Teaching Your Kids Cyber Safety

September 16, 2013

Can somebody please update the parenting handbook? We could drown in advice about breastfeeding and toddler tantrums, but our children face a new challenge that was unheard of when we were kids – the Internet. This is one topic that you can’t run to Grandma for advice on and you didn’t face when you were growing up either.

You only have to look around a shopping centre, café or swimming lesson to see toddlers on iPhones and iPads. Sorry, you’re not going to be able to ignore this one. Cyber safety will definitely have to be added to your parenting prowess. So, where do you start?

Firstly, take advantage of the ‘parental controls’ or restrictions on your device, usually found under ‘Settings’. Here you can set a PIN and disable apps, turn off in-app purchases, block explicit material and enforce movie ratings. Also look at cyber safety apps like Mobicip or install a filter like CyberSafe247 on your home Internet connection (which will protect all devices on your home Internet).

Fortunately, pre-schoolers think that parents know everything and they are comfortable coming to you with questions. Yes, every single question that they can think of. Take advantage of this by being involved in what they are doing on your phone or iPad. Ask them to show you what they’ve been watching or playing. Unfortunately it’s all too easy for them to watch Dora the Explorer on YouTube and then click a link to find Dora exploring something that she shouldn’t be. Let them know it’s ok to talk to you if they see something weird.

As they get older and their literacy skills improve, their school may promote educational websites and apps for homework practice. When signing them up for an account on a website, create a separate, free email account (like Hotmail or Gmail) that’s not related to their real name and use that. Make sure you know all the account logins and passwords for any website that your child visits, and if they change the password without telling you, let them know there will be consequences!

For young teens, this is perfectly acceptable to enforce with their Facebook login too. Don’t step back on your supervision and compromise their safety because they wanted some privacy. If it’s not acceptable for you to see or read, they shouldn’t be putting it online. Keep the computer where you can see the screen when they are using it.

Often their first exposure to an online community is a site like Club Penguin, where they can interact with other kids. It’s important to reinforce that those other kids are just like the ones that sit next to you in class and that the same house rules need to apply. These include not being mean and not using rude words.

Now is also a good time to introduce the concept that because you can’t actually see those other people, you don’t really know who they are.  By this stage, children should be familiar with ‘stranger danger’ messages. Remind them that you wouldn’t tell a stranger where you live, so you shouldn’t give out your address, phone number, school or password online either. Tell them that if they ever get asked for that information, it’s ok to not reply and to go and get mum or dad. Watch out for signs that something isn’t right, for instance, they don’t want to go online again or they are unusually quiet after being on the computer.

Unfortunately, the lure of the Internet doesn’t wait until children have good sense and life experience. So instead of blocking all access until they are 21, capitalise on the opportunity to teach them good internet habits while they are young. Before you know it, they’ll be facing puberty, Facebook and SnapChat!

Sonia Cuff blogs about technology at Off the Cuff.

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