Internet Safety First!
I recently attended an eye-opening talk by Craig Blewett, a lecturer from UKZN who was completing his PHD in Facebook and education, who spoke of the dangers of the internet. This, together with the recent talks held nationally by Emma Sadleir, have prompted me to share with you some of the risks involved and, more importantly, the tips provided for parents on how to help us to face this challenge with our little Millennials!
Soon after I attended these talks, I asked a group of pupils who of them had Facebook accounts and was not surprised in the least when several of them proudly raised their hands! Sadly, their joy turned to sorrow when I honestly told them that they had committed their first lie on the internet! As you may or may not know, under the terms and conditions of Facebook users need to be 13 years of age or older in order to join – (click to Tweet).
This means that they had to enter a false date of birth in order to join! What would be the next step for these pupils? “Press enter, if you are older than 18 (adult content)!” What I was startled by, however, is that many of the pupils had their moms and dads as friends, thus condoning this first internet fraud, so to speak! As a parent, I ensured I was my son’s first friend on Facebook three years ago and I insisted on full access to his profile when we set up his account together, not because I am a bored old man, but simply because I care! Hopefully this was the intention of the parents with their under-aged children.
Whether we like it or not, the reality is simple: the computer/smart phone is here to stay and social media is certainly forming the key to all communication for our children today, or very soon will be. Sadly, many of us Baby Boomer and Generation X type parents just don’t get it! I mean, do we really need to know from your Facebook profile what you just had for lunch or that you are having a really bad day at work with your tyrant of a boss? (You better pray your boss isn’t one of your ‘friends”…)
They used to say, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” but I think the new challenge is going to be “The iPad is mightier than the pen!” We all clearly understand the dangers a sword would provide in the hands of our children, but sadly, I think we are a little blasé about the dangers of the internet and, more specifically, social media, which is flooding cyberspace. And yes, we are all buying our children iPods/iPads/PSP’s/Nintendo DS’s and Smart Phones – all with internet access capabilities. Again, this is the reality in which we live, so do we idly dish them out to our children, do we not dish them out at all, or do we do so with due consideration and provide the necessary guidance our sons and daughters require?
I suppose the 2 important questions to ask here are:
1. So what are these dangers?
2. What can we do as parents to protect our children?
So true to form, Google I did, and I this is what I found on Web MD.
Our children face 4 main dangers when surfing the web:
Internet Danger #1: Cyberbullying
Internet Danger #2: Sexual Predators
Internet Danger #3: Pornography
Internet Danger #4: Damaged Reputations
Scary stuff, right? Luckily, with these internet safety tips, we can protect our children from the nasty stuff out there.
- To keep others from using their email and Internet accounts, our children should never share Internet passwords with anyone other than parents, experts say.
- If your child is harassed or bullied through instant messaging, show them how to use the “block” or “ban” feature to prevent the bully from contacting them again.
- If your child keeps getting harassing emails, delete that email account and set up a new one. Remind your child to give the new email address only to family and a few trusted friends.
- Teach your child not to respond to rude or harassing emails, messages and posts. If the cyberbullying continues, call the police. Keep a record of the emails, posts, screenshots etc. as proof.
- Monitor which social networks your child is on, and explore each site together or search for it yourself online. Social networking sites often have age limits, like Facebook, for example. If you want to delete a site, work with your child to cancel the account, or contact the social networking site directly.
- Teach your children not to post their full name, address, phone number, school name and other personal information that could help a stranger to find them. Remind them that photos – like your child in a team shirt – can give away clues to where they live. Instruct them never to send photos to people they meet online.
- Learn about privacy settings that allow children to choose who can view their profiles and help your children set up their profiles accordingly. Explain to your children that strangers who approach them online aren’t always who they say they are – and that it’s dangerous to meet them in real life. Teach them to communicate only with family or friends they already know off-line.
- Parental supervision is key when it comes to internet safety. Put your computer in a common area of your home, not a child’s bedroom, so you can keep an eye on online activities.
- Understand internet acronyms that you children might be using.
- Ask your children to report any online inappropriate usage to you or another trusted adult right away. Also, call your local police and save all offensive emails as evidence.
- Install Internet filtering software to block porn sites from any computer your child has access to.
- Consider using filtering software that monitors and records instant messaging and chat room conversations, as well as websites visited.
- Consider using a monitoring program that filters pornography keywords in several languages. Some children have figured out how to get around filters by typing in porn-related search terms in other languages.
- Explain that even if your children delete their copies of photos they have sent to other people, others may have already copied them into public forums and websites. Remember, ANY POST BECOMES PUBLIC PROPERTY ONCE SHARED, DOWNLOADED, POSTED ETC
- Tell your children not to let anyone, even friends, take pictures or videos of them that could cause embarrassment online – such as if a relative or teacher saw them.
- Talk to your children about possible consequences. Experts say a 17-year-old might think it’s hilarious to post a Facebook photo of himself looking drunk, with empty beer bottles strewn around him. But will a varsity admissions officer or future employer be impressed? Probably not!
The internet is an awesome tool, but it can lead your children into very dark, dangerous places without them even realising it. Not convinced yet? Perhaps a visit to www.takethislollipop.com (login with your Facebook account) would best illustrate the real concerns the internet can bring!
Another thing I’d like to point out is that I have often heard parents commenting that their children do not have cellphones, tablets or even a television at home, so they feel they are safe. Sadly it is a bit like the forbidden fruit, as many of these children may well be given exposure elsewhere – in friend’s homes, at school, with extended family etc. Thus the need to educate towards correct and value-based usage becomes even more important. As they say, “Where there is a will, there is a way!” and our strong-willed millennials know the way even better than us adults, as they were born digital natives unlike many of their parents.
And while much of this may seem relevant to only to the older boys and girls of the school, remember that even an innocent Google search could reveal something inappropriate, just like an online game site with undesirable pop ups could be stumbled across at any time! Children being children, I have no doubt they will then click, go back and share! It’s what they do, it’s called curiosity!
The truth is, and I’m sure many of you will relate, that I couldn’t possibly survive without my smart phone or laptop, and I wrote this blog with mixed feelings. But as I often do, I allowed the values taught to me by my parents to be my guide and hope that this would also hold strong for my sons one day!