As if inflation, shaky employment futures, rising interest rates, falling wages and political or social-economic and eco-terrorism weren’t enough of a burden for parents, add the worry about keeping your child safe from bullies and predators on the Internet: That any parent in today’s world maintains any vestige of sanity might seem truly amazing.
You teach your child early about looking both ways when crossing the street, about drinking and about drugs. Have you instilled in your child safety rules that are being followed on the Internet? Have you taught your child what to do and not do, what is considered a crime and how it applies to electronic communications, including cell phones, texting and website content?
Teaching your child to never give her real name may seem to the child as asking him to lie, but just as you taught him never to talk to strangers when he was younger, teach him to never give personal information—his name, address or phone numbers—to people he does not know well in real life. Giving a user name or email address on an instant messaging system might be okay, but if it’s not something you want a real-life stranger to have, teach your child to not give it over the Internet, even if the child considers the other person a best Internet friend.
Make the child understand that he never knows if a picture is real or the person who says he’s 12 years old actually is. Online predators have perfected their online personas and tailor profiles and language to match target genders and ages.
Watch for behavior changes. If a child is extraordinarily secretive about a special online friend, you might consider investigating your child’s activity. If your child becomes sullen, withdrawn or argumentative beyond the norm, have a serious conversation about what’s happening in the child’s life: Are people talking about him, texting about him or posting derogatory information about him on the Internet?
Unlike “standard” bullying, electronic bullying can include social networking or websites, but it also includes use of cell phones both in conversation and in text messages or picture form. Any electronic bullying is a crime called cyberbullying.
Teach your child that telling you about electronic harassment is exactly the right thing to do. Rarely do cyberbullies stop on their own. Returning the behavior creates a cyberbully in your child, and both are wrong, and both are breaking the law.
Feeling upset about electronic harassment is natural. Doing nothing about it creates additional stress and unhealthy thoughts that can damage your child’s sense of self-worth. Talk with your child often about Internet and cell phone use. Don’t hesitate to ask for the phone to check messages or to check History files on a child’s computer to see what websites the child is viewing.
In extreme cases, cell phone providers can present communications histories, but each provider has its own policy and privacy standards. Extreme cases may also suggest use of child-lock programs above and beyond browser controls. They may also suggest loading a keystroke recording program that illuminates what your child is typing, even if, for example, IM histories are not saved.
Do what’s necessary to protect your child on the Internet and electronic communication, but early dialogue between parent and child always lays a solid platform of safety and enjoyment.
- This article was contributed by Holly Miller, who writes for CouponCroc.co.uk. Visit us for discounts and save on everything your kids need when you shop online securely.
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