The end of the school year offers an abundance of leisure time for most kids, and many of them will go online to connect with friends or explore the internet. For busy, working parents it can be difficult to closely supervise their children as they roam across websites where danger might lurk. However, children must understand the rules and risks of cyberspace, and the first line of protection is a parent-child discussion about the internet’s resources and potential dangers.
Though many students are familiar with the internet through school, their friends and through pop culture, it does not always mean they are ready to browse without supervision.
It is vital that there be open, two-way communication between you and your child. If your child tells you about something upsetting or unusual that they encountered online, be careful not to blame or scold them. That could result in their not telling you the next time such things occur. Instead, BBB suggests you help them avoid such problems in the future with gentle instruction.
Here is a list of the most prevalent risks that children may encounter online:
Bullying and harassment – This is most likely to occur through social networking sites or through email or text messages. It’s important to listen to your children and encourage them to discuss their fears and feelings about such incidents. The online safety website SafeKids.com has a page of resources to help you deal with cyberbullying.
Reputation-harming online posts – Children may not understand that “online is forever.” Posts can haunt them at some point in the future and may be saved by someone, even after it has been deleted. Be sure your kids understand this, especially as it applies to photographs. Take the time to use a search engine to check up on what has been posted by or about your child.
Phishing attempts and identity theft – Help your children understand that emails requesting passwords and user names may be fake, even though they look legitimate. Remind children to never click on links in such emails. Explain to them that passwords should be shared with no one except for you, and make sure your devices’ operating systems and security software are kept up to date.
Inappropriate content – Children can easily stumble upon material that is sexual, violent, or illustrates illegal activity. Safekids.com also has information for parents who discover that their children have been viewing inappropriate material online.
Online stalkers/predators – Though such incidents make newspaper headlines, the risk of a child or teen being harmed by someone they met online is considered to be low. Nevertheless, common-sense rules always apply. Any communication your child has with an unknown person online that veers into subjects which are not appropriate or include physical details should be ended at once and reported to you. Call your local police department if you suspect your child has been contacted improperly or by an unsuitable party.
Be aware that advertisers are tracking your children online as well. The BBB’s Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) has a free online guide that explains privacy issues, as well as other important aspects of online safety for children.
Take time to try out apps and online services that your child uses so that you can assess whether there is risk involved with them. Carefully review terms and conditions, especially with regard to what kind of information may be collected, whether it will be shared, with whom, and how it may be used.
Check privacy settings on all household social media accounts, and explain to children not to “overshare” photos and personal information, such as where they live, email addresses and telephone numbers. Finally, make sure your children and other family members don’t post the family’s out-of-town vacation plans.