Keeping Kids Safe in an Unsafe World
by Dr. Virginia Smith
Not a day goes by that we don’t see on the evening news or read about online another incident where a child has been victimized by an adult – either by someone they know and should be safe with, or online by a predator. While we can’t protect them from every danger or evil person they may encounter, we can take steps to prepare for and prevent many of the situations that endanger our children, particularly those found on the internet.
One of the key qualities we need to develop in our children is that capacity to be cautious. Children and teens (and many adults) are impulsive, many times making decisions “on the fly” without a lot of research, information, input, or thought. While cruising the internet a teen may innocently click on a link without thinking and be taken to a site where they might be victimized.
Keeping Kids Safe Online
What are some common sense steps you can take enhance your children’s safety on the internet? According to NetSmartz, an online safety clearinghouse (https://www.netsmartz.org/internetsafety), here are six basic things you as a parent or guardian can do:
- Keep the computer in a high-traffic area of your home. Limit use of electronic devices to these public spaces so that you, as a more experienced and mature adult, can keep an eye on online interactions. Phones and laptops can charge in the living room as well as the bedroom – the plugs are all the same.
- Set guidelines and rules for acceptable sites and appropriate amounts of time to spend online. At first, your child will probably balk at any limitation of this sort, but establishing these “guard rails” is for their own good. Even if a site is not risqué or “inappropriate” it might not be safe or secure.
- Monitor ALL online use – that includes mobile devices such as phones…and…video games! You may not realize it but a large portion of video games that kids play today are interactive online. Someone who is playing with your kid – and chatting with them, building a trusting relationship – may be an adult predator. There really isn’t any way to know unless you actually know the person and the name they use when playing the game or talking online. Even then there can be clever impersonators.
- Spend some time WITH your child, exploring the internet together. Ask them to show you what they like to do and where they go. Use this as a time to open dialogue about recognizing appropriate and safe places while avoiding potential danger.
- KNOW who is connecting with your child. Do not feel badly at all for restricting access to your child. Remember – there is no guarantee the person on the other side of the screen is who they represent themselves to be. NetSmartz recommends setting guidelines for using a webcam, but I suggest disabling it altogether – problem solved.
- Continually dialogue with your child about online safety. I would add here to also stress the importance of NEVER sharing any personal information with ANYONE online. Even cell phone photos have digital information encoded in them that can be hacked by those with evil intentions.
One of the key things to remember is to keep the lines of communication open with your child. Together, form a team to take on the challenge of internet safety. By keeping the dialogue going, even if your child encounters danger, you will know about it earlier – and hopefully in time to take appropriate action to protect your child and your family.
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Dr. Virginia Smith is a speaker, author, and life-long educator. A Kamm Distinguished Fellow in Academics, Research, and Leadership, she holds degrees in family services, business, and education with areas of concentration in curriculum design and development.