Photo Credit: iStock.com
For those of us who grew up waiting for a free phone line, it's hard to fathom the constant state of connectivity and access available to the latest generation of kids. And for parents tasked with establishing boundaries for these digital natives, overseeing their online safety is a major challenge.
A 2013 survey of Canadian kids in Grades 4 through 11 found that:
- Almost all of them (99 per cent) had access to the internet outside of school.
- Cellphones and smartphones were one of the primary devices kids used to access the Internet. More than half of students in Grade 11 said they sleep with their phones, just in case they get a text or call during the night. And a fifth (20 per cent) of Grade 4 students said they do the same.
- A majority (60 per cent) of boys in this age group accessed the internet through gaming consoles. This was far less popular for girls.
- More parental rules correlated with less risky online behaviours.
Regular and open communication
As children mature, their interests — and the devices they use — change. As the parent, you need to inform yourself about online risks and then to set clear boundaries to protect your kids from those risks. Your job as a parent isn’t to teach your kids about technology. But you do need to teach them critical thinking and responsible behaviour when accessing the internet, just as you do in other aspects of their lives.
Open-ended questions are a good place to start. Ask your kids what they do online, what sites they go to, who they talk to, and what information they’ve come across. MediaSmarts offers some great resources for talking with your kids.
Some basics that you need to discuss:
Be a good online citizen. Start talking with your kids early about being respectful and responsible online. Keep your conversations non-judgmental and non-confrontational. Discuss your family values in relation to the acceptable uses of technology.
Set strong passwords for all devices. Strong passwords are at least 8 characters long and have a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols. It’s important to NOT use the same passwords for critical accounts, and to change passwords regularly. And reinforce with your children that they should NEVER share their passwords, not even with their best friends.
Set privacy settings. They should be at the highest possible setting for each site your child is accessing.
Photo Credit: iStock.com
Share with care. Younger children should not post any personal information — including their name, phone number, email address, postal address, school, or photos without consulting with you.
Talk with older children about the information they are posting. Putting personal information online leaves them open to cyberbullying or to people who want to take advantage of them. Social networks (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.) are a great way to connect with other people, but kids need to consider carefully what they post on these sites. Reinforce the message that the internet is FOREVER and that information they post can be shared with ANYONE.
They should consider:
- What does this post reveal? (Avoid posting personal information.)
- Who can see it? (Keep your privacy settings as high as possible.)
- How will this information be perceived now and in the future? (Cultivate a positive online reputation.)
Don’t respond to a bully or try to retaliate. STOP, BLOCK, TELL is a good rule.
Teach your kids to stop communicating with someone who is sending insulting, hurtful or disturbing messages through social networks, emails, videos, and/or text messages. If the messages continue, ask your child to save them and then block that person. Then they need to tell a parent or trusted adult. Cyberbullying can have tragic outcomes for the bullied and serious legal consequences for the bullier.
Think before you click. Kids should never click links in messages from people they don’t know or in messages that look suspicious. And they should not download files to their phones or computers unless they are absolutely sure they’re safe.
Photo Credit: iStock.com
Be wary. Young children should not get together with anyone they "meet" online without a parent being involved. And teens should be wary. The person they think they’re talking to online may not always be who they say they are. If the person asks for personal information or makes them uncomfortable, they need to come to you or another trusted adult.
Inform yourself. As parents, it can be difficult to keep up, but just as you want to know where your kids are in their offline lives, you should know where they go in their online lives. As noted earlier, open communication with your children is your best route to finding out what they’re up to. But having good information goes a long way. Here are some good resources:
Government of Canada: Get Cyber Safe
Canadian Centre for Child Protection
Need Help Now
Be a role model. Use your own online behavior as a role model for your kids. Model good manners and avoid over sharing about your family life.
Learn about your own digital identity. In what’s been called the “privacy paradox” we love the convenience of having online access, but in doing so we give up personal privacy. Do you know where and how your data is being used? Work through the Privacy Paradox challenges…you may be surprised at what you learn.