Powerful Tools to Protect Our Children’s Online Safety

The following article was written by Amy Williams who is a free-lance journalist based in Southern California and mother of two. As a parent, she enjoys spreading the word on positive parenting techniques in the digital age and raising awareness on issues like cyberbullying and online safety. @AmyKWilliams

As educators or parents, we actively seek opportunities to empower our children. We teach them how to tie their shoes, budget money and cross the street correctly. We spend hours teaching a child stranger danger and how to operate a moving vehicle. After all, it is our job to instill these life skills in the younger generations. Unfortunately, many of us might be overlooking one area that poses a very real threat to our children: technology.

Online Dangers Facing Our Children

Far too often, we don’t bat an eyelash before handing our charges digital devices that connect to the Internet or social media. We use it to enhance learning for assignments, make study time engaging, and even to connect with other students across the globe. Unfortunately, hidden among all the innocent swiping are some very serious dangers that can derail any child’s future.

Listed below are four common pitfalls many kids digitally stumble into:

Cyberbullying. This is probably of the most well-known dangers out there. In fact, within the last few years cyberbullying rates have tripled instead of going down. Data has been collected that show 87 percent of our kids have witnessed digital bullying. This percentage is up from 27 percent in 2013!

Phishing or hacking. Phishing often involves tricking users into clicking on viruses or sharing personal information that can lead to identity theft. The problem with these scams is how authentic many of them look. Often, they lure children in with the promise of discounted goods, scholarship applications, free games, or free ringtones which can be hard for kids (and even adults) to resist.

 Sexting. This common online behavior is now seen as a “normal” part of development today; just an upgraded version of “show me yours, I’ll show you mine”. Unfortunately, due to a child’s age, brain development, and outdated child predator laws, sexting can quickly spiral out of control leading to felony charges, extortion, or bullying.

 Online predators. It is estimated that there are about 500,000 predators logged online everyday scouring the Internet for new targets. The problem for our children is that the anonymity of the cyberworld is how predators can assume any persona from behind a keyboard. Often, they create fake profiles that mimic other teens. Then, predators contact kids based solely on their usernames, ages, and interests. Children often fall for these fake profiles and start the grooming process.

Empowering Children: Strategies for Online Protection

The above danger make it essential that we are teaching our children with ways to protect themselves online. The following 10 strategies can help empower our kids so they can safely navigate the Internet and enjoy the world waiting at their fingertips:

Create a technology contract. Technology contracts allow us to clearly outline all expectations and consequences. It helps children know what is exactly expected and how they should behave. It also gives adults a guide to responding to inappropriate conduct or behaviors. When done correctly, this contract can prevent a lot of heartache, arguments, and slammed doors.

Never share passwords. A lot of cyberbullying occurs when ex-friends take over a child’s accounts or steal sensitive photos. Avoid this from happening by guarding passwords.

Always double check the sender’s email address to make sure it matches the content of the email. If you have any questions or something looks out of place, contact that company using a number from your records and ask if they have any details regarding the offer or message.

It’s okay to “say no” to a sext request. If a person really cares about someone, they will respect their decision.

 Never show your face or distinguishing marks in a sext. Let’s face it, kids will push boundaries. Even though authorities can track phone numbers and IP addresses, kids can prevent bullying if there is no way to identify a person in a photo.

 Have them tell a parent or adult immediately if you see anything online that makes them uncomfortable.

 Document any bullying or threatening messages. This is critical, because bullying is defined by repeated behaviors. If help is needed, a child should have evidence it has happened frequently.

 Only “friend” people you know. Avoid friending friends of friends or strangers. Users should stick to the people we interact with on a regular basis.

 Avoid meeting people IRL (in real life). For teens and children, this is crucial. Make it a rule not to share addresses, school schedules, or meetings.

Be careful about oversharing personal information. Teens love selfies, but the backgrounds reveal a lot about their behaviors. Tell them to crop out identifying landmarks or shirts that might give clues to their physical whereabouts or personal lives.

What tips do YOU have for teaching children how to protect themselves online?