Everyone is online these days, in one form or another, because it is so useful. The Internet offers a multitude of ways to interact with the rest of the world; but it can also be a scary place for parents with young children. According to Netsmartz.org, 95% of 12 to 17-year-olds are online every day, and because the Internet is easy to access, it also poses certain risks including:
- Exposure to inappropriate material
- Online predators
- Revealing too much personal information
Learning to recognize the warning signs of these risks will allow trusted adults to intervene and mitigate the potential negative impacts.
Taking a proactive approach to Internet use may help lessen the risk of children falling victim to online predators. The Farmington Police Department suggests the following to help guard children from Internet dangers:
- Choose a commercial online service that offers parental control features.
- Teach your children never to give out their address, telephone number, password, school name or any other personal information. (This includes sending pictures of themselves).
- Make sure your children know to never agree to meet face-to-face with someone they’ve met online without discussing it with you. Only if you decide that it’s okay to meet their “cyber-friend” should they arrange to meet this person, and then the meeting should be in a familiar public place in the presence of a trusted adult.
- Teach your children never to respond to messages that have bad words, are scary, make them uncomfortable or are just plain weird. Remind them that it is not their fault if they receive such a message, but not to participate in that type of conversation. By not condoning bullying, it will help to curb the behavior.
- Teach your children never to enter an area that charges for services without asking you first.
- Ensure access to the Internet at your children’s school is monitored by adults. Talk to his/her teacher and find out what the class/school rules are regarding Internet use.
- Keep the home computer in a high-traffic area of your home.
- Establish limits for which online sites children may visit and for how long.
- Remember that Internet technology can be mobile, so make sure to monitor cell phones, gaming devices, and laptops.
- Surf the Internet with your children and let them show you what they like to do online.
- Know who is connecting with your children online and set rules for social networking, instant messaging, e-mailing, online gaming, and using webcams.
- Continually dialogue with your children about online safety.
- Have your children check with you before downloading or installing software or doing anything that could jeopardize the family’s privacy.
Keeping these guidelines in mind will help develop young responsible online citizens. The Internet has drastically changed the way that children interact with the world. They have access to in-depth knowledge, tools for education and to express their creativity, and the capability to connect with others from all over the world. By acting as a resource, parents and guardians can help make the Internet a safer place for their families. As a parent or guardian, it is important that you stay well informed about the current issues to understand what your children may be experiencing on and off the Internet. If they are social networking, take the time to show them how to do it safely. Children whose parents and guardians regularly talk to them about personal safety are more likely to exhibit responsible behavior on their own.
Netsmartz.org is an excellent resource to find additional tips and discussion starters to help parents facilitate more dialogue about Internet safety with their children.
Anna Johnston is an intern with the Farmington Police Department. She is pursuing a degree in criminal justice from San Juan College.