The most important thing you can do as a parent is to have an honest conversation with your child about online safety.
You don’t have to explicitly talk about online predators. But make sure your child understands that not everyone online is who they say they are.
Come up with a set of agreements about what your child will or won’t do online. For they can browse informational websites like Wikipedia, but they agree to never talk about personal details with a stranger.
Is Your Child Blogging?
A lot of kids like to keep journals on sites like Xanga, LiveJournal or MySpace. More tech-savvy kids might even have their own blogger blogs setup.
Is this dangerous? As long as they’re not sharing personal details, they’re probably safe. The most important thing as a parent is that you know what their blog address is and check it regularly to make sure nothing dangerous is being posted.
If they’re just posting about their new favorite music or their current feelings about classes, they’re probably fine.
If they’re posting personally identifying information or appear to be developing personal connections with people commenting on their blog that aren’t their friends in person, then you might want to have a chat with your child.
Facebook is today’s largest social network by far with over 600 million users. MySpace is not nearly as popular as it used to be, but still has a considerable following among kids and teens who are more music-oriented.
Then there are smaller, more specific social networks like DeviantArt, which caters specifically to artists, a lot of whom tend to be teens.
The danger of social networks comes primarily from how easy it is for people to get to know your child if they manage to make an initial connection.
If someone gets in your child’s “friend” network, the social network makes it easy for them to come into contact again and again.
The most important thing you can do is to have a talk with your child about who to accept and who not to accept as a friend on social networks. As a rule, they should only accept friend relationships from people they know and not strangers.
You should also be a friend of your child on whatever social networks they’re on. This will allow you to check on exactly how your child is doing at any given time.
Yet another place where your child could be exposed to unsavory characters are online message boards.
These message boards can span a wide range of topics, from gaming and comics to even homework and math.
The benefit of message boards however is that they’re usually open and very easy to track. Just open to History window in your web browser to see the message board posts that your child was viewing.
If your child is being exposed to message board posts of a questionable nature, it’s not difficult to find out. Once you do find out, then you should either have a conversation with your child about that message board, or consider blocking the message board all together.
Cyber bullies aren’t out there to take advantage of your child – They’re just out there to hurt your child.
Often time’s cyber bullies are actually people your child knows in person. They could be kids from school or the neighborhood who either have a grudge against your child, or just feel like they’re an easy target.
Cyber bullying can sometimes be very difficult to stop from a technical perspective. They can range from people putting up websites voting about “who’s the fattest kid in class” to derogative emails and text messages.
The two most important things you can do as a parent are: 1) Be attentive enough to know if your child is being bullied. And 2) If they are being bullied, to make sure they really, truly understand that the things being said about them are not true.
In addition, try to find out who the bullies are. If you can find out who they are, take steps with the kids’ parents or the school’s dean to end the bullying.
In addition to internet dangers, there’s one other digital danger parents should be aware of: Cell phones.
There are a few things that parents should be on the lookout for on cell phones:
- Others sending sexually explicit text messages or images to your child’s phone.
- Others using anonymous text messages to send bullying and derogatory messages to your child’s phone.
- Your child “sexting” pictures of themselves to others.
What can you do about these situations?
First, have an agreement with your child that if they ever receive derogatory, insulting, hurtful or sexual text messages from people they don’t know that they tell you right away.
If you know your child is getting unwanted text messages, you can either block the phone numbers they’re coming from by calling your carrier, or change the phone number if you really need to.
On the other hand, older kids who are “sexting” of their own accord can be much trickier to deal with.
Some parents choose to monitor their child’s phone on a sporadic basis. This works if it’s set up as a condition of them having a phone. But if you institute the policy after they’ve had a phone for a while, your child will likely view it as a violation of privacy.
Another option is to talk to your phone carrier about safety options they have. Many modern phone carriers have options for parents to screen for sexual texts or even monitor all their child’s texts. Call your phone carrier to hear about your child safety options.
These are some of the more common online safety issues you should be aware of as a parent. Letting your child go online can be great for their intellectual and social growth, but you’ve got to make sure you keep your child safe.