I often talk and write about keeping kids safe online and the dangers that can be found on the Internet. The problem hit home yesterday. My cousin sent me an email. The email simply read, “Please call me-urgent-very important.”
I called him. He sounded very sad on the phone. He is always Mr. Bubbly. I knew something was wrong. I asked him what was going on. He told me that his teenage daughter was sexually assaulted 10 days ago. He found out about it yesterday. She used her mobile phone to meet a guy on a teenage social media chat site. She thought he was 18 years old. It turns out that this predator is 26 years old. He is a registered sex offender. My cousin’s daughter is one of three other victims. His youngest victim was 7 years old. I am not sure how he met the 7-year old.
I don’t know how long this 26 year old predator had been grooming my cousin’s daughter. I asked my cousin did anyone ever occasionally check her phone to see what was going on. He said no. For a moment I felt guilty. It does not matter that they live on the other side of the country, I should have done a better job of getting my message out about online safety to my own family.
There are some parents that talk about giving kids space and respecting their privacy. Ok, fine, but you must balance that with doing your job of protecting them. I grew up with a nosy no nonsense mom and a Drill Instructor Marine father. Privacy definitely was not afforded to me. I am thankful for my nosy parents. Here are a few tips that may help you keep your child safe.
TALK TO YOUR CHILD
The number one thing you can do to keep your child safe is to talk to them early and often. I am a fan of monitoring. There are all types of technology you can use to monitor your child’s computer, tablet or smartphone. However, nothing beats having a relationship with your child that includes open and honest communication. Let your child know that he or she can come to you and talk about anything.
If you do not have the right type of relationship with your child, what is to stop her from going next door and using the Internet where there may be no parental controls at all?
SET RULES AND BOUNDARIES
Talk to your child about what is and is not appropriate online behavior. What type of language is acceptable? Do you want them to use chat rooms? Can your child have his tablet or phone in his bedroom at night? What types of pictures are inappropriate to share with and receive from friends?
TRUE STORY MOMENT: There is a school where I live that I am very familiar with. A few years ago, a group of about ten 5th graders had what they called an “Online Club.” Each night for about a month, in their respective bedrooms, they would go online at 10pm. They were not doing research for a school project. They went to a particular porn website. The next day in school they would talk about what they had seen the night before.
DON’T SHARE PERSONAL INFORMATION
Often you never know who you are really talking to online. Your child may think they are talking to a fellow young person that means them no harm, but actually they are talking to a 50-year old child predator. Even if they know who they are talking to, it is wise to never give out:
School they go to
Even if you know not to give out your personal information, you may do so inadvertently. Make sure you check the privacy settings of each website to which your child subscribes.
Parental Control software allows you to monitor your child’s online activity. Depending on the frequency you set, you will automatically receive an email activity report of what your child said, pictures that were sent and websites they visited. You don’t always have to pay for parental control protection, especially for mobile phones. Many cell phone service providers have developed their own parental controls for their phones. Non-technical monitoring (“Hand over your phone so I can see what’s been going on.”) can be helpful as well.
BE WHERE YOUR KIDS ARE
You need to know what sites your kids are using and have your own account at the same sites. It’s difficult to protect your child from something you don’t know about. I have spoken with parents that also have all of their kids’ usernames and passwords.
KNOW THE LINGO
Some children use online acronym slang. It is hard to police something if you don’t know what you are looking at.
TRUE STORY MOMENT:
A young lady was planning a fight using Facebook. When her parents were at work, she and her friends were going to get together and fight another group of kids. Her mom walked by the computer as the girl was planning this and did not say anything to the child. Why? The mom did not know what she was looking at. The young lady used a lot of online acronyms.
Of course you know what LOL, BFF and OMG mean. How about LMIRL, GNOC, ASL?
Social networking sites and apps are cool. Depending on how they are used, they can have some real consequences. More and more college admission offices and corporate HR departments are checking online profiles. The first stop is usually Facebook. Depending on what they find, your child may not get into the school of their choice or be hired for the job they REALLY want.
KEEP UP WITH TECHNOLOGY
I know technology changes very quickly and it can be almost like having a part-time job keeping up. Surely your child is worth your best effort. There is no need to spend hours scouring the Internet for the latest popular website or online danger. Subscribe via email to 1- 3 very informative sites that talk about online safety. When these sites post new articles, you will automatically receive that information in your inbox.
IT IS PERMANENT
Once you press send you have lost control over what you just typed or the picture you just took. It may be months or years down the road, but you never know what you did may resurface on someone’s computer, tablet, smartphone or server.
WHAT’S HOT (right now)
Below is a list of some of the more popular websites and apps among young people today.
Ask.fm (increasingly used for cyber bullying)
IS YOUR CHILD COMMUNICATING WITH SOMEONE ON THE SEX OFFENDER REGISTRY?