Breck was just another 14-year-old kid. He excelled at school and was a straight A student. 6 mths later he was dead, lured to the home of an online predator he met through a gaming site. While his storyis a nightmare scenario. I hope the opening paragraph of this post has not deterred you from reading on. I realize it’s shocking but that story is real and it’s every parent’s nightmare.
The reality is we are living in a new age where children have many ways to communicate with the outside world and we may not even know it’s happening. This post is designed to educate you and alert you to the potential dangers of the online world and arm you with the skills to limit the dangers your kids may get themselves into. Sure you might become Mrs unpopular Mom for a while but the alternative is not worth considering.
10 Must Read Tips for Children’s Online Safety
Talk To Your Child – Sounds simple right? But it’s often the most overlooked aspect of online safety for kids. A quick conversation about their online activities can lead to some valuable intel. At the same time education on the dangers of online activity can be a useful deterrent. Try not to force the conversation as they will get angry or switch off. Make it a ‘cool’ chat and trust them to make good decisions. The main aim of this talk would be to educate them to never meet anyone ‘offline’ that they don’t know in person. You would be shocked at the number of stories where this happens. This series of YouTube videosis shocking to watch but shows how easy these predators can enter into the minds of our kids.
YouTube – YouTube has been around for so long that many wouldn’t consider it a threat at all. But unlike television that has controls over what content is shown at what time of the day, YouTube is 24/7 watch what you want TV. YouTube has over a billion users and reaches more 18-34 and 18-49 year-olds than any cable network in the U.S. Now with smart phones and tablets commonplace there is a good chance your child has been watching all sorts of content that you might not want them to. The good news is that YouTube has settings that can limit the content it shows to viewers without first entering a pass-code. Simply open the app on your phone or tablet and click the 3 dots on the top right of the screen => then select settings => then Restricted mode filtering => then strict. The process is slightly different on desktop and it’s recommended to have an account and to sign in and sign out. This videohere explains more. A much safer method is to delete the main YouTube app and install YouTube Kids app. This is a standalone app by YouTube and offers a selection of kid friendly videos. You set the levels of videos and a few controls and they are off.
Online Gaming – Gone are the days of games being one-dimensional or even multiplayer. Nowadays you can play with kids all over the world. But the real question here is how do you know they are kids or how do you know those kids aren’t bad. The answer is you don’t and this can have the ultimate penalty as the story at the start of this article illustrates. The best method is to not allow games that have the ability to chat or talk with strangers. But as your kids get older this is not always as easy as it sounds. A simple way to stop this is to rule out the use of cameras or microphones for your kids to use. Computers in bedrooms are too hard to police so we keep our children’s gaming restricted to the lounge only with no cameras or microphones allowed. We have allowed the ability to chat to their friends but monitor this daily. We recently had a situation where a neighbor’s child was using a microphone to talk within the game and this was being broadcast to us. We literally heard everything in their house. Luckily we told them and they removed the microphone but who knows how many others didn’t and now know what happens in their house’s.
Pornography – Unfortunately pornography exists everywhere. Search engines will pull it up in seconds, again it comes down to monitoring what your child is looking at and when and where they are doing it. Computers in bedrooms are an easy way for kids to gain access so it’s advised while they are young to limit this. Bedrooms with too much tech will limit your child’s sleep so try and keep them out of the bedroom for as long as you can. Google offers settingsto limit this but any child can get around it by using a different browser. Again it may be best to talk to your child about it and empower them to make the right decisions.
Google – Google is the window to the world and offers a limitless number of search options. The downside of this is the easy availability of material that is adult in nature and violence. You are advised to set controls on the app by clicking on the gear icon => then settings => then search settings => and then filter explicit results. On desktop you click on the gear icon => then search settings => then safe search filters => and turn on safe search. If in doubt or you are worried about what your child is searching for you can check the history on the app by clicking on the gear icon => privacy => browsing => view on device history. Then on desktop gear icon => history. Just be prepared for what you might find. If you have an iPhone read this from Appleto utilize restrictions.
Sexting – Sexting is the use of text messages to send explicit messages to people. If your child is old enough to have a phone, then they will be able to message friends. Nowadays this is taught in schools but again it comes down to parenting and teaching respect for self and others. You can check their phone to find out but this breeds dishonestly. The ultimate way to stop this is to not allow your child a phone till they are older.
Cyber-bullying – Bullies are the scourge of this planet. Normally the stuff of school yards the bullies now use every method possible to hurt their victims. Many kids have taken their own lives due to online bullying without their parents even knowing anything was wrong. Talk to your child and allow them the chance to tell you what’s going on. If the bullying is bad then tell them to stop using social media or take the matter to the school principle and make sure you have proof. Tell the principle that if they will not take action you will involve the police. Ensure you stay on top of this until it’s solved. Again limiting the use of technology can help with these situations before they occur.
Predators – Predator’s will always exist and you would be shocked to know that they probably live in your neighborhood. With technology they now have a huge upper hand as they can hangout anonymously in places where children are known to hangout. Like the horror story at the start of this article, it’s actually wise to read some of these tales as knowledge of what may happen in extreme cases. This will give you the determination to keep your rules and to be aware of the worst case scenarios.
Social Networks – There are now so many of these that listing them all would be a task in itself. While the bigger players like Facebook have rules around what age you can join many will just lie and parents will turn a blind eye. But Facebook is an easy social platform to control, it’s the new networks springing up that are in search of big growth that may not have the best policy’s in place. These include Snapchat, Tinder, Twitter and many more.
We are only scratching the surface here but by making some of the changes to your routines and rules you will greatly reduce the likelihood of your child becoming a victim. While our 10 Must Read Tips for Children’s Online Safety is comprehensive the main points you should take from this are as follows:
Awareness - Be aware of what can and does happen
Open dialogue with your child about what can happen and education on how to act
Control – You are the parent and you make the rules. Who cares if what you do makes you unpopular. As a parent you are not trying to win the popularity contest, you are trying to give your child the best education, skills and start in life.
We hope you enjoyed this post. Please leave us feedback in the comments section with any other hints and tips.