As a parent or guardian, you are the gatekeeper of the home. The ultimate goal of any “Internet safety tips” are not just to protect your kids but to train them to eventually live as responsible young adults in an online world. Kids need to know not just what is wise and unwise, but why.
1. People can be cruel, so stand up for others.
Studies show that about a third of teens have been targets of a range of annoying or potentially menacing online activities. Moreover, 88% of social media-using teens say they have seen someone being mean or cruel to another person on a social network site. This could include spreading rumors, rude comments, or posting embarrassing photos. Many have called this “cyberbullying.”
Parental involvement and school programs can only go so far to prevent bullying online. Sameer Hinduja of the Cyberbullying Research Center states:
Bystanders have a humongous role to play. […] Maybe you aren’t the victim or the target, and maybe you aren’t the offender, but I promise you, you talk to any teenager, and yes, they’ve seen this happen at their school amongst people that they know. […] I think bystanders absolutely can be heroes because they’re coming to the rescue of their friends.
Teach your kids to be the hero online and stand up for others when they see abusive words or harsh comments.
2. People can be persistently cruel, so tell an adult.
When your kids see others being abusive or cruel online, or when they are the target for cruelty, usually just ignoring the bully is best. Don’t give the bully the satisfaction of having annoyed you. But if the bullying is particularly menacing or habitual, it is time to tell the right adults. Tell parents, teachers, or school administrators. Alert those who host or manage the websites where the abuse is taking place.
3. Nakedness is meant to be a private thing.
From childhood to the teenage years, children should be taught that though the human body is a beautiful and often alluring thing, nakedness is meant to be private. The online world is a place the human body is often flaunted for the purpose of alluring others, so children should be on guard about this.
- If a child sees pornography or other sexual content, they should be told that such images dishonor the people in the images. No one benefits when sex is on-tap all the time. The women and men in those images are being treated like products, not people. By making these photos available for everyone to see, it only cheapens the goodness of sex.
- A child or teen should never treat themselves this way, sending or posting provocative photos of themselves. As many as 30% of older teens have has sexual images sent to them (called “sexting”). Teens should be taught to honor their own sexuality by not making themselves a commodity for others.
4. Don’t look to online friends for validation.
People do all kinds of things online to get attention. Nearly three quarters of teen girls agree that “most girls my age use social networking sites to make themselves look cooler than they really are,” and 41% admit this describes them. Some post videos of themselves on YouTube asking random strangers if they are pretty, or they will post questions on Formspring to receive anonymous replies.
Those with low self-esteem are far more likely to put more stock in their online image, so as parents, we should help our children be self-aware. While teenage insecurities are as normal as the day is long, we should help our children see the fruitlessness of validation from thousands of online spectators, and worse, how easily these spectators can turn vicious.
5. Don’t trust online resources for research.
While the Internet is a great source for quick-and-easy answers to questions, when doing research for something formal (like a school report), Internet sources should be approached with skepticism. Parents should tell their kids to use the Internet as a place to search for valuable and credible sources.
6. People can be dishonest, so be cautious.
Kids need a reminder that the “don’t talk to strangers” rule applies as much online as offline. Young children should avoid putting personal information online like phone numbers, real names, or home addresses. Teens often post this information, and parents should make sure their teen understands and uses the built-in privacy settings for any given website.
For younger children, screen names should not be a child’s real name, and passwords should never be shared.
There are many Internet predators online, but for most of them their targets are young girls or boys who are willing to have sexual conversations online. Parents should teach their children that it is fun to meet new people online, but not everyone is who they claim to be. They should approach any stranger with skepticism and remember to never engage in sexual questions, sexual chat, or exchange sexual images online. They should also never agree to meet offline with someone they met online.
7. Programs can be malicious, so ask permission.
Thousands of viruses and malware programs can be accidentally accessed online. Parents should inform their children that these exist and to never download new programs they haven’t spoken to their parents about first.
8. Time online should be fun, informative, and purposeful.
It is important that you communicate to your children that the Internet is a place for recreation, connection, and learning. But it is possible to have too much of a good thing. It is easy to let time online slip away. Over 11% of teens can be classified as “hyper-networkers,” spending more than three hours a day on social networks. In some studies, more time online is a predictor of depression.
Parents should monitor the amount of time kids spend online and set appropriate limits. Encourage children to be social and creative in other ways and model for them using the Internet purposefully—with intention.
9. Websites and games can have bad content, just like movies and TV.
There are thousands of great age-appropriate sites for young children. Parents should locate some favorites and bookmark them for their children.
Most social networks, however, have age restrictions for a reason. Unfortunately, many parents are either unaware or unconcerned about these restrictions and allow their children to have accounts.
Parents should consider getting an age-based monitoring and filtering program for all their devices. Covenant Eyes rates every website for its content and applies an age-based rating, like T for Teen or M for Mature—similar to movie ratings or video game ratings.
10. We monitor everything because we want to watch each other’s back.
Most importantly, parents need to model transparency and openness about Internet use in the home. Children should grow up in an environment where Internet-time is not private time—for parents or kids.
“For parents, the answer is to create a new culture in the home—a culture of accountability. Simply put, it means that you can—and should—give an account of your actions (including the websites you visit and the search terms you use) to someone else. Kids should be accountable to their parents. Husbands should be accountable to their wives and vice versa. (Even better, a man should also be accountable to another male friend or mentor.)”
Photo credit: 15216811@N06