parenting

Online Behavior: Tips for Keeping Kids Safe on the Internet

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Mom with daughter on a laptop Parenting teens in this technological age can be a real challenge. While the Internet can be an extremely useful learning tool for our children, it is not without its dangers. As parents, it’s critical to be aware of your children’s online behavior – and most importantly with whom they are engaging. You may have a lot to learn, as more than 64 percent of teens online admit they engage in behavior they wouldn’t want their parents to know about.

With June being Internet Safety month, it’s the perfect time for parents to review their strategy for protecting their kids from the dangers of the Internet.

Internet Safety Tips

Here are some easy Internet safety tips you can implement today:

Get the computer out of their rooms.

Have a desktop computer set up in a centralized area of the house like a living room. This way you are better able to physically monitor their online activities and can restrict late-night use. If your child has a laptop or cell phone with Internet access, have them hand it over to you before going to bed at night.

Install filtering software and consider monitoring software.

Filtering software is a must-have, as it will help to block inappropriate content that your child may purposefully or accidentally stumble upon. Monitoring software is another option, especially for parents whose children have given them cause for concern. It allows a parent to track their child’s online activities, become aware of sites they are visiting and with whom they are conversing. While these can both be helpful tools, they are not replacements for the watchful eye of a parent and many tech-savvy teens can get around these road blocks.

Keep rules age-appropriate.

Young children, ideally those age 10 and under, should always be closely supervised while they use the computer and their use should be restricted to sites that you have visited and approved. They should understand it is against the rules to share personal information with anyone they encounter online, including their real name, address, phone number or passwords.  Use pop-up blockers to protect against offensive pop-up windows and teach them to never download anything without your permission. As children reach their tween and teen years, they will want more freedom and privacy. No matter how much they push back, remember that you must continue to monitor and set rules while also teaching them to behave responsibly and exercise good judgment while online.

Know the signs of cyber-bullying and be prepared to take action.

Cyber-bullying is a very real concern for parents of children and teens today. Few children who are being cyber-bullied reach out and tell an adult in their lives. Therefore, as a parent, it is important to know the signs and continue to encourage your child to always come to you if they need help. Some signs that your child may be getting bullied online include:

  • Appearing sad, moody, or anxious
  • Avoiding school
  • Withdrawing from or showing a lack of interest in social activities
  • Experiencing a drop in grades or decline in academic performance
  • Appearing upset after using the computer or being online
  • Appearing upset after viewing a text message on a cell phone

If your child is exhibiting any of these signs, talk to them about your concerns. Make sure your child knows not to retaliate, to save the evidence, and to ask for help if he or she is having difficulties. If the cyber-bully is unknown, ask your Internet service provider for help in identifying them. For more helpful tips on addressing cyber-bullying, visit http://csriu.org/cyberbully/.

Talk about social networking safety.

It’s important for parents to have open and regular conversations with their children about a host of issues they may be facing, from drug and alcohol use to developing healthy coping skills to deal with life’s stresses. How to stay safe on the Internet is one among many important conversations. For teens old enough to create a profile on social networking sites like Facebook, teach them that:

  • Nothing on the Internet is private
  • Since people are not always whom they say they are, be careful about adding strangers to your Friends List
  • Social networking sites are for socializing with existing friends, not for making new ones
  • Harassment, hate speech and inappropriate content should be reported
  • Don’t post anything that would embarrass you later
  • Don’t mislead people into believing you are older or younger than you are

Consider signing an Internet safety contract with your child.

Sitting down with your child and coming up with a list of acceptable online behaviors and consequences for violating them will show just how seriously you take their safety. Some sample rules could be to never share their passwords with anyone other than parents and to not exceed a set number of hours per day online, ideally two. Consequences should match the violation, and may include restricting computer access to anything other than homework use for a certain length of time.

This day and age, it’s inevitable that your child will use the Internet for both social and educational activities. As parents, we can be smart and protect our children from being led down a dangerous path online.

How do you keep your kid safe while he/she spends time on the Internet? What rules do you set and why?

Image courtesy sheknows.com

Christine Storm is a Regional Coordinator of Student Assistance programs for Caron Treatment Centers (www.caronsap.org). She is responsible for ensuring that quality education, prevention and intervention services are provided to school systems and youth agencies throughout the Philadelphia and Washington D.C. regions. 

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