Imagine you are going out of town for a day. You leave your child home alone. You tell him or her before you leave: have a party, invite anyone you want, in fact – just leave the doors open. It is a nice opportunity to meet new people! TV and adult channels are at your disposal. Have fun!
Grotesque nonsense, isn’t it? Meanwhile, by granting your child an unrestricted access to the Internet, you do almost the same. We teach our kids basic safety – how to use matches, how to handle sharp object, how to cross the street, etc. When it comes to the digital world, we must do the same before we give them any smart device of their own or let them use family-owned computer. Online is where children play, learn and build friendships today. They must know how to do it safely.
If your children are old enough to have an account in any of the social networks, make sure it is set on “private”. Most of the time, new accounts are public by default. Kids may insist on leaving them that way because they want to gain popularity and additional exposure. In fact, often that is their primary goal of having an account in the first place.
Tell them about the dark side of such openness (they expose themselves not only to potential fans and followers but also to criminals, cyberbullies, stalkers and other unwelcome characters). Your children must also promise never to share any private information online (their address, phone number, names and positions of their parents and other identifying details).
In-person meetings with anyone they only know online is a very bad idea. Your children must never arrange such a meeting without first checking with you. The Internet can be a good place to find new friends. Various communities connect people from all over the world based on common interests or shared challenges. Unfortunately, not everyone out there is honest about their intentions, whereas children can be extremely trusting and naïve.
Predators and cyberbullies use false identities to gain their trust. Teach your children to look for the red flags, such as requests to keep the communication secret, personal questions, and refusal to use video chat. If someone online makes them feel uncomfortable of acts suspicious, they must tell you immediately.
3.Agree that your children should ask your permission before downloading any content or installing any software. First, it is dangerous. Recent years have witnessed a surge in malware and ransomware activity. Second, games, movies and other content, even if they come from the official stores must be age-appropriate, so your approval is necessary.
Make sure your children understand that digital is forever. Each silly joke, each regretful photo, each thoughtless comment – everything. They must be mindful and cautious about things they share (or forward) online.
They surely do not care much about their future employer googling them – at least, not yet. However, you may drop a hint, that years forward they might find such things embarrassing (sometimes regret comes as early as the next day).
This one must be written in huge burning letters: absolutely no sexing. It is illegal. If your child is under 18, taking explicit pictures of themselves is a production of child pornography, sending them is distribution. Children and teens must understand the implications.
Even if there are milder laws in your state, there is still a risk of devastating consequences. Once the picture is out there, they have no control over it. They can never be sure that the photo will not leak somehow to reemerge when they least expect it. Slut-shaming and bullying that follows can ruin their life.
They should allow you to monitor their online activities. You may ask them for their account credentials or install parental control software on their device (you should also know how to set parental controls on ipad). This enables you to block inappropriate content and prevent any disturbing developments, such as cyberbullying, sexting or grooming.
Furthermore, children are more likely to feel confident and secure, if they know their parents monitor them online, according to a study conducted by CNN for their Special Report "#Being13: Inside the Secret World of Teens". They are also less likely to bully others and engage in conflict and risky behavior.
The last, but not the least. Teach your children respect for anyone they meet on the Internet. Sometimes we only go online to be someone else, to play pretend. To be better, then we are. Sometimes, to be worse. Our contacts may be as anonymous as we are, however, we must never forget that there is always a living person behind any nickname.
This person has feelings, and words can hurt them. Make sure your children understand that. Teach them to be nice online. Often on the Internet, kids say hurtful things they would never say to someone in their face. Explain that mean words may become the last straw for someone, who is already depressed or upset.