Keeping Kids Safe Online Part 3

| October 8, 2010 | 1 Comment

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Socializing Online

Social networking sites, chat rooms, virtual worlds, and blogs are how teens and tweens socialize online. Kids share pictures, videos, thoughts, and plans with friends, others who share their interests, and sometimes, the world at large.

Socializing online can help kids connect with friends, and even their family members, but it’s important to help your child learn how to navigate these spaces safely. Among the pitfalls that come with online socializing are sharing too much information, or posting pictures, video, or words that can damage a reputation or hurt someone’s feelings. Applying real-world judgment and sense can help minimize those downsides.

What can you do?

Remind your kids that online actions can reverberate. The words they write and the images they post have consequences offline.

Explain to your kids why it’s a good idea to post only information that they are comfortable with others seeing. Some of your child’s profile may be seen by a broader audience than you or they are comfortable with, even if privacy settings are on. Encourage your child to think about the language they use online, and to think before posting pictures and videos, or altering photos posted by someone else. Employers, college admissions officers, coaches, teachers, and the police may view your child’s posts.

Remind your kids that once they post information online, they can’t take it back. Even if they delete the information from a site, they have little control over older versions that may exist on other people’s computers and circulate online.

Use privacy settings to restrict who can access and post on your child’s profile. Some social networking sites, chat rooms, and blogs have strong privacy settings. Talk to your kids about these settings, and your expectations for who should be allowed to view their profile.

Review your child’s friends list. You may want to limit your children’s online “friends” to people they actually know.

Talk to your teens about avoiding sex talk online. Research shows that teens who don’t talk about sex with strangers online are less likely to come in contact with predators. In fact, researchers have found that predators usually don’t pose as children or teens, and most teens who are contacted by adults they don’t know find it creepy. Teens should not hesitate to ignore or block them.

Know what your kids are doing. Get to know the social networking sites your kids use so you know how best to understand their activities. If you’re concerned that your child is engaging in risky online behavior, you may want to search the social sites they use to see what information they’re posting. Are they pretending to be someone else? Try searching by their name, nickname, school, hobbies, grade, or community.

Encourage your kids to trust their gut if they have suspicions. Encourage them to tell you if they feel threatened by someone or uncomfortable because of something online. You can then help them report concerns to the police and to the social networking site. Most of these sites have links for users to report abusive, suspicious, or inappropriate behavior.

Tell your kids not to impersonate someone else. Let your kids know that it’s wrong to create sites, pages, or posts that seem to come from someone else, like a teacher, a classmate, or someone they made up.

Create a safe screen name. Encourage your kids to think about the impression that screen names can make. A good screen name won’t reveal much about how old they are, where they live, or their gender. For privacy purposes, your kids’ IM names should not be the same as their email addresses.

Help your kids understand what information should stay private. Tell them why it’s important to keep some things — about themselves, family members, and friends — to themselves. Information like their Social Security number, street address, phone number, and family financial information — say, bank account or credit card numbers — is private and should stay that way.

Apps

Do you—or your kids—download “apps” to a phone or social networking page? Downloading may give the app’s developers access to personal info that’s not even related to the purpose of the app. The developers may share the information they collect with marketers or other companies. Suggest that your kids check the privacy policy and their privacy settings to see what information the app can access. And consider this: Is finding out what flavor ice cream you are really worth sharing the details of your life—or your children’s?

CYBERBULLYING

Cyberbullying is bullying or harassment that happens online. It can happen in an email, a text message, an online game, or comments on a social networking site. It might involve rumors or images posted on someone’s profile or passed around for others to see, or creating a group or page to make a person feel left out.

Talk to your kids about bullying. Tell your kids that they can’t hide behind the words they type and the images they post. Hurtful messages not only make the target feel bad, but they also make the sender look bad — and sometimes can bring scorn from peers and punishment from authorities.

Ask your kids to let you know if an online message or image makes them feel threatened or hurt. If you fear for your child’s safety, contact the police.

  • Read the comments. Cyberbullying often involves mean-spirited comments. Check out your kid’s page from time to time to see what you find.
  • Don’t react. If your child is targeted by a cyberbully, tell them not to respond. Bullies usually are looking for a reaction from their target. Instead, encourage your child to work with you to save the evidence and talk to you about it. If the bullying persists, share the record with school officials or local law enforcement.
  • Protect their profile. If your child finds a profile that was created or altered without his or her permission, contact the company that runs the site to have it taken down.
  • Block or delete the bully. If the bullying involves instant messaging or another online service that requires a “friends” or “buddy” list, delete the bully from the lists or block their user name or email address.
  • Help stop cyberbullying. If your child sees cyberbullying happening to someone else, encourage him or her to try to stop it by not engaging or forwarding anything and by telling the bully to stop. Researchers say that bullying usually stops pretty quickly when peers intervene on behalf of the victim. One way to help stop bullying online is to report it to the site or network where you see it.
  • Recognize the signs of a cyberbully. Could your kid be the bully? Look for signs of bullying behavior, such as creating mean images of another kid.
  • Keep in mind that you are a model for your children. Kids learn from adults’ gossip and other unkind behavior.

View previous segment–Advice for parents of kids at different ages

View next segment–Communicating online

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