In the 90s, the Internet was an effective way of sending e-mail’s and catching up on the news. However, with the advent of social media and the development of smart phones and tablets, cyberspace has taken on a completely new identity. The Internet is not just a tool. It is a virtual world, where billions of people interact every day. With just a click, a teenager can go from talking to his friends next door to speaking to a child predator, without even knowing it. When it comes to Internet safety, as a parent, there is no such thing as being too cautious. Being concerned about your kid’s online activities has never been more important than it is now.
13 Things to Tell Your Kids
- Keep your personal details personal. Kids love Facebook. And Twitter. There is no changing that. Nevertheless, if your kids are going to use Facebook (or any other social network), insist on them activating their privacy settings. This way only families and invited friends can actually view their personal details. Additionally, children should never be posting their location or uploading photos of specific locations (such as their middle school or in their school uniform for the public to see).
- Not all web pages are okay. There are “dark alleys” on the web. Places you wouldn’t want your teens to visit. If you’re buying a tablet or laptop for your teenagers, consider installing a filtering or censorship application that monitors where they visit, and blocks their access to certain sites. Your kids should avoid pages that talk post unpleasant content, such as photos, articles, or even videos.
- Don’t post risqué pictures. Ask your kids not to send inappropriate pictures or video recordings of themselves to strangers—or friends. If a stranger offers to send them a picture, they should decline. The web is an unforgiving environment and with programs like SnapChat, you never know where your photo may land. There is no quick rewind button. Once a picture or video is posted on the Internet, it is permanently out there.
- There are monsters online. Explain to your kids that the Internet is a good place for people to hide their identity. Not everything is at it appears. Behind the picture of a cute teenager may really be a much older adult with ulterior motives. Teens should be careful before volunteering their location or personal details.
- “I’m always here.” Encourage your kids to come to you for advice. To do this, you must be open to their questions. Make them feel safe and comfortable, by listening to what they tell you, regardless of what they topic might be. Look for helpful ways to not pass judgment while passing your own ethical views to them, so you do not lose their trust. Instead, let them know how important it is to keep you in the loop.
- Meet in Public. Kids don’t chat forever in cyberspace. At some point, your kids will want to physically hang out with their friends. That is fine. But if your kid intends on meeting with new friends they met online, the meet should be done somewhere public, with another friend (or adult) in tow. They should always let their parents know where they are going and with who, so if danger arises, their parents are one step away.
- Watch Your Language. Anonymity is a poor excuse for rudeness. Tell your kids to watch what they say when chatting in forums or social networks. If they would not ordinarily say something in the “real world,” they should not post it online. Even bullying on the Internet is a real, dangerous, and scary thing.
- Think Before You Post. Just to be on the safe side, break it down for your kids. Teenagers have a lot of enthusiasm and energy, which can easily be misdirected. On no account should your teens post any online picture where they are nude, or partially unclothed. If it is a picture they wouldn’t want you to see, then it shouldn’t be online. Ask them to stay away from hate groups, or forums that focus on polarizing topics.
- Don’t Use the Web to Cheat. Online cheating is becoming a big thing. Make sure your teens known you won’t stand by that kind of behavior. It is okay for teens to use the web for research on an assignment. But it’s wrong for them to plagiarize online content and pass it off as their own.
- Always Question Your Actions. Make sure your teens always have their guards up. Whenever they see any strange post, their first question should be “who posted this and why?” And before they post any reply, they should question the reason behind their post. Is it really something that they should be posting?
- Be wary of strange mails. Warn your kid against opening any emails sent from strangers or an unknown address. Such emails may contain viruses or phishing programs. If it is from a friend but sounds strange, it could be a virus. If your teenager does not recognize who sent a mail, they should either delete it or show it to you.
- Guard your passwords. Ask your kids to protect their password at all times. It should never be given to anyone (except you of course), regardless of how innocent the person might be. Remind your kids to choose a strong password, something with multiple cases and numerals. This is for their safety.
- Privacy is a myth. Inform your kids that the idea of ‘private online’ chats do not exist. There is always a chance that comments posted within an online forum, will be seen by strangers. A thoughtless remark could have far-reaching repercussions with admission officers and even potential employers.
The Bottom Line
Teens should treat cyberspace with as much caution as they would real life situations. Your teenagers would not ordinarily walk into strange homes or accept requests from strangers. The same is true for the web. Ask your teens to treat their online activity with the same amount of caution. If they would not say something in public conversation, the web is not the place to start.
Finally set a good example. Teenagers will find it harder to take your advice if you are guilty of making the same mistakes.