There was a time about 10 years ago when my eldest daughter was eight years old and innocently chatting on the Internet with someone who had a site with all sorts of G-rated jokes. She was laughing and giddy about the chat conversation she was having. My daughter innocently disclosed the fact that she was not chatting with a friend but rather some unknown person.
This experience taught me a huge lesson. I decided to teach all three of my children how to safely surf the Internet and proper use of social media rather than banning or prohibiting them from being on line and using apps like Facebook.
By talking to experts, including Larry Magid of ConnectSafely and reading multiple online safety sites I learned that Internet safety is not about putting up barriers or parental controls. Internet safety is teaching children how to stay safe and avoid the potential dangers just like teaching them about the potential danger of drowning if they don't know how to swim. After all, would you prohibit your children of the years of fun they will have going to the ocean or attending swim parties because you fear they might drown? Or do you take them to swimming classes and teach them how to become pool and water safe? And just like you would continue to monitor them in the pool when they are younger, you have to continually supervise their Internet use by keeping the computer in the family room.
For a full list of safety tips including tips for smart video gaming, virtual world safety tips, tips for strong and secure passwords, tips to prevent sexting, social web tips for teens, go to ConnectSafely and click on "Safety Tips & Advice." It will be well worth your time.
Here are a few of the key tips I took away:Banning the Internet is not the answer to online safety. Instead, teach your children to be safe when they are online. It is no different than teaching them to be water/pool safe or to safely cross a busy intersection or to safely drive a car. Teach them there are rules to follow to avoid drowning in the World Wide Web.
Teach your teens how to safely use Facebook (the Number One social media app). Explain how to limit access to their content and put security and privacy measures in place. Check out this Parent's Guidebook to Facebook to educate yourself and your young users. When Facebook is used properly the way it was intended it can be a very engaging and worthwhile tool. You may even reconnect with friends from your past with Facebook. Be sure your children understand that you will monitor their use of Facebook and be "friends" with them.
Your teens are of age to educate them about cyber bullying. When it was in the local news a year ago we discussed this important issue with all three of my daughters and asked them what they could have done to help a classmate or friend in need. Ridicule is something that happens whether the Internet is involved or not. But the Internet can make the information and bullying more accessible and cruel. Teach your teens to come to you when they encounter any form of cyber bullying. Keep an open line of communication so they feel free to come to you and discuss any internet issue.
Whether your teen is dating or not it is extremely important to teach them the ramifications of "Sexting." The statistics are cause for alarm. I was shocked when a classmate of my twelve year old daughter sent a nude photo of herself to a boy. Within a day nearly the entire seventh grade got a copy or knew of the image. My husband and I took this opportunity to discuss this in a manner that was not threatening but informative. Not only is it difficult to get rid of such content once it's out there, but there are legal concerns that vary by jurisdiction. The boy who originally received the nude photo ended up having legal action taken because by forwarding it he became a perpetrator of underage pornography. It should never have forwarded by anyone. Teach your child never to respond, forward or become involved in any sext message or lewd email they receive.
The most important lesson I learned was to create an atmosphere of respect and open dialogue with my children. I show them trust and respect and they know in our household if they make a mistake it is an opportunity to learn and grow.
Teach your children how to swim the vast Internet ocean safely and with confidence and they will be equipped to deal with the tidal wave of social media like experts.