E-mail, instant messaging and social networks can be downright addictive for adults. Kids are also turning to Internet socializing in record numbers. And although this offers a fun and easy way to make friends and stay in touch, it also brings potential harm right to your child’s computer screen.
Children are vulnerable to manipulation, intimidation and victimization because they lack emotional maturity. If they’re talking online with people they don’t know in real life or if they’re giving out personal information, they’re putting themselves at risk. These risks include exposure to inappropriate material, physical molestation, harassment and bullying, viruses and hackers, and legal/financial risk for you, the parent.
So how can we protect our kids?
Set rules for Internet use and discuss them with your child. Know that kids can readily access the Internet from home, a friend’s house, school, the library, or a café, not to mention from many cell phones. Make sure your child understands that your rules are for his protection, and apply to all instances of Internet usage.
Even though the Internet may be accessed by your child away from home, keep your family computer in a common area and make sure to provide supervision.
Kids often have a false sense of anonymity when using e-mail, instant messaging or chat rooms. They may feel free to expose more of their inner feelings than they would to the same person face-to-face. This transparency leaves them vulnerable to criticism and hurtful remarks from their peers. Make certain your child understands that e-mails can be forwarded, instant messages can be logged and shared, and information shared on a blog or social network is never private.
Ask questions about your child’s online activities. What does he/she like to do online? What are his/her favorite web sites? Who is your child communicating with? Learn the real-life identities for their online friends.
Make sure your child understands that people online are not always who they say they are. Explain that it’s never safe to give out his/her address, phone numbers, or any other identifiable information to someone they don’t know or trust in real-life. This includes not showing photos of or naming their school, their after-school activities, or where they hang out in real-life. Talk with them about the motives of online predators and how they will try to gain their trust, about never meeting in real-life with a person they only know online, and about coming to you if anyone makes them feel uncomfortable online.
Does your child have a MySpace profile or a blog? Ask him/her to show it to you. Set his/her privacy settings so that not everyone can view his profile. Explain how years from now, the college admissions office and his future employer will search for his identity online. What may seem fun to post online now, could easily come back to haunt him. Once it’s online, it’s public information. But more to the point right now, personally identifiable information posted on MySpace or a personal blog is a risk for your child and your family.
Don’t be afraid to seek out the advice and counsel of teachers, librarians, and other parents if you have concerns about your child’s online activities.
All Internet usage carries with it a certain amount of risk, especially for our kids. But by thoughtfully setting rules for its use, discussing the potential for harm, and keeping the lines of communication open with our kids, we can protect our kids from Internet predators.
Thanks to Daddy’s Toolbox for including this post in The Daddy’s Toolbox Carnival.