Internet Safety Part 3
Today, our tweens and teens lives revolve around mobile phones, social media and the Internet. They are the first generation whose entire existence coincides with modern technology; relying upon and leveraging it to socialize, communicate, shop, entertain and learn. Their normal and healthy quest for independence is blossoming and expanding, pushing and challenging parents on a daily basis. Keeping our kids safe in the physical world, which used to seem challenging, now appears easy compared to the potential perils and dangers of the online world.
This blog is the last in a three-part series, Keeping Kids Safe Online. This final installment focuses on more mature themes broken down into categories that present danger to your tweens and teens in both the physical and technology worlds.
As parents, we know that kids picking on one another is nothing new. However, long gone are the days when a kid could leave the bully, and their reach, at the playground gate. Online, kids exhibit something called ‘keyboard courage’, a willingness to say the most hurtful things behind the protection of a keyboard and an Internet connection. Social media, email, texting, gaming platforms and instant messaging are all avenues of this type of behavior. Sadly, there are multiple accounts where cyberbullying has led to suicide.
This is defined as “…sending and receiving sexual messages through technology such as a phone, app, email or webcam.” It includes words, pictures, video, weblinks, etc. With the technology embedded in our smartphones, tablets, and laptops, accessing a camera for still photography or video is instantaneous and inherently user friendly. It is perfectly normal for our tween and teens to be thinking about and forming romantic relationships. That normal exploration combined with access to technology bring about behaviors that ranges from exchanging flirty text messages to creating and sharing hardcore pornography. The damage of sexting can certainly include embarrassment and social reputation, but can also escalate to coercion and in many jurisdictions child pornography charges.
As parents we know that this type of content has been around for centuries. The change in the medium (technology) has brought quicker, broader, and more diverse offering directly to our kids. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), exposure to pornography can have a lasting impact and hamper your pre-teen and teen’s ability to form healthy, loving relationships. In several surveys, 50% of 11-13 year olds and nearly 80% of 16-17 year olds have reported seeing pornography via the Internet.
- Online predators:
Online predators can easily impersonate your kid’s peers in an attempt to connect with potential victims. They frequent social media, chat rooms and online gaming environments establishing relationships with kids to mentally, emotionally, and/or physically exploit them. According to law enforcement, online predators will groom multiple kids at the same time and often it takes them less than 30 minutes to gain access to your kids’ personal information or image.
- Identity theft:
Stealing someone’s identity remains one of the most precious commodities in the hacker community. When looking to steal identities, electronic criminals focus on the deceased and children. Why? Because no one is monitoring the identities of either group. With our tweens and teens, they are a blank slate of credit. Cyber criminals can open credit and bank accounts, which if not caught quickly, can take years to unravel and will follow them into adulthood.
That is a long and quite frankly, scary list of potential traps for our tweens and teens. Now more than ever our kids need to know they can come to us with questions about what they are seeing, hearing, and receiving online. They need clearly articulated boundaries and consequences for when those boundaries are broken. They also need to know that mistakes happen, and that together you will work to fix them.
As you enter this stage of parenting, here are some key points to consider in helping to protect your tween and teen when using technology:
- Internet access is a privilege to be earned, not a rite of passage. Be sure your child demonstrates responsible behavior when using technology. Establish a code of conduct for internet use, set clear boundaries for what type of content you want them viewing and sharing. Create a list of accounts and passwords, with a clear expectation that you, as the parent, will be accessing these accounts if needed.
- In many cases, giving a pre-teen or teen a mobile device is a convenience for the parents and care providers. You will hear “everyone has a phone”. However, handing your tween, a smartphone is no small matter. Establish clear boundaries for the apps they can install and the content they can share. Set rules for where cell phones are kept and charged for the evening, establish time frames for when they are in use and then they are turned off.
- Inform your teen if they post something on the Internet and/or social media, it is there for eternity and there is no taking it back. Share real life examples of how social media posts have impacted teens college admissions, sports scholarships, and job prospects. Establish a clear ‘think twice before hitting send’ guideline and a reminder that if you would not share the sentiment face to face, it should not be shared online.
- Install parental control software on your computer/mobile device to monitor Internet usage, control access to applications and limit use based on amount of time or time of day. These parental controls are available on both your router, your streaming media services and through your mobile phone carrier. Learn what options you have available and use those tools to establish boundaries and guidelines for your kids.
Today’s older teens are more aware of Internet safety because they discuss it with their peers, see evidence of poor decision-making regarding posting Internet/social media content and learn about it during their school day. For many of our teens they are growing up in a more publicly accessible way, often showing their strengths and weaknesses to a digital world.
While school-based instruction and peer experiences are valuable, nothing replaces parents and care-providers closely monitoring their technology use. At the end of the day, our tweens and teens are still kids, and they still need their parent’s guidance, discipline and understanding as they begin their maturation process.
Today’s kids only know life with the Internet and its related services. For them, it will replace the prior generation’s television, public library and telephone as the way to access entertainment, read, research and communicate. Current technology embedded in a mobile device equals potentially unlimited access to the world and its content. It will be nearly impossible to escape as both the business and educational communities increasingly leverage it to bring products and services to everyone including our kids.
This blog is the second in a three-part series, Keeping Kids Safe Online. This installment focuses on kids under the age of 10; broken down into sub-groups as your child’s development matches the level of potential access to Internet content as well as their ability to navigate technology tools.
