Protecting our children is every parent’s most important job, but many feel outmatched when it comes to the virtual world. We struggle to keep up with all the apps available, let alone the updates that seem to be released the second we finally understand something. We try to be vigilant about snooping through our children’s tablets and phones, only to realize that anything even remotely important is probably on Snapchat or some another “disappearing” platform. Every screen is potentially a crime scene waiting to happen, so what is a modern parent to do? Though technology is complex, the answer for parents is ironically simple: Face the facts. Educate yourself. Connect with your children.
Earlier this year, I attended an eye-opening presentation on cyber safety, and only four other parents were in attendance. I left that evening knowing that I just had to share this information with the masses. (You’re welcome.)
Face the Facts
Florida has the most sex offenders per capita, and Duval County has the highest rate in the state. The criminal behind the worst sextortion case (think blackmail for racy images sent from a minor) in the history of the U.S. happened in St. Johns County. Nearly 10,000 cases of exploited children have been opened since 2013 alone! This stuff is scary, sleezy and rampant. No parent wants to think about their child seeing or sending inappropriate images. Or that a cyber bully will go after their sweet angel by spamming out rumors, videos or whatever they can to hurt someone. lf we don’t act like it’s a real threat and teach our children how to find help if they end up in the mix, then our kids will be the next victim. Our children know more about technology than we do. Acknowledging this truth is not an admission of defeat. Our goal isn’t to know as much as our kids. It is to equip them with the tools they need to protect themselves and seek help.
Truth, the odds are our children will be a victim of some variation of an online incident, but that doesn’t mean prevention isn’t important. Along with NetSmartz.org and GetNetWise.org, here are some helpful tips to increase cyber security:
Limit personal identifiers. When creating logins, screen names and/or profile pictures, limit personal information like birth dates, school, age etc. Online predators are looking for any way to strike up a connection with a child. Be boring and generic — it matters! Gender neutral and non-revealing titles are the way to go. Know children’s passwords, but remember, if they are willing to surrender that info, then chances are they have a secret second login.
Use web blockers and parental controls. Paying for a web filter is a great idea. Most actually do what they advertise! Activate those parental controls on your TV, apps etc. Nothing is 100 percent foolproof ,so always tell children to tell you if something weird pops up or if they stumble onto an inappropriate site.
Establish rules. Our parents told us nothing good happens at midnight, and our children will remember us lecturing that nothing good happens online after dark. Create a list of online rules that works for you, and keep the computer/desk in a common area. Adult supervision is a powerful deterrent when children are online. Check the screen and the web history often. Turn the router off after 9 p.m. and/or collect phones and tablets before bedtime. The bottom line is kids will stay online all night if we let them. Predators do the same thing.
Connect With Your Children
Doing all of the above can help prevent online problems, but kids still make mistakes. Chances are, they will be involved in online “issue.” Parents must talk to children about internet dangers and express how important it is to seek help if they are being threatened, asked to do something they know is wrong, etc., and kids can’t let the fear of parental consequences prevent them from getting help. The below powerful PSA (suggested for fourth grade and up) speaks to the power the internet has. Everything posted lasts forever, which is a concept that short-sighted children can’t fully appreciate.
The internet is dangerous, and it is everywhere. Even if we have all things under control at home, kids don’t live in a bubble. They will have unsupervised access to an unfiltered smart phone, tablet or computer. Period. Take charge of what you can control and equip your children to seek help if all else fails. We may not be the savviest generation out there, but we must be all in when it comes to protecting our children.