There’s no escaping technology in our hyper-connected world – here are our top tips to ensure your child is safe on the Internet.
Just 20 years ago, mobile phones were few and far between. Fast forward to 2018, and mobile phones, tablets, and laptops have become an integral part of our lives and our children’s lives. We’re instantly connected to the world wide web and everyone around us with a touch of a button. Hence, the new challenge for us as parents: how do we ensure that our children are safe on the Internet? In celebration of Safer Internet Day on 6 Feb, we round up some of the best tips on how to help.
Tip #1: Keep Personal Information Personal
We give out our personal information every single day, and most of the time, we don’t even know it. Tell your child that every time she signs up for a new social media account or subscribes to a newsletter, her personal information is out there. As adults, we are more aware (we hope!) of which websites are secure and which aren’t. Our children, however, may not be as discerning.
What to do: Before allowing your child to have his first device, lay down some ground rules. First, caution her not to identify herself on the Internet. She should never reveal sensitive information such as her mobile number, address, or school online. It’s also good to ensure that your child checks in with you before signing up for any new social media account so that you can vet it first.
Tip #2: Respect Others’ Views
Advice that applies IRL (“in real life”) also applies on the Internet. Teach your child to respect others’ views, even if she may disagree with them. Most troubles on social media begin when people make disparaging comments or personal attacks against others whose views or ideas they do not agree with. These squabbles can lead to cyberbullying. There have been cases of doxxing over the Internet – where skilled users track another person’s IP address to reveal their identity and location online.
What to do: Remind your child that everything that she says online should also be what she’d say in reality. If something is too rude to say to someone face-to-face, don’t say it. Remind her that she can use social media to spread positivity, instead of joining in on the negativity with others.
Tip #3: Avoid Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is one of the top concerns for parents, and with good reason. There have been too many cases of teenagers self-harming, or even ending their lives, due to incessant cyberbullying. In our kids’ generation, bullying doesn’t just take place in schools and playgrounds; it also happens on the Internet. This may appear as rude comments on a photograph, spam comments on a blog post, or even entire social media accounts dedicated to making fun of someone else – cyberbullying methods are endless. While it’s sad to realise that such bullying will continue to happen, it’s also our job to equip our children with the right knowledge to handle such situations.
What to do: If you know that your child is a victim of cyberbullying in school, you can opt to report the act to the school (if the culprits are known), or even to the police, depending on the severity of the incident/s. It’s important to establish trust with your child so that she knows she can approach you should such bullying occur. It’s also crucial that your child knows not to keep these incidents to herself or to engage with the bullies, but to turn to you or a trusted adult to find a solution.
(See also: 7 Ways to Ensure Your Child’s Internet Safety)
Tip #4: Do Not Engage with Strangers
Don’t talk to strangers, we tell our children. These days, that warning applies online as well. Given the frequent stories we hear of children being ‘groomed’ by online predators, it’s wise to remind your child often about this. It’s never too early to teach them to practice safe online habits.
What to do: Let’s face the facts here – it’ll be extremely difficult, if not downright impossible, to prevent our kids from engaging with others via the Internet. And in fact, should we really be going all out to stop them? There are healthy ways in which communicating over the Internet can help: forums like SingaporeMotherhood have helped women cope with pregnancy trials, fertility woes, and the ups and downs of child-rearing. Surely kids should be allowed to enjoy the camaraderie online? So teach your child how to be safe online:
- Highlight the dangers of communicating with strangers, especially on how the person may not be who they claim they are.
- Encourage them to discuss with you whenever they’re engaging with someone new.
- Have casual chats about their favourite forums, websites, or games. This can keep you in the loop about their Internet behaviour, and put you on alert should anything be awry.
- Teach them what shouldn’t be said to them (e.g. a stranger asking them to reveal their identity or asking for inappropriate pictures) and tell them that they should alert you immediately if someone does approach them for such information.
It’s important that you let them feel safe bringing you into their Internet “lives”, so they’ll approach you for help and support instead of fearing punishment.
Tip #5: Filter out Inappropriate Content
Ah, yet another caveat of the Internet that makes it difficult for parents to navigate. Inappropriate content is all over the Internet, and even with firewalls in place, there’s still a chance that our kids may come across it. We’re not just talking about nudity, there’s gore, violence, and other disturbing content out there. Obviously, the first thing to do before giving your child any device is to install parental controls. However, there are also other steps you can take to help navigate the Internet safety.
What to do: Let your children know that it’s perfectly okay to step away from anything that disturbs them. They do not have to continue viewing it. Trust between parent and child is of utmost importance here – let your child know that she can approach you if she sees anything disturbing. Once she has alerted you to such content, take some time to comfort her, then review how how it occurred. What was she searching for when it came up? From there, it’ll be easier to take preventive measures by increasing parental controls or blocking certain sites.
(See also: Sex Education for Kids: An Age-by-Stage Guide)
Tip #6: Remember that the Internet is Forever
Finally, the single most important thing any parent can stress to their child is this: the Internet is forever. This means that whatever your child posts on the Internet will never disappear entirely. Remind them to think twice before they hit “enter”. Ultimately, we’ll never be able to surveil all of our kids’ Internet activities. However, once they are aware that even deleting that blog entry, comment, or picture may never make it fully disappear, they may make better decisions.
Parenting in the Internet Age
The Internet can sometimes be an unfamiliar place for us parents. Add to the fact that we didn’t grow up in the digital age and it’s not hard to see why we may feel helpless dealing with it. Instead of worrying that you’ll never be able to keep up with the latest technology trends or teen slang, trust your parenting instincts. Even though these incidents may be occurring in the digital realm instead of the playground, the reality is that both worlds aren’t all that different. Kids will be kids wherever they interact, and it’s up to us to parent them right. For more help on how to keep your kids safe, visit sites such as Help123, Safekids, and Childnet.