The other month my 7 year old informed me that he had his own You Tube channel. When I say I was gobsmacked, that was an understatement. I wasn’t aware of it at all, and I was annoyed at myself for not noticing. I felt like the worst mother ever! I had all sorts of thoughts of what he had on it, when he was recording it, was he talking to anyone and if there was any personal stuff going on in the background and more the fact, that all along, I was thinking he was playing away on games while I was pottering around the house. Thankfully there wasn’t much on it, as it was just a channel with his daily ramblings.
There were a couple of idiotic comments from people, nothing derogatory, luckily enough but however I did notice though that some of the vocabulary being used was a little advanced which was quite worrying. I also showed him how to block people if there were any bad comments. It did get me thinking however of the safety of the internet. When I first joined Facebook, for example, I had all sorts of creeps annoying me. One guy was sending pictures of him and his mother to me. Another offered me a car so I said “Yes, that would be nice” and gave him a PO box number to post it over to me. Thankfully I discovered the block button. As parents, it’s not a nice thought of children being exposed to that, so what we can do to keep our children safe?
Social media sites make it infinitely easier to communicate with other people and to share your life with the world. It is one of the best and most frequently used information tools in the world, making research and learning substantially easier. School curriculum’s across the developed world are taking this into consideration and using it to think of new ways to keep children interested. This is an era where too many kids prefer staying indoors and playing video games or surfing the internet to going outside and playing in the neighbourhood, where infants learn how to work a smartphone or tablet before they learn to talk. It is an era of technology, something that parents cannot ignore. However, the internet is also riddled with dangers for people, especially for younger children. As such, it is important that we as parents teach them how to safely use this fun and educational tool.
One of the most important things to keeping your child safe from predators on the internet is to be open with them. The children who are most vulnerable to online predators are usually those who do not have a good relationship with an adult they can trust and are already troubled. Establishing a good, trusting relationship is key so that they feel welcome to come to you with any concerns they may have. Be frank with them and talk to them about the dangerous and bad things they can find on the internet. Give them an idea of what is inappropriate and what is not, what is safe to do and what is not, so they are not confused if confronted with such a situation.
Make sure your child knows that they are accountable to you about their internet activities. Do not create an environment conducive to secrecy and privacy. Keep the computer in a communal room, such as the living room, so you can always check on them if need be. Do not give them access to the internet in their bedrooms, unless you can monitor and control their usage through your Internet Service Provider. Impress upon them the need to come to you if they are approached by someone they don’t know, if they are harassed, or if they see inappropriate content.
If your kids start becoming more secretive, an alarm should go off in your head. If they shut a window or the device when you come into the room or approach them, ask them to show you what they were doing. If they start becoming distant from the rest of the family, spend inordinate amounts of time on the internet, or you see behavioural changes that are out of the ordinary, start keeping a closer eye on them.
Give children a list of things they should not be doing on the internet. Be clear about the rules for using the internet. Make sure they know how important it is not to give out personal information on the internet. Furthermore, instruct them not to open emails from people they don’t know, especially not without you present. Forbid them from opening any links or attachments from people that they do not personally know, or if the email or link looks fishy. When setting up the email and/or social media account, set the privacy settings yourself to the strictest possible, and keep a tab on their passwords. If possible, and especially with younger children, either have them use your account or set up one that you know all of the information to and can access easily.
If your children like to game online, make sure that they only use those websites which do not require personal information, or where they can use anonymous usernames. Advise them not to open the links that appear on the sides of the pages and in advertisements.
Privacy is one of the biggest growing concerns in a world where it is practically impossible to wipe something once it has been put on the internet. People save pictures and documents, take screenshots of them, and some websites never completely delete your digital prints. Your children should be alerted to these security issues, and told not to share any personal information whatsoever on the internet without your permission. They should never share their pictures, names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, or anything else private on the internet, especially not on a public platform and to people they do not know. They should know that no matter how many privacy settings they have, nothing is ever really private on social media.
Your children should be aware of what cyber-bullying is, and how to respond to it. Teach them how people and things on the internet are not always trustworthy, and that the stranger they are talking to might not be a child. If someone sends them offending, hurtful, or disturbing messages or images, make sure that they do not respond, block them, and inform you.
There are some things that you can do as well to protect your young children. Contact you Internet Service provider about setting up filters, or for a list of unsafe sites. If that is not an option, install parental block software on the browser so that you can control what content they can and cannot access, and vice versa. Filter settings on streaming sites such as YouTube, to restrict the results of searches. Make sure location services are off, and that you go through the internet history every few days to keep track of their browsing habits.
Internet safety is a growing concern in a world where it is almost impossible to live without some degree of access to it. To keep your children in touch with the world and technology, but while also keeping them safe, you should be sure to practice internet safety with them.
By Denise McCabe