It has become very easy to take the internet for granted. We can have any information that we need at our fingertips within moments. We can check the weather forecast, traffic updates, find directions, check our bank balances, check in on friends and family and so much more.
The internet has many great things going for it that makes everyday chores simple but it also has its dark side. Things can be said using online chats without the receiver ever truly knowing who is behind the screen.
We are raising a generation of children that have not known a world without the web and all that it entails, and young people use the internet for a number of reasons that are foreign to their parents. We want to take this time to look at how how you can keep your kids safe while they negotiate the many twists and turns of a life lived online.
You need to help your kids become more aware of what can actually go on behind those screens. There are three main points that any child should learn about the internet which are as follows:
- People are not always who they say they are. Nobody, especially kids, should ever accept a friend request from somebody unless they are 100% sure that that person is who they say they are. Just because they have said they are a “friend of a brother” does not mean that it’s true. Your child needs to understand how to try and catch some of these people out also. Suggest to your child that, if somebody is claiming to be a school friend and they wish to interact with them, they should first confirm who teaches them Math, what book they last discussed in English, what color the chairs in the study hall are, or any other question that nobody else would know the answer to except that friend.
- Nothing that is posted on the internet is temporary, it is permanent. It doesn’t matter if it is a sentence, a photo, a video, or anything else, once it has been posted it isn’t going anywhere. Guess what? Delete it all you want but the data is still in the system. Teach your child that they should never share anything on the internet that they would not want to be shown to anybody other than the recipient because they cannot guarantee that this will be the case.
- They should also understand that they should never reveal any personal information on the internet, such as addresses, telephone numbers or passwords.
Internet Browsing Safety
The internet is like a labyrinth, you turn one corner and there is a whole bunch of information, turn another and there is yet even more. The problem with so much information is that not all of it is going to be child-friendly. There are however steps that you can take as a parent to prevent any inappropriate material being found by your child by making the correct choice of browser. This link summarizes the many options available to you, and how you can apply filters that prevent young people from stumbling across anything not intended for their eyes.
Social Media Safety
There are so many social media platforms nowadays and new ones are popping up all the times. Many of these don’t last too long but there are four social media platforms that are popular and won’t be going anywhere in a hurry. These are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.
The first rule we would strongly recommend is that you insist that your child shares their password with you so that you can monitor their interactions. Once you have this information, look into each website in turn.
Twitter is arguably the most difficult platform of all to police as a parent as there are no restrictions upon who can contact your child. In theory a user must be 13 years old to open an account but there are no checks in place when this process is completed. What’s more, Twitter is rife with parody accounts and imitators, many of which post offensive content (both language and images). This leaves young people at risk – they could follow an account that they believe belongs to their favorite celebrity, but is instead the cyber-playground of a sinister individual looking for attention from the vulnerable.
Thankfully you can prevent your child from coming into contact with this material, but some respects you’ll have to know your enemy. Any Twitter account can see particular words, phrases and hashtags muted, meaning that they will never appear in your child’s timeline – an action you can take as prevention rather than cure. Requests to follow your child can be set to require approval or declination – though, again, you’ll need to be vigilantly following the account to be on top of this. It is advisable that you learn how to block users, too. This will prevent your child from accessing their profile, and will stop users from contacting your child. Finally, scan through the profiles that your child follows – if any claim to belong to somebody in the public eye such as an actor, pop star or sportsperson but lack the blue tick that denotes verification, consider blocking them from your child’s profile.
Facebook, as the most well-established social media presence on the web, is a little bit easier to monitor for parents. I am pretty sure you most probably even have an account yourself which means that you know that individuals must exchange friend requests in order to interact. Most Facebook interactions also take place on a public wall, meaning that they are easy to monitor – but do be vigilant about the private Messenger service, especially if your child uses a smartphone; this is worth keeping an eye on. Overall, however, Facebook does apply strict community standards that largely prevent inappropriate material from appearing in your child’s newsfeed.
Instagram is relatively harmless compared to some platforms. The site revolves around the regular exchange of photographs, allowing follows of an account comment below, and it’s no secret that young people love selfies! Keep an eye on your child’s account, and ensure that they’re not posting any photographs that they may regret but the community at Instagram is largely friendly.
Finally we have Snapchat which is hugely popular with teenagers and young people. What happens is that one person sends a “Snapchat” message or image which then goes to the recipients and is deleted almost immediately after they have been read. Anybody can send a message to your child if they know their username, and unless you deactivate the GPS, anybody can see where your young person is located.
Smartphone and Tablet Safety
When I was growing up, our family had one computer in a communal area and that was it. Gone are those days. Now almost everybody has a smartphone and/or a tablet.
