The parents at our school sponsored a great workshop on social networking and keeping kids safe online. It was run by police at the local and state levels. As I took notes during their presentation, I kept thinking about the fact that some students are at more risk than others. Adolescents’ brains are not fully formed yet, and they do not have the ability to consistently make good decisions. Students with attention problems who are also impulsive can easily get into trouble.
The presenters at the workshop said more than once, “We hear people say that kids grow up faster these days than they used to. But they don’t. They just get exposed to a whole lot more a whole lot sooner. Monitor what your kids are doing online. Don’t worry about their privacy, because their safety is at stake.”
Here is some specific advice they gave parents.
- Regarding posting hurtful statements: Teach your child that if he has to ask himself whether to post something, then the answer is that he should not post it! People are more willing to say things online that they would never say face-to-face. The presenter suggested to coach children to stand in front of a mirror and say out loud what they are about to post. Hopefully, they will hear it and realize how it might make the other person feel.
- About sexual predators: These relationships develop over a period of time and can begin on social networking sites, online games played with unknown people, cell phones—essentially, anywhere children interact with people they do not personally know. Predators often spend a couple of years developing a trusting relationship with a child while they gather information bit by bit (where they go to school, what sports they play, their friends’ names, what time they get home from school). They keep this up until they have the information they need to make face-to-face contact. Read these tips on what signs might indicate your child is in trouble.
- Regarding limits: Talk about internet safety with your child before problems develop. Set limits on when, where, and with whom she can be online. Build a trusting relationship, so she will come to you for help should she ever need it. Read Basic Internet Safety at NetSmartz to better understand what she needs to know.
I started this blog by mentioning that some children are at greater risk than others. If your child frequently makes impulsive decisions, you need to be even more diligent in monitoring his online activities. He might know better than to communicate with someone he doesn’t know, but he might do it without thinking about the consequences. He probably should not be in his bedroom online where you cannot monitor his activities. Remember, too, that you can keep his computer and smartphone with you when it’s time for bed (or unplug the wifi).
As parents, we cannot keep our children safe at all times. It is our responsibility, though, to teach them how to keep themselves safe. It is important to monitor online activities and educate ourselves about online safety. The FBI recommends the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website. Why not explore their site together with your son or daughter?