What to Teach Your Kids About Online Safety

We live in interesting and exciting times, especially from a technology standpoint. The world of IT is moving today at such a rapid pace, it can be difficult to keep up. One of the most interesting side effects of the fast-paced world of IT is that children today are actually in a position where they may be more adept at using technology than their parents. Stop and think for a minute. How many times have you gone to your child with a technology question?

This lends an interesting dynamic to the parent-child relationship. It gives the children a feeling of empowerment knowing that they know more than their parents. And while they might understand how to use the actual tools better, that doesn’t mean they understand the potential impact of their actions. This is where the parents come in.

So parents, a word of caution. Just because your child might know all the technical tricks to the new tablets, laptops, and smartphones, doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to teach them.

So when you sit down to have the safety talk with your kids, here are a few points you really need to add in:

1. Guard your information carefully

It is really scary to think about how easy it is for someone to find out any information they want about a person using the internet. If you have a really small piece of information, just a first and last name, a phone number, a city…any one of these pieces of information could lead to someone finding you online. And once they find you, it isn’t really that difficult for them to find out more information than you ever want them to know. With social media, a lot of interactions are happening online, but there are some that still should only happen in person or over the phone.

This really leads into the second important point which is:

2. Yes, EVERYONE can see that!

There are many people using the internet, particularly social media, who seem to be under the impression that it is okay to have private conversations online. While it is true that communication is taking place online more and more, you have to remind your children that the internet is a public forum.

Review the privacy policies for social media sites with them. Make sure they really understand who is able to see what it is they post. For example, they might decide to put up a picture from a party they went to last weekend, and they make sure to set it so that only their friends can see that picture. Remind them that they have friended their grandparents. This means their grandparents can see that picture.This holds true for status updates they post, and comments they make on other friends’ posts.

Now don’t get me wrong here, because I know that leaving your kids in the dark a little about these privacy concerns is helpful as a parent (especially the parent of a teenager) because you will be able to know what is going on in your child’s life a lot easier. Far be it from anyone to take that advantage away from you. All I’m suggesting is that the ultimate goal here is making sure your child knows how to stop and think before they post, comment, tweet, or click.

3. Always know who you’re talking to

Remember when your child was 3 years old and you taught them never to talk to strangers? Well, remind them of that. If someone they don’t know sends them a request to connect on social media, they should NEVER accept it. Teach them to be smart about it. Facebook has a feature that helps protect against this as well. When someone sends you a friend request and you reject it, a question pops up that asks if you know that person outside of Facebook. If you click “No”, it then automatically blocks all future friend requests from that person. In fact, every social media channel has a number of privacy features built in that gives you control over who can see what information. Go through all the channels with your child so that the two of you can set it up together. Help them to understand why these privacy features are so important.

4. This is not Monopoly Money

A huge trend we’ve seen over the past few years with the rise of online games such as Farmville, is children racking up huge bills because of one very simple reason: They don’t know that you have to pay real money. They think it’s fake money, just a part of the game.

These games tend to be confusing and tricky. You can sign up to play them for free, but there may be certain prizes or certain levels that actually require you to pay real money. It’s so easy too- like using Amazon Kindle. Just a click of a button and it’s done! It doesn’t feel like real money, it feels like it’s just part of the game. Before you know it, your account is overdrawn and you are left sitting there with a shocked expression wondering how that could have possibly happened.

If they are signing up for a game, especially when they are young, go through the game with them first. Make sure they understand what costs real money. And – this is really important – don’t give them your passwords! make sure that every time they want to download something or pay for something it has to go through you first. Check the settings of all the games they download. There may be a setting where a password has to be entered before they are allowed to click on something that costs real money.

5. Stop clicking on everything!

Yes, surfing the web and finding great new bands or deals for shoes is a lot of fun. And of course you don’t want to seem like the uncool parent who doesn’t understand how important it is to spend at least 3-5 hours a day surfing the web. But you need to take some time to help them understand what is safe to click on and what is not, especially on social media. Hackers will always target sites where they can get the most profit for their efforts, which is why it is not a smart idea to click on Facebook ads. Instead, open a new window and do a fresh Google search. If it was a real ad from a real company, you will find what you were looking for just as fast. And if your kids start pushing back, just remind them how upset they will be when a virus wipes out all their music and pictures.

At the end of the day, all you really want is your child to be able to really understand the consequences of their actions, including their online actions. Helping them learn how to judge each situation and make responsible, thoughtful decisions will benefit them throughout their life, and these days, those decisions start when they are very young, using the the internet.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen a friend put up an “interesting” picture, or a spiteful post about their job, and wonder if they realize how many people can actually see that. Probably including their bosses and grandparents!

Your children might be able to text faster than you, they might have two hundred more Facebook friends than you, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have anything left to learn from you.

Do you think we missed any important lessons? Let us know in the comments!

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