No matter what the device, they do come with parental control features that can better ensure that your kids stay safe while online. As they are different depending on the device, your best bet is to go searching through the settings of the device which should allow you to filter out access to inappropriate apps and features.
It may also be worth establishing some ground rules with your children about how and when they use their smartphone to access the internet. It’s probably advisable to have a rule that forbids the use of electronics at bedtime (or even in the bedroom), keeping all phones and tablets on a tall shelf after dark.
Learning to Speak Internet?
The use of slang terms online changes almost as often as the British weather, and if you’re going to monitor you child’s interactions on the internet you’ll need to know what the countless acronyms actually mean. This link provides a list of the fifty most popular internet acronyms used today, but it is not entirely definitive. Some of the more concerning communications that any parent should be fully aware of include the following:
- 4YEO FYEO – For Your Eyes Only
- 99 – Parent Gone
- GNOC – Get Naked on Camera
- KPC – Keeping Parents Clueless
- MIRL – Let’s Meet in Real Life
- NSFW – Not Safe for Work (which doubles up as a general warning for any content that would be inappropriate for a child)
- PIR – Parent in Room
- TDTM – Talk Dirty to Me
- WTTP – Want to Trade Pictures?
Trolling and Cyber-Bullying
Trolling online is sadly a part of everyday life on the internet. Sometimes it takes harmless forms, such as people deliberately annoying enthusiasts of cult television shows or movies (honestly, ask a Star Wars fan if Darth Vader is Captain Kirk’s father and watch their head explode), but children are at risk of considerably more sinister cyber-bullying.
Unlike conventional playground bullying, which can still be utterly horrifying for a child but can at least be left behind at the school gates, cyber-bullying can continue on all forms of social media and beyond. It’s easy to say, “just log off”, but why should you child be forced to stop interacting with friends and loved ones because of the behavior of bullies and trolls?
Stomp Out Bullying is an online authority of all things related to harassment, be that online or off. If your child is displaying signs of being bullied online, such as withdrawing from interaction or growing depressed and anxious, it should be taken just as seriously as ‘real world’ bullying. Make sure you are aware of who the perpetrators are, and take the appropriate action – whether that is discussing the matter with their parents, or reporting their actions to website administrators – or even the police. Certain types of trolling are now illegal in a number of countries.
What to Watch Out For
There are certain behaviors that you can be aware of regarding your child’s use of the internet. Taken in isolation they are not necessarily warning signs, but if they are accompanied by other shifts in attitude then be vigilant.
One thing to consider is whether your child is going out of their way to get online at a particular time each day, and being secretive about why this is. It’s one thing if they play Call of Duty every Tuesday night with friends, but if they seem particularly keen to get on the web for private time and grow upset or frustrated when unable to do so, they could be communicating with a dangerous individual.
Terrifying fads also appear online from time to time, the most recent of which being the Blue Whale craze – a ‘game’ that encouraged teens and young people to commit suicide as the apex of a list of increasingly outlandish challenges.
The internet can be a wonderful place. Just imagine if one of your ancestors was to appear before you now and asked what the magic box in your hand does – you will surprise yourself at just how much good can be achieved. However, like anything it can be exploited, and young people are always at the highest risk of such exposure. Be vigilant about how your children are interacting online – and who with – and your entire family can enjoy a beneficial relationship with the world wide web.
Safely Raising Children in an Online World
I received an email from a reader after publishing this post who shared a link with me concerning online safety for children that I wanted to also share here. You can find the article at the following link:
Top 10 Tips for Online Safety
1. Don’t Panic. The web is great for entertainment and education.
2. Be practical by keeping the computer in a common room so you can see what’s going on.
3. Encourage your kids to use modern technology. Ask teachers what they’re using in your child’s school.
4. Learn it yourself to better guide their choices toward beneficial sites and away from Facebook or Snapchat.
5. Use Parental Control tools.
6. Investigate protective software such as Cyberpatrol.com, McAfee, and Norton, but know that using other computers can always sidestep your control.
7. Monitor their cell phones, too, just as you would with a computer. Many children are bullied by text messages or phone calls.
8. Protect your child’s privacy by strictly limiting the personal info you make public when signing up to a website. Have your children use aliases, and never reveal too much to strangers online. Facebook, especially, is reckless with user’s personal info.
9. Watch for adult predators. Children can be ‘groomed’ online by clever adult perverts. Watch for suspicious online behavior.
10. Finally, be realistic. Remember that prohibition won’t work. Your children will use computers elsewhere. Teach your children how to benefit – safely – from the Internet.
- eSafety Guide for Parents and Carers
- NSPCC Online Safety Guide
- UK Government Online Safety Guide
- Safety Net Kids
- Get Safe Online
- Free Parental Control Software
- Internet Acronyms
- Internet Matters
- Stomp Out Bullying