must-have conversations about online child safety
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[August 23, 2012]
(ARA) -- Academic performance expectations, attendance at school
functions and balancing extracurricular activities with time for
homework -- parents and children have a lot to talk about at the
beginning of the school year. Few conversations, however, will be as
important -- or as fraught with tension -- as discussing how children
should, and should not, behave online.
While many kids look forward to reuniting with school friends
from last year, they'll be meeting new people, too. Many of those
interactions will take place, in part, in the digital world,
bringing online child safety front-of-mind for parents as
back-to-school season arrives. To help protect your child while he
or she is online, start the school year with three important
How to behave when connecting online
The anonymity of the Internet makes meeting strangers seem appealing
and safe. But kids should use at least the same level of caution
when meeting someone new online as they would in the real world.
Explain to kids why they should never initiate or accept online
contact from someone they haven't first met in person. Given all the
information we tend to give away in our online profiles, it's like
walking up to a stranger on the street and inviting him or her into
Employ tools like SafetyWeb to help keep kids safe online. The tool
helps parents monitor online activity and includes an active blog-forum
that allows parents and pros to discuss the latest child-rearing
challenges of the digital age. Review the privacy settings on your
child's social media accounts so that your son or daughter
understands what's visible to friends and what is visible to
everyone else (preferably, nothing). Create the social media
accounts with your child so that you know what sites she uses and
who her online friends are.
Establish designated times when children are allowed online for
social media use and times when they can use the Internet for
schoolwork. Never allow children to use the Internet behind closed
doors. Yes, they'll probably say everyone else does it and that
you're ruining their lives, but keeping Internet-enabled devices in
a common area can help make it easier for you to protect your child.
How to behave when interacting online
As a parent, you have two concerns for your child's online life:
first, that he or she experiences no harm from online interactions;
second, that he or she causes no harm to others.
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The digital world makes communication fast and easy, yet its
drawbacks are many: It's highly conducive to impulsive behavior,
it's difficult to accurately convey tone and intention, and it's
nearly impossible to erase something once it's posted online.
Children need to understand the limitations of this form of
communication and that missteps online can have a long-term impact
in the real world.
The anonymity of the Internet has made it easier for people to be
mean to each other and has given rise to a whole new type of bullying: cyberbullying. A study by isafe.org found that 58 percent of fourth-
through eighth-graders have had mean or hurtful things said to them
online, and (even more disturbingly) 53 percent admitted to having
said something mean or hurtful to another person online.
Help your child understand the type of behavior that constitutes
cyberbullying so that she can both avoid cyberbullies and avoid
engaging in acts of cyberbullying. In addition to monitoring your
child's online behavior, encourage him to have a robust social life
in the real world -- the environment in which we really learn how to
behave with others.
How to behave when interacting in person
While you're teaching about appropriate online behavior, it's
important to reinforce lessons about being a good person in
face-to-face interactions. Bullying has been around as long as
people have. Teach children how to recognize instances of in-person
bullying, and help them learn techniques for coping with bullies.
Being a good citizen of the digital world starts with being a good
person in the real world. Reinforce with kids the importance of good
behavior both online and in person, and -- most important -- lead by