How to talk to your kids about: Online safety

Can you imagine growing up in a world where you can instantly access information on anything you want or connect with anyone in the world at any time? The internet is a fantastic thing with so much potential, but so many dangers as well. We are also only a few clicks away from inappropriate content or people. Keeping children safe in this new world that they are growing up in is a big concern for many parents.

As parents, we need to prepare our children to navigate the wonders of the internet, as well as prepare them for cyber bullying, online scammers and pornography. You know and understand your child better than anyone and you have a great parental instinct for risk. The internet is like a swimming pool – instead of keeping our kids out of the pool forever, we should teach them how to swim. So parents, let’s be smart and proactive with keeping our children safe online.

With younger teens, treat their wanderings on the internet as you would their wanderings around a city. You want to know where they are going and who they meet. You can even specify which places they can go to and where they are not permitted.

A few must-knows

Lots of devices can access the internet – phones, tablets, gaming consoles etc. But you can control that access by switching off the wifi or using parental controls (smart phones and games have them).

  • Kids + internet – supervision = pornography. (Both boys and girls view pornography, though it is more likely to be a problem with boys). That might sound cynical but it is very easy to stumble across it and the temptation is powerful – for everyone, even good kids (and good adults!). Supervision is important.
  • It is not dumb to have only one internet-enabled computer at home (making sure all the others are offline). Keep that computer in a ‘high traffic’ part of the house.
  • Filtered internet providers (such as Maxnet and Watchdog) and filtering software are not perfect, but can provide a barrier to getting to nasty sites.
  • We all know the internet can suck hours and hours out of your day – put real time limits around its use.
  • Your kids should be thoroughly and firmly warned about arranging to meet people they have gotten to know only online, or giving away information that could identify them.

Get yourself up to speed! You might describe yourself as ‘technophobic’ – afraid of new technology. But now that you have children in your home, you really do need to upskill, otherwise they will be living in a world you know nothing about. The easiest place to start is to watch YouTube tutorial videos.

The Attitude team has produced Connected – a resource for young people all about internet and cell phone use. You can purchase a copy from our store. digi-parenting.co.nz has great advice and resources too.

What your kids need to know about online and text bullying

Tell an adult. Lots of young people are afraid to do this because they don’t want to lose access to their device. Talk about how you would react to them telling you about online bullying so they are empowered to tell you. Know that for children today, their online social life is as real as their offline friendships. To lose that connection with their online world is so threatening they may keep bullying a secret.

Encourage your kids to hold back from responding to vicious messages. Bullies are looking for a reaction and when we give it to them, it sparks further bullying.

Keep a record of any online harassment. If it keeps happening, go to their school or internet service provider – they take it seriously.

If someone seems determined to be a pest, let your kids know they don’t have to take it. Contact your mobile phone company and report the problem.

Each phone company has rules about what qualifies as bullying – for example, some of them say you have to get four unwanted texts in a week. If you respond to them at all, they won’t count it as being unwanted. They will probably ask you the date and time messages were sent, so make a note of this before you contact them. Check out Vodafone’s ‘Blacklist’ service and netsafe.org.nz for more ideas on how to handle unwanted messages.

If text messages include threats to hurt your child physically (like threats to ‘get you’ or ‘punch you’, etc.), the sender is breaking the law. Save these messages. Show them to the police and make a formal complaint about receiving threats on a mobile phone. Record your complaint number and contact the police again if there are further threats.

Beware of ‘trolls’. Trolls are internet users who post provocative content to get a reaction. The best way to deal with trolls is to block them, report their posts and ignore them.

Most social networking pages have a setting that allows users to check comments before they are posted. Also, bump up the privacy settings on Facebook (the default settings are very open).

Remind your child not to share their passwords, even with friends. If they do (“Hey, can I log on to your page? I need to check something”), then make sure they change their password afterwards.

If people have access to someone’s password they can sabotage their online profiles or post things pretending to be them. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s tragic. It’s a good idea to always log off after using social media.

Also make sure their password is really hard to guess. Millions of people use ‘123456’ or ‘password’ to protect their accounts, and hackers love that. Be creative and change them often. Password managers can help with security too.