Cyberbullying…online predators…identity theft. For many parents, the World Wide Web is a source of fear and anxiety. Yet, in today’s Information Age—and with children who are digital natives—avoidance of digital technologies, social media and cyberspace in general simply isn’t possible or practical.
Here’s the good news: the Internet offers many advantages to students of all ages. It is easier than ever to research any topic or interest, share information, and make connections with people around the world. While the benefits of having so much information at one’s fingertips are many, there are risks and dangers as well, especially for children.
Tip #1: Set limits. Establish house rules about online time. Perhaps you allow 20 minutes immediately after school while your child unwinds from the day and has a snack. Keep a screen-free house once homework time begins and try to maintain a consistent schedule for homework, dinner and bedtime. If your child has a mobile phone, set rules about when the phone gets turned off each night.
Tip #2: Keep the computer in a visible location. It’s easier to monitor the amount of time your child spends on the computer and the type of content that he or she views if you have it in the kitchen or family room and not his or her bedroom.
Tip #3: Be aware of what your child does online. Just as your parents wanted to know where you went and who you spent time with when you were growing up, you should know who your child interacts with online and what types of websites and tools he or she visits and uses. Make it a rule that your child only chat with, instant message, email or talk on Facebook with friends that he or she knows in person.
Tip #4: Use safety settings. Set up parental controls on any computers, tablets or other devices in your home. These controls can help you limit Internet access, messaging, email and other online communication capability as well as the time your child spends on the computer. You also can personalize individual settings for children of different ages. In addition, you can buy Internet filter software such as McAfee Safe Eyes or Net Nanny.
Tip #5 Talk about privacy. Your child needs to understand from an early age that some people on the Internet might pretend to be people who they are not. Talk about the importance of interacting online only with people he or she knows in real life, and never with strangers. Stress to your child that he or she should never share personal information such as his or her full name, address, phone number or password information with anyone online, no matter who they claim to be.
Tip #6: Talk about social media etiquette. Children need to understand what constitutes bullying online: harassment, repeated cruelty or rumor spreading via Facebook or other social media outlets, for example. The rules for treating others with respect and kindness are the same online. If your child ever becomes the target of a bully online via threats or harassment, he or she needs to know that there are ways to remove him or herself from the situation, such as blocking the person and reporting such incidents to a school official.
Perhaps the most important way to mitigate the risks of going online is to communicate frequently with your child. Talk about the risks of giving out information online, spending too much time online and visiting unsafe websites. Make your child aware of the instantaneous nature of spreading information in an era of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Discuss how social media impacts how he or she feels about friendships and him or herself. As with all aspects of parenting, keeping your child safe online requires maintaining an open and honest dialogue.