As summer approaches and kids have more free time, Better Business Bureau urges parents to prepare themselves and their children before allowing them to spend more time on the internet.
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 kids 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 pop culture, it does not always mean that 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 happen. Instead, BBB suggests you help them avoid such problems in the future with some guidelines.
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. Remind kids not to ever post identifying information such as address and phone numbers online. Take the time to use a search engine to check up on what has been posted by or about your children.
Phishing attempts and identity theft - Help your children understand that emails requesting passwords and user names may be fake, even though they look legitimate. They should never click on links in such emails. Explain to them that passwords should be shared with no one except 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 resources for parents who discover that their children have been viewing pornography 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 like sex or physical details should be ended at once and reported to you. Call your local police department if you suspect your child is being contacted for sexual reasons. Monitor your children's accounts for unknown followers and commenters.
Be aware that advertisers are tracking your children online as well. Better Business Bureau's Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU) has a free online guide that explains privacy issues, cyber-bullying, stalking and other important aspects of online safety for children.
Take the time to try out apps and online services that your child uses so you can assess whether there is risk involved with them. Make sure you carefully review their terms and conditions, especially with regards 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.