Kids Under Five
This group is wide-eyed and will believe everything that is put in front of them, taking it at face-value. They do not possess the critical thinking skills to question things. If you think this is too young for interacting with the Internet, you are wrong. Many pre-schools today are using it to supplement their learning curriculum as well as prepare kids for kindergarten and the technology they will encounter in school. At this age, no child should be using technology without parental supervision.
There are wonderful tools available to help our youngest kids meet key developmental milestones. They should be accessing them with the convenience of iPad, tablet or mobile device while sitting with you. There are a plethora of age-appropriate games and educational programs well-suited for this entry-level age and accessing them provides an opportunity for you to learn together.
School Age Kids
As our kids enter kindergarten and move through elementary school, things can start to get challenging for both parents and children. At this age, children are developing in leaps and bounds, exhibiting and wanting independence. They are growing extremely capable with daily life activities, including their use of technology. For many parents it seems like one day, they will act like a toddler and they next a pre-teen. Parents need to be flexible with the Internet monitoring as they move through this stage of development.
Here are some things to do:
- Start by having Internet usage done in an open area where kids can be both actively and passively supervised.
- Discuss privacy with your child in age appropriate ways. Remember all those talks about “stranger danger”? The Internet is nothing but strangers.
- Speak with your child’s school about their in-school, Internet-related learning activities and become familiar with your school’s policy for monitoring and securing kids access on school-issued devices.
- Use kid-friendly Internet search engines
- Install parental control software on your computer/mobile device to monitor Internet usage, control access to applications and limit use based on amount of time or time of day.
For the kids closer to 10, and moving into those tween years, the number of online threats grows as social media, online gaming and personal Internet-connect devices become the focus.
Things to remember and remind your kids:
- Never use your child’s identity or personal information when creating an online profile.
- Their online profile, username and password is private information. It should be shared with you, as their parent, but not shared with a friend, neither online nor IRL (in real life).
- Companies are improving their child controls on their application. Be sure to educate yourself about these controls and use them!
- Set the age-appropriate content filtering to the most-restrictive level.
- You will determine what’s appropriate for your family and set very clear boundaries with consequences if those boundaries are not followed.
The Internet is a wonderful learning tool to help children discover our world as well as absorb and master their educational skills. However, it is still a public place filled with strangers and people doing nefarious things. You are their parent, their protector, their advocate, their everything. It is important to determine what role the Internet will play in your child’s live and development and be ready to provide the appropriate level of oversight and protection.
Keeping Kids Safe Online During the COVID-19 Pandemic
On a normal day, the Internet can range from a nuisance to a critical lifeline. However, none of us are living under ‘normal’ circumstances. As we all adapt to the guidelines for the COVID-19 pandemic, the Internet has become the working parents ‘everything’ as we use video calls to replace in-person interactions, online shopping for nearly all products and an escape from the overload of today’s negative news. Take a minute and imagine how your kids feel since they can no longer get together with their friends. This global health crisis may be the hardest on them as they need and crave human interaction especially with friends, family and classmates. They are not built for isolation. This means the Internet, and everything it can provide, is their link to their ‘normal’ lives and they will use it most waking hours for school, socializing, personal interests, gaming and escape.
As adults, and especially as parents, we need to remind ourselves that it is unreasonable for kids to expect privacy on the Internet. It is a public space and everything they do can and will be seen by strangers. Parents need to monitor their kids Internet behavior just as they would monitor their behavior in a public space. For parents, we must TALK to our kids about Internet content as well as put some technology tools in place to help protect them. The federal government created the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) that helps protect kids younger than 13 when they’re online. It’s designed to keep anyone from getting a child’s personal information without a parent knowing about it and agreeing to it first. COPPA requires websites to explain their privacy policies and get parental consent before collecting or using a child’s personal information, such as a name, address, phone number, or Social Security number. The law also prohibits a site from, “requiring a child to provide more personal information than necessary to play a game or enter a contest.”
Remember, no laws can replace parental involvement to manage, monitor and protect our children and their online activity.
Here are some key themes to help you protect your child when using the Internet:
- It is reasonable for kids to expect privacy in their bedroom. It is their space to think, read, study, draw, reflect and relax. It is not place for technology. Mobile devices and computers should be used in common spaces within the home.
- Install technology tools (Qustodio, NetNanny, Norton Family, Screen Time are some to consider) to help control access and filter Internet content
- Teach your kids proper Internet behavior to keep them safe online:
- Never agree to meet in-person with anyone you meet online
- Do not give out personal information such as name, address, phone number, school name and location
- Use a screen name (not their real name) and never share passwords with anyone but parents
- Don’t respond to threatening messages and email
- Only post comments online that you are willing to say face-to-face
- TALK to them about what they are seeing on the Internet particularly if they experience something inappropriate, uncomfortable or unknown to them.
As parents and trusted adults, we need to remember that the Internet is many things to many people; from wild and crazy, to the best library in the world. For your kids to successfully navigate it they need a guide, age appropriate boundaries and to know they can come to you when they make a mistake.
Be informed, be active, be careful.
This blog post is the first in a three-part series, Keeping Kids Safe Online During the COVID-19 Pandemic, written by Jeff Bathurst, Director of Technology Advisory Services for SC&H Group and Board Member at No More Stolen Childhoods.