By Ashley Marlow, Lower and Middle School counselor and Andrea Flagiello, Lower School computer science and innovation teacher
We wouldn’t send children to New York City on their own, yet that is the equivalent of what we’re doing if we allow them to go on the internet without some guidance, according to a guest speaker from the San Diego Police Foundation during a presentation to parents last month. Described as self-defense classes for internet users, the SafetyNet®: Smart Cyber Choices® program was also presented to students in Grades 3–8. Both presentations included discussion on cyberbullying, online scams, video games and consent.
Below are ways to keep your child safe online with topics and strategies given during the presentation that can help us to better navigate through our digital world successfully.
Make it a Dialog:
Make cyber safety part of your normal family dialogue. Talking to your child and being aware of what they do online is the best way to protect them. These can be hard topics to bring up, but talking about them builds awareness and will help to guide their decisions in the future.
Imagining that unlimited access to the internet is similar to sending your child unaccompanied into a big city is a good reminder that your guidance is still necessary.
Students might be hesitant to talk with their parents about problems that they are having online because they worry about getting into trouble or losing access to their device(s). Incorporating “Tech Talks” into your family conversations will help children understand boundaries so that they recognize what qualifies as healthy usage. Additional information can be found on Internet Safety 101.
Start with a Strong Password
Identity thieves are targeting children at rates of up to 51 times higher than that of adults. The first line of defense is to have a strong password while making it clear that this information is not to be shared outside of the family. Refrain from posting answers to online quizzes that ask for commonly used passwords on social media, like the name of your first pet or the street that you lived on while growing up. You can test the strength of your passwords at www.howsecureisyourpassword.net.
Hackers work to excite or scare their targets in order to get a reaction. Using the motto “If it’s too good/extreme to be true, it probably is” will help everyone in the family to be cautious whenever there are requests for money. One common scam targets grandparents where a phone call is made saying that a member of the family is in jail or has been abducted and money needs to be transferred in order for them to be released. It is recommended that families have a code word that can be used to determine the authenticity of this request.
Other scams might come through on text messages stating that the recipient will win a big prize if they invest a certain amount of money or through gaming when kids are trying to get extra coins. Require that your child asks for permission to purchase anything online. Also, www.snopes.com is a great resource for fact-checking news and urban legends.
Over 30 percent of children have reported being cyberbullied. Talk with your child about how to handle a bullying situation. Options include: blocking the bully/stop talking to them on social media, ignoring/not engaging with their messages/posts, and reporting to a trusted adult. Document and report any threats to law enforcement.
It’s important for children to understand that they need to get someone’s consent before they post a photo of them online. Likewise, parents should be cautious about posting their children’s photo on social media. Overexposure could make children vulnerable to predators, especially since San Diego has become a hub for human trafficking. The nonprofit Child Rescue Coalition has more information on their Kids for Privacy Campaign.
Twenty percent of high schoolers have met someone in person that they first began talking to online. Encourage your children to only be friends with people that they know in real life and to not use their real name as a username on games or social networking sites. Teach them not to engage with anyone who asks a “red flag” question in an attempt to find out their identity or location.
Discussions about boundaries both on and off-line will help kids to have a better understanding of healthy relationships. Older children may feel pressure to be in constant contact with friends or significant others. If a peer demands to know where they are at all times or who they are spending time with, your child might need assistance in limiting contact with that other person. Help children maintain their privacy by going through their devices to make sure that location sharing is turned OFF on each app.
One in five children has been sexually solicited online and 24 percent of teens report being involved in some type of sexting. Children need to understand the legal ramifications of sharing nude photos when they are under the age of 18. If someone asks for pictures, it is soliciting child pornography; if someone sends pictures, they are distributing child pornography; if someone has nude pictures on their device, they are in possession of child pornography.
The Internet is NOT Private
Nothing is ever private on the Internet. Private group messages and Snapchat threads can be saved via screenshots and shared with others, which can result in lost opportunities. Colleges and businesses frequently use social media profiles to assess if an individual is the right fit for their community. College and job offers have been rescinded due to online postings, so it’s important for students to know how their digital persona can have real-life consequences.
Age restrictions are placed on games, apps, websites and entertainment for a reason. Check out honest reviews for parents about what resources are age appropriate at www.commonsense.org.