Online Safety For Kids
The Internet Is A Cool Place For Kids To Hang Out But...
The internet is a cool place to hang out. Games, fan-fiction, videos, forums, online journals; the world is at your fingertips.
However, you need to be aware that dangers exist: online predators, violent images, scams, racist or sexist websites promoting hatred, etc. You're tired of scare-tactics about the internet, because to you, the internet can only be awesome.
Sorry to tell you, but your parents are probably right. Although the internet has many benefits, it also has its flaws. People tell stories about pedophiles luring kids through the internet, because these stories have happened. Having your best interests in mind, your crazy parents want to protect you, so they forbid you from giving out personal information, and from visiting chat rooms.
But being cautious online is not all about not doing this and not doing that. It can actually be quite fun. It's a game of pretend. If you can't give out your real information, what do you do? You give out fake information. You never, ever, reveal your real name. Your age, your gender, your phone number, your address, your school, your picture—don't even think about it. You are someone else online.
For example, you are registering at a new forum. If your name is Jane Smith, you do not type in Jane Smith. You type in Princess Tarantula. If you live in Ohio, say you live in Hawaii, Wisconsin, California, anywhere but Ohio. When the forum asks you to upload a picture of yourself, upload a picture of Snoopy, or Charlie Brown. These little white lies can save your life.
Similarly, when you are chatting with online friends, be Princess Tarantula. If it's snowing outside your house in Ohio, complain about how your parents refuse to turn on the air conditioning, even though you live in Hawaii. You can still act like yourself, but you just have to tweak your personal info a little.
If someone wants to meet Princess Tarantula, he's out of luck. Make up an excuse: your family is leaving for the cottage, so you won't be back until two weeks later. You can also be bluntly honest: you don't meet your online friends, because you can't trust them. Princess Tarantula shouldn't ask to meet her virtual friends either, except through the internet.
When you are browsing the internet, don't believe everything you read. For all you know, other people are pretending, just like you. If someone writes in her online journal that she jumped off a cliff and lived, are you going to believe her? No, absolutely not. Consider everything with a large barrel of salt. This is to ensure that you don't try jumping off a cliff, and don't buy into any scams.
When you receive a message, be it an email or a comment, from a stranger, do not view it. Ask your parent to look at it first. If a friend sends you a message that makes you uncomfortable, talk to a trusted adult immediately.
If you're careful, the internet is an even more awesome space. You have fun, you learn, you make friends, and you don't get hurt. You don't tell the truth and you don't jump off a cliff, because you know better than that.
Keep Your Child Safe By Talking
Internet safety is paramount.
To keep your children safe, many parents restrict internet usage or prohibit it altogether. Others filter out chat rooms. But the key to your child's safety on the internet is communication, before, during, and after internet usage.
Many children don't understand why adults are so worked up about the internet. To them, the internet is just a place to play some fun games, to watch music videos, and to talk to their friends. What's so unsafe about it? It's your job as a parent to help them understand.
Speak with your child about the risks of using the internet. Don't be afraid to scare her; just be clear and honest. She needs to know that predators and cyber bullies exist. If you believe your child is up for it, show her some news reports about children who have gone missing, because of their communications with strangers online. While you should be blunt about potential consequences, you need to be reassuring. Let her know that she can easily prevent these dangers by being careful.
Communication is a two-way street. Do not talk at your child. Talk with her. Listen to her comments and questions. She will only harbour resentment if you simply harp at her about "dangerous people". Ask her questions. Does she use instant messaging programs or chat rooms? Who does she talk to online? Has she had encounters with strangers? Guide her, and let her come to a realization by herself.
It's important to know what your child is doing on the internet. Have her ask for permission every time she wants to go online.
Ask him/her questions such as.
"Why do you want to use the internet?"
"Which websites will you be visiting?
"How long will you be?"
Do not be too pushy, or too insistent. Then you need to decide whether to allow her internet usage this time.
If you believe that her activities will be unsafe, do not yell at her, or give an immediate refusal. She will be unwilling to be honest with you in the future. Calmly explain your point of view. "This website might be unsafe because..." Let her respond. Although you should keep this a discussion, firmly retain the upper hand. You have the final say.
While she surfs the web, periodically check in with her. Do not be too nosy or too suspicious. If she tells you that she is busy at the moment, check in a few minutes later. You do not want to annoy her, and shut off the lines of communication. Casually ask her what she is doing, how she is finding this particular website, etc. Make these check-ins a routine.
Make sure that your child knows that she can talk to you if she has a problem. You want to know about messages from strangers, or nasty emails from classmates. In the end, it's about trust. You need to trust your child to be honest and careful. Your child needs to trust you to be knowledgeable.