Children and teens lives revolve around their technology-we know this! They use technology seamlessly and effortlessly and more and more children/teens are not just enjoying online content but are now creating their own content and uploading it to their friends and the world.
Encouraging responsible technology use is an essential part of protecting children from online threats. Because it would be impossible for parents to keep up with every new technology platform with which children interact, it is imperative that parents have open dialogs with their children about responsible use of technology and online reputation management. Parents should be concerned not with limiting their children's use of technology or completely removing potential dangers but rather with teaching their children how to behave responsibly and safely in an interconnected world.
Experts on internet crimes tell us that the most important tool for protecting children online is positive, open communication with children. Just as you teach your children the rules of the road before handing them the car keys, so you should also teach your children the rules of the Internet before allowing them unfettered access to the digital world.
- Learn about the social media your kids and their friends are using. Most adults know about Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, & Instagram, but what about Kik, Snapchat, Sip, VaporChat, MeetMe, Whisper, & YikYak?
- Learn about the websites your children use regularly. See what other kids are doing there and how much information you can learn by doing simple searches. Parents need to be aware of what is happening on-line.
- Keep computers in common rooms of the house and don't be afraid to look over their shoulder to make sure their web-browsing is safe.
- With SmartPhones- kids often don't need the household computers- check their texts and web-browsing history often. Be upfront with your kids about the fact that you will be checking their phones. Talk with them about the pictures and texts they send their friends.
- Set age appropriate rules for internet/phone use at your house (including time used, placed used, and websites visited).
Online predators are nothing new but there are lots of myths about them. The truth about online predators is that they are mostly men, ages 26 or older, generally they are not pedophiles and they rarely lie about their age. Online predators usually don’t abduct their victims but discuss their plans online to meet up and have sex. Usually the teens are aware of who they are meeting and why.
The victims of online predators are typically teen girls although 25% of victims are teen boys. The important thing to remember about the victims is it’s never their fault. Predators target vulnerable teens and exploit their natural desires for attention and affection.
- Talk with your teen about sex and relationships and what makes a relationship healthy
- Talk with your teen about the dangers of online predators helps them make smart choices when the opportunity to communicate with others arises.
- Many teens are flattered by attention from older people. Make it clear that a 22 year old flirting with them is not flattering; it’s inappropriate.
Sexting is when teens send or post nude or partially nude images, usually via cell phone. Teens sext for a variety of reasons. They may be trying to be funny and sharing it with a friend, trying to impress a crush who may or may not have asked for the picture, or sharing sexual pictures with a boyfriend or girlfriend.
One study found that teens who engage in sexting are more likely to be engaged in other risky sexual behaviors, including unprotected sex.
- Talk with your teen about the consequences- they might not realize they can get in trouble with the school or the police. They also might not realize the image can be captured/saved even if they use apps like Snatchap or VaporChat.
- Tell them NEVER to forward a sexting image.
- Discuss healthy sexual relationships- emphasize that anyone who pressures them to send a sexual text is not someone they can trust.
Talk about the ways an image can spread online
Cyberbullying is exactly what it sounds like- bullying through technology like cell phones, social media sites and online game. Cyberbullying differs from regular bullying in a number of different ways. It often spreads faster because of instant communication, has a wider audience because it can be sent to an unlimited amount of people and follows children home so they can’t get away from it. Examples of cyberbullying include:
- Sending someone a mean text
- Photoshopping or altering a picture to embarrass someone
- Creating a fake profile to post defamatory information or images
- Posting fight videos online to embarrass the person who lost
- Spreading rumors and gossip online
- Posting an embarrassing photo of someone with intent to embarrass
- Sending threatening or harassing comments
Cyberbullies are usually peers children know, so they don’t feel safe at school because their bully is there, but now they don’t feel safe at home either because it’s happening 24/7 online. Cyberbullying can be extremely devastating for victims. If you feel your child has been threatened, then contact the police.
Below are some conversation starters to begin a helpful dialog with your children about their use of technology.
- When you post something online, have you ever wanted to take it back?
- What are some ways that you can use social media for good?
- What would you like our online relationship to look like?
- Tell me about your online friends. Are there any you haven't met in person?
- Are there certain topics about which you would like to know more that you are uncomfortable talking to me about?
- What are your favorite mobile apps?
- Can you show me how to use them to communicate?
- Do you know how to flag/report inappropriate content in ALL your favorite apps, sites and games?
- Are your profiles set to private? Why or why not?
- What personal information do you share online?
- Have you ever been asked to share an inappropriate picture of yourself or someone else?
- Do you know what to do if someone send or asks for an inappropriate picture?
- If anything happens online that makes you uncomfortable, who could you talk to about that?
- Have you even been bullied or witnessed someone else being bullied? What did you do?
- Have you ever been the bully? Have you ever posted something that you wouldn’t have said to someone face to face?
- What kind of reputation are you building online?
- Do you know the laws associated with online activity?
- Do you know anonymous apps aren’t entirely anonymous?
- Do you know that counselors and future employers are going to be checking your profile?
(adapted in part from Netsmartz.org and CAC of Collin County)
For more information visit www.NetSmartz.org