Here are six tips for enabling kids to experience the benefits of the web while mitigating some of the risks.
- Instil rules for online engagement
Make it a rule that your children never give out personal information without parental permission – last name, home address, school, telephone number, etc. Take time to teach them how to spot suspicious online activity and potential risks; encourage them to talk to you about any unusual experiences. This is much trickier when they are teenagers and want to do things independently, including social media. Try to get them to set privacy levels to maximum, turn off location finding, and not accept requests from strangers or click on unknown links.
- Never allow online to cross into offline
Perhaps the biggest risk is children agreeing to meet someone in person who they met online. They need to know that not everyone on the web is who they say they are. Adults understand this but it’s far more dangerous when children engage with strangers who persuade them that a face-to-face encounter is a natural next step.
- Install parental control software
There is a wide range of software that lets parents impose rules around a child’s online activity, from setting time limits around device access to blocking pre-listed sites deemed adult and unsuitable. Other features and functionality include content filtering and remote monitoring, which lets you see precisely what your kids are up to. Such software solutions are a lot more effective than sneakily trying to check your child’s device when they are not around.
- Never share passwords
Everyone is susceptible to hackers posing as friends to get confidential data like passwords, but the same social engineering techniques become much more sinister when young people inadvertently divulge personal information and it attracts predatory behaviour. Kids should know never to share passwords with anyone except parents and to tell parents if anyone asks them to. If they are using a computer in a public place, like a library or school, remind them to always sign out of their accounts when they are done.
- Expose cyberbullying at all times
Social media and digital devices enable continuous communication that can become a serious problem if a child is subjected to bullying. Relief is difficult when it’s 24/7 and ubiquitous. By its very nature, cyberbullying takes place outside parent/teacher circles and can easily go undetected. Give your children the confidence to stand up to it, Make sure they never send or respond to mean or insulting messages and if they hear others talking about sending or receiving hurtful messages, make them understand the importance of bringing it to the attention of a responsible adult. The worst thing to do is let it go unchecked.
- Remind children that social media posts are permanent
While it’s easy for adults to understand the real-world consequences of virtual activity, how irresponsible online behaviour can damage personal and professional reputations, children are not so circumspect. You need to tell them that the posts they make and messages they share are permanent, that something that seemed funny in the moment can come back and haunt them later. Talk to your children about what is appropriate to share and not share. A digital footprint is forever so they need to be vigilant about their identity and reputation.