Monday, June 6, 2011

Online Safety For Kids Series - Part 1

Our new book 'Empower Your Kids to be Safe...For Life' has been getting fantastic reviews and I am really stoked with the feedback. So I thought I'd pick some pieces of it and give them away for free to you. So over the next few blogs I will reporoduce parts of the section on Online safety, as I receive quite a few questions about this subject. Please let me know if you have any questions. Cheers. Phil

Most kids regularly use the internet to safely interact with hundreds of people (who they either know or don’t know) through social network and gaming sites. The threat of online sexual predators may not be as prolific as the media will have us believe but it is certainly a genuine threat. Some sexual predators spend a great deal of time searching the internet for potential victims whom they can groom, so it is vital that kids know the risks of various activities, and how to stay safe from them.

To be able to successfully guide children to stay safe and be responsible on the internet it is important that the issues are openly communicated between you and your kids. What you perceive to be issues and what your kids perceive to be issues may be worlds apart, so it is important to bridge the gap to ensure that your kids ‘buy in’ to the rules. You can be sure that if kids don’t understand the reasons behind the internet safety rules, and if they think their parent is out of touch and doesn’t understand how things really work on the internet (a commonly held, and sometimes accurate belief among a lot of kids), they will find a way to circumvent the rules. If they fully understand the actual risks, not the over exaggerated ones, and have the strategies to deal with them, then they will follow the rules in any environment whether supervised or unsupervised. Remember, most kids have access to the internet from multiple different sources including home, school, work, internet cafe, friend’s houses, their cellphone/PDA, their friend’s cellphone/PDA etc, so it is unrealistic to think that you are going to be able to supervise all of their internet activity. That is why it is so important to work with your kids on this, not simply apply hard and fast rules which they resent or don’t understand. If you do take that position, as soon as they have the chance, and that will be often, they will ignore the rules (maybe even act in spite of them, which is even more dangerous) and be open to potential victimisation.

Before we look at the greatest risks that kids face on the internet, and strategies to address them, there are a couple of key strategies that you as the parent can take to ensure your children’s responsible and safe use of the internet:

1) Set Boundaries and Supervise Their Activities

Depending on the age of the child, there is one highly effective and important strategy that you can implement to minimise the online risks to your kids. I advocate this strategy for all pre-teen children. It is very simply:

Do not allow the computer to be located in the child’s bedroom or other private place, move it into a public area of the house.

This will help with the immediate issue of supervision while you teach your child how to use the internet safely.

Set boundaries with your kids including time limits online, and rules around the sharing/displaying of any kind of personal information online, as discussed below, and supervise their compliance. Keep in mind though that your kids probably know more about the internet than you do. If they do not understand why the rules are in place, and how they keep them safe, they will find a way around them. For example:

• You can check the browsing history to see what sites they have been to, but most kids know how to delete these and their temporary internet files to prevent you from checking up on them

• You can monitor their emails, but many kids set up multiple accounts; one for you to see and another for their private use. Additionally they will delete sent and received emails (or IM conversation logs) that they don’t want you to see

• You can watch their social networking pages, but often times kids will set up multiple pages; one which they allow you to see and join as their ‘friend’, and another which they use to communicate with their friends etc

• You can check the saved file content on the computer but kids will often just save anything they don’t want you to see on a removable hard drive and/or rename files to non descript and covert names which don’t attract any attention to them

• You can password protect their access, but most kids will bypass this very quickly

These are just a few of the ways kids can hide what they are doing online. There are of course other options available to parents such as installing overt or covert tracking software, but that only addresses the home computer use, not all of the other access points that they have to the internet. In my opinion the most effective way to ensure children’s online safety and responsibility is to openly educate and guide them, and let them be involved in the boundary setting (aka ‘rule setting’) process. If they feel that they helped make the rules, because they understand the risks, they will be more likely to always follow them wherever they are. Use the Online Safety Agreement in Appendix Four as a guide to set and agree on the boundaries.

2) To be continued in the next blog...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.