The good news is that you already know a great deal about keeping your children safe, and it’s easy to apply that knowledge in the online world. (Keep in mind, too, that the majority of people online are as good and well-intentioned as you are.)
So, read on for advice about how to help your child stay safe online, warning signs that he or she may be at risk, and what to do if you suspect your child is communicating with a predator.
Learn how to use the tools your kids are using-blogs, e-mail, instant messaging, and so on. If this seems overwhelming, its a great opportunity to ask your kids to show you how they work. Let them help you to set up your own blog, get started with instant messaging, play with searches, or teach you whatever it is you don’t yet know how to do.
Once you’ve got a sense of how the tools and services work, evaluate them for safety. For example, consider these questions:
- Does the service easily allow you to report abuse?
- Does the service provide clear instructions for how to be safe?
- Are there a range of options that let you make your information as private-or as public-as you like? For example, can you control the privacy of your blog, or specify who can see your instant message contact information?
- Familiarize yourself with the info on this Web site. Take time to practice spotting the risks.
- Check out other great resources like http://www.netsmartz.org/, http://www.wiredsafety.com/, and http://staysafe.org/.
Fortunately, youth have a basic sense of self preservation most of the time. They don’t want to be had or ripped off or abused by some scammer, thief, or predator. When they realize their actions may place not only themselves, but their family members or friends at risk, they pay considerable attention.
So use the following tips as guidelines to help your kids have fun on the Internet-safely.
- Talk to your child about potential risks online through their computer, game console and cell phone. (To get up to speed on the risks of gaming, read Chapter 13, “Use Common Sense When Gaming with Others” in Look Both Ways.
- Spend time online with your children. See where they surf; understand their interests.
- Keep the computer (and Xbox) in a central location such as the family room or kitchen.
- Check out and use family safety software (parental controls) to help monitor, manage, or even block your kids’ Internet use.
- Make it clear that together you will randomly check their communications and blogs to help ensure that their safety and the family’s safety is not at risk
- Check out the safeguards on other computers your child uses-at his or her school, the public library, and the homes of your child’s friends.
- Teach children and youth the basics of online safety. Set clear usage guidelines and consequences if the rules are broken. You might find an Internet Safety Contract for Families helpful in setting these boundaries.
- Never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they met online.
- Never post pictures of themselves to people they do not personally know.
- Never give out identifying information such as address or phone number.
- Never download pictures from an unknown source as there is a good chance they will be sexually explicit.
- Never respond to messages or bulletin board postings that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, or harassing.
- Be suspicious of information you see online-it may or may not be true.