Ways to keep your kids safe online

elizabeth Boni-children using the internet
image credit:nobullying.com
Technology and the Internet are very powerful tools for entertainment and education. They both are evolving at a rapid rate, making it difficult to catch up with. The number of children online and their know-how about Technology and the Internet is pretty awesome. Gone were the days when children only used to play with their favourite dolls, cars and toy guns, these days, technological gadgets such as Smart-phones, laptops, tablets, and game consoles have become their favourite toys. These gadgets in the hands of children is a mixed blessing, it opens an electronic door to the world both wonderfully and wildly inappropriately.

Technology and the internet are obviously a reflection of Society, where both good and evil activities take place.  Despite its vast benefits, it also has its own set of risks, so it is important for parents to, keep an eye on their children’s virtual world and digital foot print the same way they do in real life. Understanding how to use these gadgets safely, will present you the opportunity to teach your wards the technical skills that will enable them to get the most out of it, without unnecessary anxiety on your part.

When it comes to internet use, perhaps the biggest concern for children is, the prevalence of Internet child predators and cyberbullies. These people are often at places intended for children and often have an in-depth knowledge on the latest hobbies, interests, and music that are popular amongst children. This normally causes children to let their guard down and give away sensitive information, access sites with inappropriate material or even agree to meet up with strangers.

The reality is that while technology has advanced rapidly, this generation’s parenting skills have not kept pace. Parents may not be the fault, but it is certainly the parent’s problem. Many tend to consider these problems (cyber bullying, sexting, etc) as technological problems, but in reality, these are parenting problems.

Below, are few tips to help address the issue and how to incorporate technology into our everyday parenting. These tips can also be found on the website of Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), an NGO for Online safety.

 Talk with your kids

It sounds simple, but the number one indicator of good digital parenting is keeping an open line of communication going with your kids.  Talk early and often.  It is not like the birds and the bees discussion.  It is more like an ongoing dialogue that will move and shift as your child works their way through several key developmental stages.  Stay calm.  Be open and direct.  But keep talking.

Educate yourself

This is probably the first technology in human history where the kids are leading the adults.  It is very humbling to have a 7 year old explain how to upload a video.  Or your teen rolling his eyes once again as you try to master Pandora.  But there is a wealth of tips, videos, explanations and guides out there.  If in doubt, simply type in your question or concern in your favourite search engine and there will be more than enough information to go on.

Use parental controls

It goes without saying that there is content on the Internet you don’t want your kids stumbling upon.  All of the major operating systems, search engines, cell phone providers and gaming platforms provide either free or inexpensive parental controls to help you manage your kid’s online experience.  And, as your kids get older, move from controls to monitoring tools, particularly around time limits to discourage texting in class or vamping late at night.

Set ground rules & apply sanctions

Many parents don’t know where to start in creating rules of the road for their kids digital use.  But there are many online safety contracts to choose from as well as simple house rules such as no devices at dinner and handing in their phones at night.  Once you’ve set the rules, enforce them.  Let your kids know that they will lose online privileges if they break the rules and be clear and consistent about what those sanctions will be.

Friend and follow, but don’t stalk

When your teen opens his/her Facebook account at 13, ensure you’re his/her first friend.  Follow your kids on Twitter and YouTube.  Don’t overdo it and leave daily comments, but don’t under do it either.  It is good to stay close as your teen makes his first forays into the world of social media.  But don’t be tempted to spy on your kids, either.  Talking instead of stalking is what builds trust.  Give your teen some space to experiment, to take (healthy) risks and to build resiliency.

Explore, share and celebrate

With the rules and tools in place, don’t forget to just go online with your kids.  Play games, watch videos, share photos and generally hang out with your children online.  Learn from them and have fun.   Share your favourite sites and download their apps.  See the world through their eyes.  And let them know your values and beliefs as you guide them on their way.

Be a good digital role model

Be the change you want to see in your kids.  Resist the temptation to pull out your phone to check your email over dinner or send a quick text while driving.  Keep an eye on your own digital habits and compulsions and model good digital behaviour and balance.  Your kids will pay far more attention to what you do, than to what you say – both online and offline.
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