Growing up in the world is not what it used to be. When we were kids, our parents let us play more or less how we wanted to, because they knew what we were doing and who are friends were. However, with the advent of the Internet, we are no longer privy to such information. When our children play online, they could be spending time interacting with identity thieves, bullies or at the worst perverts and rapists. Due to the fact that identity on the Internet is so fluid, we have no idea what our kids are getting up to when they are online. This is why it is important to teach your children how to defend themselves on the Internet at an early age. Taking the Internet seriously is important for you and your children, and you owe it to them to help them understand how to handle themselves online.
Cyberstalking, Teasing and Bullying
Kids will always be kids, and parents should always take some responsibility in teaching their children how not to get involved in schoolyard antics such as bullying or harming others. Luckily, you don’t need a criminal justice degree to teach them these skills. Good parents know the importance of instilling a healthy sense of confidence in their children, and well-taught children know not to get involved in fights or verbal spats. However, a number of high-profile teen suicides have brought the issue of cyberstalking to the fore.
When children don’t know how to manage their online presence, they may find that others who do are able to do or say mean things about them. Children should learn at an early age how to block content that they don’t want to see, how to keep their privacy settings at high levels, and what information and pictures to keep private. Facebook is a big example of this, children want to get Facebook pages because all the older kids are doing it, but they don’t know what a Facebook page entails. Thus, it is your responsibility to teach your child that:
* Facebook information is public information that anyone in the world can see, unless they make it private.
* Just like as they shouldn’t spend time with people who make them feel uncomfortable, they also shouldn’t “friend” anyone who makes them feel uncomfortable on Facebook.
* Their phone number, address and e-mail shouldn’t be shared on Facebook.
Additionally, children should learn that anything shared online can’t be erased, which is important to consider before typing or sharing anything. The major problem, and one we will come back to again and again, is that the Internet feels like a private experience for a child sitting alone at a computer, but information they share is completely public. Therefore, if a child feels uncomfortable about anything he or she has seen on the Internet, your child should tell you immediately.
Every parent’s fear is that somehow, a sexual predator is masquerading as a child and making friends with their children with the intent to kidnap. This is indeed a serious problem, and young children should be taught not to share any personal information with anyone who is not family. Older children (who may end up sharing information anyway) should be cautioned that there are people in the world who want to hurt them, and to see you as an ally if they find themselves in an uncomfortable situation.
Similarly, if a child meets a friend online and they want to schedule a meeting, one or both parents should go along with the child on the first meeting. At the very least, a child should tell his or her new online friend that their parents will be coming along. If the friend stops contacting the child or expresses a lack of interest, the child should be told to stop contacting this person, as he or she does not have your child’s best interests at heart.
Read up on Government and News about how to Keep Kids Safe
Besides explaining the perils of the Internet to your kids, you should also speak with your child’s teachers about whether or not your children are being taught web-savvy skills in school. A good Web curriculum for kids is vital to their well-being, both from a safety standpoint and from a future jobs standpoint. For instance, if kids post pictures of themselves that they would not want potential employers to see, it could be disastrous in the future. Explain to older children how others have been denied jobs, positions on sports teams or prestigious awards because of pictures, posts or Web sites they have made on the Internet.
Depending on how old your child is, you may chose to give them more Internet privileges as well as more information about the dangers of the Internet. On the other hand, young children should be given strict rules, which can be gradually eased away as they grow older. Ultimately, your will children will be much more effective at policing themselves than you are at policing them, so you need to make it clear that the Internet is more dangerous than it seems. While it is an excellent tool for helping kids do well in school, connect with friends and learn about the world, the Internet is not and should not be a total free-for-all. Unless kids know how to handle the potential perils, they will go through life practicing unsafe behaviors. Just as you teach your children about fire safety, kitchen safety, car safety and sexual safety, Web safety should become an integral part of any child’s education in the 21st century.
About Marie Owens
As a prospective law student in Washington state, Marie Owens is particularly interested in criminal law and gender issues. She writes to promote criminal justice education, and teaches martial arts in her spare time.
Thank you, Marie, for sharing digital parenting tips with CyberSafeFamily readers!
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