Technology is all around us and becoming more integrated in everything we do. From exploring an idea to conceptualizing that idea to creating something, most, if not all that process is now done using some form of technology.
Children are being exposed to the many uses of technology earlier and earlier, at home, in the community and at school. We now see camps, after-school groups, and games all focused on teaching kids to code as early as three years old!
Through the use of technology, children can now access educational games, opportunities to learn about the world around them from their kitchen table, as well as countless ways of connecting to others as never before.
However, with technology and the way we use it, so rapidly changing every day, the risks associated with cyberbullying, child exploitation and exposure to inappropriate content is very real. Although as a parent, our primary focus should be to keep our kids safe, we also want to find a balance that supports and fosters our children’s independence, natural curiosity and learning.
Our role should be to help our kids become more aware and savvy of the possible dangers of using the web and what they can do to keep themselves safe. We can’t always be present when they are surfing the web, but by having open and ongoing discussions and setting up clear boundaries and rules, we can find the balance between supporting our children’s development and helping to keep them safe. A few basic tips for parents and children to get started include:
Internet survival tips for parents
1. Stay informed and involved. The Internet is here to stay. Our job as parents is to teach our kids how to use the internet in a safe, responsible, and respectful manner. We need to become comfortable with the technology and aware of the enormous potential and dangers of the Internet. Check out the sites they visit, and make it your business to know whom they are with and what they are doing online.
3. Engage your kids and embrace their world. Ask your children questions. Go online together. Teach them to be critical consumers of Internet content, pointing out that online information is not always true. Let them teach you how to download, IM, or create your own Facebook page. Just like parenting in the real world, it is important to keep lines of communication open with your child. Make it clear that if they encounter a disturbing or dangerous situation online, they can come to you for help.
4. Teach safety. Educate yourself about cyberbullying, identity theft, and online sexual exploitation, and discuss these dangers with your children. Make sure your kids know how to avoid dangers. No sharing of personal information. No meeting strangers. Make certain that your children know that if they (or someone else they know) are being threatened, harassed, or exploited; if they encounter child pornography online; or, if they or someone they know is in immediate danger or at risk, that they know how to report these threats to responsible adults.
Internet survival tips for kids and teens
1. There is no such thing as “private” on the Internet. Think before you post. People can find and keep anything they want online. What you post is public and permanent. Mistakes may last forever in cyberspace.
2. Never post personal information. No real names, birth dates, phone numbers, addresses, or anything that can identify you in photographs, profiles or blogs.
3. Never meet strangers. If a stranger contacts you online and tries to set up a meeting, end all contact. Do not tell anyone your schedule; do not say where you will be hanging out; and do not advertise parties. People are often not who they say they are. One in 5 kids will be sexually solicited online.
4. Know everyone on your “friend” list. If you have not met the people face-to-face, they may not be who they pretend to be.
5. Be very careful posting photos or video online. Do not post sexy photos, pictures, or video showing behaviour that may be embarrassing to you now, or in the future. Make sure there is nothing in the photo that can help online predators identify where you live or the school you attend. Do not send pictures of other people. Forwarding an embarrassing photograph or video clip of someone else is a type of bullying.
6. Do not download anything without your parents’ permission. Many sites have spyware that will damage your computer. Other sites have inappropriate content. Your parents can check your computer’s URL history, so you cannot hide where you have been.
7. Do not share your password with anyone but your parents. Not even with friends.
8. Report suspicious activities or dangers. If you, or someone you know, is being threatened, harassed, or exploited online, tell a trustworthy adult who can help them, or call the Kids Help Line (1-800-668-6868). If, you see, or know of child pornography online report it to Cybertip.ca If you, or someone you know, are in immediate danger or at risk, call 911 or the local police.
What I have realized in my interactions with parents is that the first step to supporting our children is getting informed ourselves. Many parents, including myself, don’t know enough about the ins and outs and so-called “rules of engagement” of many apps and social media platforms to feel comfortable and confident enough to have these discussions with our children. Becoming informed and comfortable ourselves should be our priority.
There are many helpful resources out there to get you started. Locally, you can visit the library, a local computer shop or a family resource centre in your neighbourhood to start gathering information and resources.
Online, there are many resources geared to parents trying to get up to speed about today’s technology or be better prepared for having discussions with children, as well as sites geared to children and teens with content in formats they will understand and appreciate.
A few good places to start for parents include:
• www.mediasmarts.ca/parents, which includes a digital citizenship guide, tips for handling screen time, and videos to better understand social media
www.getcybersafe.gc.ca/cnt/blg/pst-20170629-en.aspx, which includes conversation prompts for having discussions with your children, securing your home computer and dealing with cyber bullying
• www.cybertip.ca/app/en/internet_safety-for_children, which focuses on resources dealing with child exploitation
• Another great resource that offers information, tips, videos, games and activities for parents and educators to view and explore with children at age-appropriate levels is www.thedoorthatsnotlocked.ca/app/en. The information on this website is divided by ages from 5 to 15 and addresses four different categories (The 411 on Internet activities, Relationships and the Internet, Child Development, and Internet Safety Tools).
Just as our children are open to using new technologies, don’t be afraid to explore, ask questions and get informed. The more information and comfort parents have with the Internet, popular apps and social media platforms, the more we can guide and support children and be someone they turn to and trust, and that’s the goal.
Take the time to sit with your children and look at their interests, what tools they use, who they are connected to. By doing so, you are doing your part to guide and help your child be safe in this technological world.