Wild West at times, there are a number of steps that we can take to do just this. Check out the great links at the bottom.
Important Conversations to Have With Our Children
Some children may take the internet for granted, not understanding the risks found throughout the online world. Ensure that you explain the dangers of the internet to your children.
There are three particularly pivotal pieces of advice that must be imparted to our children.
· Not everybody online is who they claim to be. The internet hosts a great many people pretending to be somebody else. This may just be for fun, or it could have a more sinister intent. Online Sense provides useful advice on how to identify an online predator. If you have any reason to believe that your child is at risk of exploitation online, report the behavior to the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children.
· Everything posted on the internet is permanent. Your child will need to understand that the internet never forgets. Just take a look at various instances of social media posts coming back to haunt public figures in recent times. Our Children, a division of the national PTA, explains this is in greater detail. Explain to you child that they must always think carefully before posting anything on the internet.
· The internet is filled with amateur detectives. Children need to understand that even the most innocuous piece of information can reveal their identity. Kids Health offers child-friendly advice on how to choose an online identity that cannot be traced. If information surrounding your child’s identity falls into the wrong hands, their address or personal contact details could follow. This will obviously result in their safety being compromised.
General Online Safety Advice and Resources
There is no shortage of information and guidance on how to keep children safe online. There are also a number of charities and private companies working tirelessly in this area. For more information on how to keep children safe online, take a look at some of these resources.
· Enough is Enough is a charity dedicated to preventing children from gaining access to online pornography and other harmful material.
· NetSmartz provides child-friendly advice on how to use the internet safely.
· Web Wise Kids offers personal accounts of compromised internet safety, and general advice for staying safe.
· The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team discusses the dangers that could appear to children online. It’s a dry read, but an important one.
· Wired Safety is a densely populated site dedicated to all elements of online safety for children. TeenAngels is operated by the same team, and will appeal to older children.
· Common Sense Media review various applications, websites and forms of media, explaining whether they are safe for children.
Safety on Social Media
When parents think of social media, they usually consider the Big Three networking sites.
· Facebook has a community guideline policy in place, which largely keeps children safe. Most interactions will also take place on a public wall, which you can monitor. The site also has a private messenger facility similar to email, but this can be disabled.
· Instagram is entirely picture-based, and does not have a private messaging facility. This means that you will be able to see all of your child’s interactions, and keep an eye on them.
· Twitter is a tougher site to keep on top of. Many young people use Twitter to communicate, and they even attempt with their favorite celebrities on the platform. To keep your child safe, you can mute particular words from appearing in their feed, and block certain accounts from interacting with – or even seeing – your child’s profile. Also explain that somebody in the public eye should have a blue tick by their name. This is called verification.
There are new social media sites cropping up every day, however. Some of the other popular sites and apps that should be approached with caution include:
· What’sApp is a text messaging platform that’s very popular with young people, as it enables picture messages to be exchanged for free. What’sApp messages can be encrypted, and easily hidden. It’s inadvisable for any child younger than a teen has access to What’sApp, and even then, it should be monitored.
· Snapchat is potentially hugely dangerous.This is a social media platform that enables pictures to be sent to users, which are then deleted almost immediately. If somebody knows your child’s Snapchat username, they can send them a message of whatever they wish. TeenSafe sheds more light onto the dangers of Snapchat.
· Kik is a new private messagingapp that is becoming increasingly popular. According to Common Sense Media, it is very unsafe for vulnerable people. The British website Net Aware appears to back up this view, claiming that the site leaves children exposed to a high risk of sexual exploitation and above average risk of bullying, violence and criminal activity.
When monitoring your child’s messages, it may initially look like a foreign language that you do not speak. The internet comes with its own long list of shorthand acronyms. Smart Words compiles a list of these. Some of them are truly terrifying to a parent. Learn them well, and understand what your children are saying online – and just as importantly, what people are saying to them.
Gaming and Video Content Online
Many young people now access all of their entertainment online. Streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu have replaced hard copy media such as DVDs for most teenagers.
That can make it easier for children to access material that you would rather they didn’t, even with adult filter blocks in place. Would you really be comfortable with your tween watching Game of Thrones, or Orange is the New Black? Techwiser explains how set parental controls on your video streaming sites.
In addition to this, you should also keep an eye on video upload sites that your child may be using. YouTube is commonplace, but there are many others that you may not be familiar with. Check if your child is watching live streams of video games on Twitch, for example. It may sound like pulling teeth to you, but children and teens love it!
On the subject of video games, many young people play online with strangers. Monitor your child while they do this, and ensure they are not spending too much time online. Popular blog The Dadcade shares insights on how to keep your child safe while they play games online.
Blocking Content on the Internet
If you are concerned about what your child is looking at online, you can block particular sites. Your child may need to use Wikipedia for their homework, for example, but why would they need to look at an adult dating site?
· Techwalla explains how to block particular searches in Google and other popular search engines.
· Tech Radar lists the many and varied pieces of software that parents can use to monitor and block sites that their children may be accessing.
· Clean Browsing offers general advice on blocking adult content from your internet browser.
Many children struggle with bullying online. This can be a very serious problem, as in the modern age of smartphones and tablets there can be no escape from targeted harassment. There are a number of resources dedicated to helping your recognize, and prevent, cyber bullying. These include:
· Cyberbully.org is a charity that works tirelessly to put a stop to this harmful behavior.
· CyberBullyHelp is a site dedicated to offering advice on this problem.
· The Cyberbulling Research Center breaks down research on patterns and behaviors that surround online harassment.
· That’s Not Cool is a site that specializes in informing children as to what is appropriate behavior on the internet.
. Test your CyberBullying Preparedness with this quiz.
If your child complains about being bullied on the internet, take it seriously. It’s not as simple as just not going online. The web is too commonplace for this.
Please see below for a summary of the links that we have discussed throughout this article.
· Common Sense Media – www.commonsensemedia.org
· Cyberbully – www.cyberbully.org
· CyberBullyHelp – www.cyberbullyhelp.com
· Cyberbullying Research Center – www.cyberbullying.org
· The Dadcade – www.thedadcade.com
· Enough is Enough – www.enough.org
· Kids Health – www.kidshealth.org
· Natl Center of Missing and Exploited Children – www.missingkids.org
· NetSmartz – www.netsmartz.org
· Online Sense – www.onlinesense.org
· Our Children – www.ptaourchildren.org
· Smart Words – www.smart-words.org
· TeenSafe – www.teensafe.com
· Teen Angels – www.teenangels.org
· That’s Not Cool – www.thatsnotcool.com
· US Computer Emergency Readiness Team – www.us-cert.gov
· Web Wise Kids – www.webwisekids.org
· Wired Safety – www.wiredsafety.com