If you have children, then you probably know how much they love the internet…
They use it to play games. They use it to speak to friends. They use social networks, they put up photos, they organise parties and they chat online. The internet really has become an essential part of their lives.
But do you know what they are really doing online?
Yet many parents just let their kids get on with it, not supervising them, installing some free virus protection or indeed checking what they are up to. Although you hope it will never happen to your little ones, there are some shady characters out there who are, unfortunately, up to no good.
If you want to prevent your children being targeted by internet bullies – or nasty predators – you really do need to talk to them about internet safety and create an internet-friendly home.
Step 1: Spend some time online with your kids
Before you can even start to talk to your children about internet safety, you need to spend time with them online:
- What do they do online?
- What sites do they visit?
- Who do they speak to?
Perhaps they spend most of their time on Facebook or Twitter, log into a multiplayer game like World of Warcraft, or speak to their friends over instant messenger?
Whatever they do, you need to get a feel for their internet habits so you can assess the warning signs, should something happen in the future.
For example, if they are an avid Xbox gamer, do you hear them speaking to people across the world? Or if they have a Facebook profile, do you know what sort of pictures they like to upload and share?
Take some time to surf the internet with your kids and get a feel for what they do.
Step 2: Set out some guidelines – and have that conversation
Once you’ve seen for yourself what your kids like to do online, you don’t want to stop them from having fun, but you want them to be safe at all times – don’t you?
With that in mind, your next step should be to set out some guidelines. It’s important that they know what your expectations are.
Let them know that you are there for them, should they ever feel scared or concerned should something happen to them online. There’s lots of information available out there for parents to use, like this free downloadable book.
If you can instil in them a confidence that you are approachable, then you’re starting off on the right foot.
However, in order to set out guidelines and expectations, it requires honesty. In order to achieve this it involves getting their passwords for all of their internet accounts – from their email to their social media. If they won’t give you them, then you can’t trust them. Make sure they understand this.
Step 3: Be clear about your expectations
In order to be as open as possible about the internet and your kids, you need to clearly set what your expectations are:
- How long can they go online for each day?
- Do they need to have things done (such as homework or washing-up) before they can go online?
- Do you want to see their chats if they use instant messaging?
- When do they need to be in bed and away from the computer?
- Can they have a social media profile?
Be clear about your expectations. If they know they are free to roam the world-wide-web, but only if they stick to your rules, then you’ll be more confident that they won’t be at risk.
Step 4: Enforce your guidelines
This is probably the hardest part about speaking to your kids about internet safety, because it may raise some difficult discussions.
You therefore need to enforce your guidelines.
If that means banning them from the internet if they aren’t offline at a set time, or haven’t done their homework before they get themselves online, then so be it. They need to understand that you only have their best interests at heart. If that means tough love, then so be it.
Also, be sure to set up a model internet home.
This means keeping your child’s PC out of their bedroom and in a communal area. It means keeping a close eye on them, making the odd check now and again, and if they like chat rooms then don’t ever let them have a suggestive screen name like “PrettyFlower92”.
Step 5: Be an internet sleuth
Finally, if your child is spending far too much time online, or late at night, or even becoming shy and withdrawn – then it’s a sure-fire sign that something untoward could be happening. That’s why you need to be a bit of an internet detective.
- · Check their internet history
- · See what sites they are visiting
- · Ask to see their emails
Be open with your kids at all times. If you find something, or suspect something untoward is happening, then act – and act fast.
Internet safety is a complicated issue. In today’s digital world your kids are probably more internet-savvy than you – but if you can raise your concerns, be approachable and set guidelines and expectations then you’re well on the way to heading off any issues before they could occur.