Most of our kids have never lived in a world where life wasn’t lived online and off. It’s kind of mind-boggling to consider how my 13-year-old daughter has never lived in a house without a personal computer and smartphones were born before my youngest son was.
But once upon a time, there was a world without the Internet, and there are a lot of us who can remember what life was like before personal computers, tablets, and smartphones.
My first experience with the World Wide Web was in University when we discovered the computers in the lab were hooked up, and although it was dial up at that point, we spent countless hours randomly web surfing.
The Web was big, new, and as shiny as a penny, so in my enthusiasm I managed to stumble across forums and chat rooms I wished I wouldn’t have. It ended up being a good thing, because those initial experiences made me really cautious about how I spent time online.
But I was old enough to handle the Internet in all its glory, and I was mature enough to make decisions about where I would spend time and where I wouldn’t. Despite the fact that our kids have been online since before they can remember, they don’t have that same savvy required to always make the right decision and get themselves out of situations where they have the potential to be hurt.
That’s why we need to teach our kids about cyber safety long before they begin spending a lot of time online. Whether you’re just thinking about talking with your kids about potential dangers online or you need to enforce some hard and fast rules for daily use, here are a few tips for teaching your kids about cyber safety.
Know your apps
Most kid’s first forays online aren’t on a desktop computer. They may use the family computer at home, but a lot of kids get their intro online through an iPod, iPad, or tablet computer.
Even if you’ve deleted the Internet app to prevent your child from surfing, there are still ways for kids to go online and connect with other kids. Thanks to the many different apps on the iTunes and Google Play stores, your child has an instant window into social networking. They can usually chat with other people right in the app, opening the door to your child being contacted by strangers or being the victim of cyber-bullying. To protect them, you can teach them which apps are red flagged and which are relatively safe.
There are so many different apps to watch out for, but after chatting with other parents, these are the 3 apps we’ve all concurred are worthy of an instant delete on an iPod, smartphone, or tablet.
You might have heard of SnapChat? The purpose is to follow friends and have them follow you, but the platform it’s built on is ripe for abuse. On SnapChat you post a picture that your followers can see and then the app deletes the photo. The trouble starts when kids post inappropriate photos and think they just disappear, but what they might not realize is savvy kids know how to take a screen shot of a photo. Although your child might think it disappears, once someone has a screenshot it can be passed around and live online forever.
If you’ve seen a profile on Instagram that says ‘Kik me at…’ with a user name, you’ve probably wondered what Kik is. Kik is a chat app, and it’s one that’s very difficult to monitor. Once your kid’s user name is out there, he or she can be ‘Kik’d’ by complete strangers, and it’s very easy for them to hide the chats from you by deleting them so you don’t see them.
Unbelievably, the app store rates Tinder as an app rated age 12+. If I saw Tinder on my child’s smartphone, I’d probably take the phone away and flush it. Tinder finds people who are nearby and shows their photos. If they like your child’s photo and your child likes their photo, they can connect and start messaging.
Talking to your child about Tinder is also a great way to bring up the topic of online impersonation: where someone uses photos or a bio to hide who he or she really is. What can happen? Maybe they will pose as a teen or tween to get the interest of other teens and attempt to meet them in real life. There are quite a few abduction stories that start with that scenario, so apps like Tinder should be off limits for anyone under the age of 19.
Protect their password
Beyond getting smart about apps, one of the ways you can teach your kids to be safe online is to let them know that keeping passwords to themselves is extremely important.
What can happen with a password that’s shared online? To start, having your child’s password floating around can open them up to cyber bullying. Someone could go into your child’s account and post embarrassing or fake photos, and that can hurt your child either now or in the long term.
Passwords protect your child’s personal information, and you’d be surprised what can happen when someone hacks into their account. Full names, birth dates, and email addresses are required to set up profiles online, and if someone gets access to that, your child’s safety may be compromised.
Your best bet is to show your child how to create unusual, difficult to figure out passwords. You can make them up yourself or use Google’s password help site for tips.
Teach them that what goes online stays online
Imagine your child posts pictures of him or herself on an Instagram account. The account is private and you watch their friend’s list so you aren’t worried about what he or she is posting. But one day your son or daughter posts something that you’d consider inappropriate: maybe it’s a photo of them and a friend doing something you wouldn’t like, or it’s a selfie of some kind. You ask them to delete it and they do, but that saying ‘what goes online, stays online’ is absolutely true.
If it’s on Instagram, someone could have taken a screen shot before it was deleted, then share it with others. That might be the end of the photo spreaing, but it could have a snowball effect where someone shares it on multiple platforms and search engines pick it up. Once a search engine picks it up? It’s online forever. If your child’s name is attached, all you’ll have to do is search for their name and you may see that photo.
If you want a specific example, take a look at the photo from one teacher in Texas. Jane Anne Culp wanted to show her Grade 5 students how quickly people can see and share a photo, so she posted it on Facebook and asked people to like it if they saw it. In a few days, it went viral, and she now has over 4 million likes on it.
The really crazy thing that can happen to viral photos? It was reposted on multiple sites including Reddit, and people photoshopped it into various forms including one really interesting meme of Nic Cage.
The bottom line? To stay safe, kids need to be extra careful of what they post online. A good rule of thumb is to teach them to wait 10 minutes between the impulse to post a photo and actually posting.
During that time, they should ask themselves what could happen with this photo if it was shared beyond their account, would they mind if you saw it, and if there could be any repercussions if they share it. If they are in doubt, he or she should ask a parent or trusted friend for a second opinion before posting.
Our kids will never know a world where they don’t lead two lives: online and offline. Teaching kids about cyber safety is as important as teaching them to avoid getting in the car with strangers and other real world dangers. If you’d like more information on teaching your kids about cyber safety, visit Stay Safe Online. I’ve also written a post about cyber bullying you’d like to know more about the dangers of online bullying.
This is yet another reason why I stick with BlackBerry and will likely have my kids do so as well. With Android and iOS, you don’t have an option to select permissions. What you see is what you get and if you don’t like you don’t use the app. With native BB10 apps, you generally have the option of what you allow the app to access on your phone, which is nice. In some cases, denying access to certain aspects of the phone cripples the app from performing the desired function, but so far I have been amazed at how many apps ask for access to a lot of things they don’t need to operate properly. Most of the apps I use have all the permissions set to “deny” and still work just fine.
That’s a good point @Juice0904 . With new apps coming out every day, whatever we can do to block inappropriate content before they see it is a good thing.
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