Summer is here and our children are happy to be spending time outside (as are their parents!). That said, our children are still “plugged in,” and online through computers and phones, texting and tweeting every exciting event of their day. The volume of time our children and young adults spend talking, texting or browsing on their cellphones has grown to the point where we now question when someone doesn’t have a cellphone.
With summer vacation from school schedules, our children have more time and access to “plug in” to the electronic world we live in today. June is Internet safety month. Please consider it a great time to evaluate your child’s safety in the virtual world of the Internet and cyberspace.
In the “real world,” we teach our children their full name, address, and home phone number. We make sure they know how to reach us, or another trusted adult, if they have an emergency or are afraid. We teach our children how to use the phone, and how and when to use 911. We choose babysitters with care, obtaining references from family, friends, and neighbors. Once a caregiver is chosen, we might drop in unexpectedly to see how our children are doing. We ask our children how the experience with the caregiver was, and we listen carefully to their response. Yet, despite all this, few parents teach their children how to be safe in the virtual world where they increasingly live – and where the number of predators multiplies daily.
Cyber safety isn’t just for our children. Adults fall victim to everything from internet scams to violent crime, when the virtual world meets the real world. In Minnesota, a Minneapolis woman was lured to her death via an ad on Craig’s List; and right here in Rice County, headlines were made by a predator searching for victims to satisfy a suicide fetish. We can save lives and stop crimes if we approach safety in cyberspace, as thoughtfully as we do safety in the “real world.”
A first step toward cyber safety is to learn about the Internet. The more you know about how the Web works, the better prepared you are to protect yourself and your children. Place the family computer in a common area, rather than a child’s bedroom, and monitor your child’s time spent online. Establish rules for Internet use, and visit the same websites they’ve visited. Know what other access your child has to the Internet, i.e., at libraries, at school, on their or a friend’s cellphone, or in their friends’ homes. Use privacy settings on social networking sites to limit contact with unknown users. And be sure that screen names do not reveal too much about you or your children. Encourage your children to tell you if they encounter anything online that makes them feel sad, scared, or confused. Caution children and young adults against posting revealing information or inappropriate photos of themselves or their friends.
Here are four simple Internet safety rules for you and your family to consider:
- THINK BEFORE YOU POST. Ask yourself if the information or image you are posting could put you at risk, embarrass you, or damage your future. Do not post phone numbers, home addresses, sexual messages, or inappropriate pictures and videos.
- RESPECT OTHER PEOPLE ONLINE. Do not post anything rude, offensive, or threatening. Do not send or forward images or information that could embarrass, hurt, or harass someone else. Do not use someone else’s personal information to damage their reputation.
- BE CAREFUL WHEN MEETING ONLINE FRIENDS IN PERSON. Meet in a public setting, with many people around; have a friend accompany you. Children should ask a parent’s permission and have a parent accompany them to any meeting.
- PROTECT YOURSELF ONLINE. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, is rude or offensive, do not respond. Report the website or cellphone provider to CyberTipline.com and/or the police. Save the evidence. Children should immediately tell a parent or another trusted adult of such contact.
Everyone — young and old alike — can benefit from improved Internet safety practices. Be aware of potential threats. Visit www.NetSmartz.org for more information.