by Lynette T. Owens
As a parent of 2 young kids, I tend to measure the passing of time and major milestones in my kids’ lives (and my own) based on when school begins, ends, and how it ebbs and flows in between. While summer has ended, a lot has just begun. My kids will have new experiences, meet new people, learn new things this school year.
In the midst of all this transition, it’s natural to want your kids to be safe and enjoy the experience. I am attentive to my kids’ safety from the moment they wake up, get dressed, get into the car and get to school. My kids’ schools do a great job of informing parents of their policies, procedures, responsibilities and expectations of parents to ensure that our kids are always safe when they’re there, and will be in an environment where they will learn and have fun doing it.
For the most part, safety is very naturally at the top of our minds wherever our kids are concerned.
Yet there is one area of a child’s safety that continues to fall beneath the radar of many people. In my discussions with many parents and grandparents, school administrators, neighbors, and friends around the world, it is clear to me that we do not take the issue of our kids’ Internet safety as seriously as we do with other aspects of their well-being.
Internet safety is a topic that is not as well-understood as it should be in many communities. Ask a parent with a 10-year old boy, and they might tell you “I don’t want my son seeing inappropriate things online.” Ask another with 2 teenagers, and they may say “I’m worried because I have no idea who they are chatting with or what they may be saying about themselves.” But everyone does know there are risks – they just don’t have a common answer as to what they should be worried about, much less what to do about it.
Also, most kids around the world between the ages of 5 and 18 spend about half of their waking hours in school or somewhere not at home. Some of that time is spent online in the classroom or at a friend’s house or using their cell phones as they move from place to place.
So what is a parent who cares about all other aspects of their children’s safety to do?
Here are four things a parent can do right away:
2 – Know the risks that being online might bring to your children. There are tons of great resources out there, some of which you can find at www.trendmicro.com/go/safety. You may have already read or heard about sexual predators trying to groom kids online and kids’ viewing inappropriate content or posting inappropriate photos of themselves, but there is much more to online safety than the few topics that make the news headlines. Being aware of these risks is the first step to making sure they are safe.
3 – Put some ground rules in place and use technology as you see fit. Once you understand the risks, decide how you want to let your kids use technology in their lives. Some of that will be driven by their needs for school, but decide how you want them to use it for learning, socializing, and entertainment. Agree on where, when, and with whom they can use it. And know there are great technologies out there that can help you manage their time online safely. Parental control features in security software is a great foundation to help manage some of the more basic issues such as blocking inappropriate sites, limiting their time, and monitoring where they go – and you get the benefits of keeping your system secure in case anyone – including your kids – isn’t clicking as carefully as they should. Again, there are tons of resources to get you started from some great organizations:
- www.connectsafely.org – ask an expert for advice or download lots of great safety tips
- www.childnet.com and www.idtheftcenter.org – download tips and find helpful resources
- www.commonsensemedia.org – find out if a site is even age-appropriate for your kids
4 – Teach your kids how to be a good and safe citizen of the internet. You teach them to say please and thank you, not talk to strangers, wear a seatbelt , and treat others with respect. The same rules apply online. There are some things to watch out for that are unique online (e.g., don’t fall for a free offer scam that came from your ‘friend’), but like any life-skill, it just takes practice to navigate safely in the online world.
Sounds easier said than done? Maybe, but when it comes to the safety of my kids, I have always made that investment. I have probably spent more (in dollars, for sure) on car seats, safety gates, outlet plugs, and table corner guards to protect my kids than I have invested to keep my kids safe online. Online safety is first about educating yourself as a parent and second about investing in technology to keep them safe. My kids have outgrown most of the safety gear I’ve researched and paid for, but the investment I make to teach my kids good online habits will last them a lifetime.