Keeping our kids safe on-line is a concern every parent should be thinking about. Predators, bullies and their own cyber-reputations are things to think about but how?
Detective Rich Wistocki of BeSure Consulting teaches parents how to parent their children while online. He is a veteran investigator with 23 years of law enforcement experience. He is also a subject matter expert for TrueCare, an online awareness company that offers an Internet monitoring tool to help parents protect their children from cyber bullying, Internet predators, reputation defamation, and other online dangers.
Here Wistocki answers Family First Editor-in-Chief Marijo Tinlin’s questions about how to keep our kids safe on-line.
Where are kids most at risk – computer at home? Their smart phones? In a public Internet place?
All three! If they can access the Internet and social media sites, chat rooms, apps, games, and more, then they are at risk no matter where they are logging on. The online connection itself poses the risk, whether it is accessed at a library, friend’s house, school, hotel lobby, or anywhere the Internet is available.
Many parents only monitor one device, such as the home computer or laptop, and think they have the safety aspect covered. Today, kids have easy access to technology from multiple devices, so parents should monitor their child’s social media accounts.
How can you teach “digital citizenship” at home? Do they teach it in schools?
“Digital citizenship” is the new buzzword, and it’s a good one! It’s about being a good citizen in the digital world just like in the “live” world. It refers to the way kids behave online, which impacts their reputation in real life.
Parents try to instill values in their children such as: Stick up for others, practice the golden rule, don’t curse, don’t talk to strangers, be nice to your sister, and so on. We now need to add the word “online” to those key parenting lessons:
- Stick up for others, online
- Practice the golden rule, online
- Don’t curse, online
- Don’t talk to strangers, online
- Be nice to your sister, online
What is taught in schools will vary as it relates to social media safety and education. Schools are getting more involved on the educational component, but keep a distance from social media for sake of liability.
To do my part, I speak at school forums for parents to educate them about the dangers associated with the Internet and social media. Generally, schools welcome guest speakers and experts who are willing to present these important topics.
I believe it is the responsibility of the parents to teach digital citizenship, not the school. Parents can effectively teach their children about responsible use by establishing rules for online use, getting involved in their child’s online life so they can provide constant guidance, and monitoring their online activities.
What tips do you have about how to keep kids accountable online?
As a parent of two teenage boys, I approach online behavior accountability as I would in any other aspect of parenting. Technology scares parents, but it shouldn’t. Set the rules and clearly set expectations and consequences. I understand that every household is different, so parents should set the rules as they work best for their family. Here are a few ideas:
- Agree upon a time allowed online each day (½ hour, hour, 2 hours — whatever you decide)
- State websites that are allowed and those that are off limits
- Set expectations for the information they present on their social media profiles
- Tell your child they need to be connected to you and also that you will be monitoring them
- Explain your expectations for good digital citizenship
A great resource is TrueCare’s downloadable Family Social Media Agreement , which is a “contract” parents can use to facilitate a discussion around expectations for both the parents and the kids.
What to do if you suspect trouble online… cyber bullying, predator, reputation issue?
If you “think” any trouble is present, start by paying close attention to your child’s online activity and offline behavior. Look for signs of changed behavior and patterns of trouble in their online life. As a parent, you need to do more than just try to talk to them, because they may not reveal anything is wrong.
If you “know” these behaviors are going on, you can do a few things.
- Stop your child’s use of social media until the situation is further examined and resolved.
- If you suspect a predator, do not shut down the profile, but report it to the police. Call your local police department and explain that you believe your child has been approached by a predator online, and they will guide you through the next steps to help ensure your child’s safety.
- Most importantly, provide your child with love and support, as they will be feeling alone and ashamed.
Proactively, parents who monitor their kids’ online lives can be alerted to any concerns that they otherwise may not have any idea about… from cyberbullying to online predators and more.
It’s pretty easy to keep an eye on the younger kids but how do we watch over our older kids – who are out in the world at jobs, events or other places alone?
My advice is to educate, continue to establish guidelines, discuss expectations and talk to your kids:
- Teach teens to keep personal information and photos private
- Educate teens about sexual predators
- Encourage your teen to tell you about any suspicious activity
- Join the networking sites that they use
- Use an online monitoring tool
What else do parents need to know to keep our kids safe?
Parents should be monitoring the online activities of their children – the sites they visit, their connections, their posts and status updates. Parents can do this manually which is difficult and time consuming (but certainly better than nothing) or rely on the help of an Internet monitoring tool such as TrueCare to proactively identify any problems. These tools send alerts to parents on any alarming content posted to or by your child, photos they post, and a wealth of other information that will help parents ensure they are being safe online.
The tools do not work without parental involvement. Whether parents use a monitoring service or manually monitor, they still need to have ongoing conversations with their child about online safety and communicating with people they don’t know. Online predators will never go away and they will constantly find new ways to connect. Kids and parents must be on alert.
Marijo Tinlin is the Editor in Chief of Family First, one of the oldest family-oriented websites on the internet. She writes for www.OnTheCulture.com, is the Managing Editor of www.myColoradoview.com and she runs a small business with her husband. She is also the author of the famous book about teaching patriotism to our children called “How to Raise an American Patriot, Making it Okay for Our Kids to Be Proud to Be American.” It features 13 interviews with patriotic Americans including Ed Meese, Erick Erickson and Jackie Gingrich Cushman. Your signed copy, along with a FREE copy of the Constitution, is available at www.raisinganamericanpatriot.com.