Now that children will be back to class and have schoolwork, their time spent online significantly increases along with patterned and predictable times they access the Internet. Online predators, cyberbullies, and cyberstalkers prepare themselves for what they hope will be another year of unsuspecting groups of vulnerable, discouraged, and high risk-taking children. In addition to online adult predators, children and teens who are cyberbullied and cyberstalkers will fill cyberspace looking to taunt and harass their peers.
For proactive parents who plan to practice & Institute Internet safety, I’ve compiled a checklist & tips to ensure all your bases are covered. The list provided is a quick injection of internet safety awareness. I hope my checklist helps insulate your child from abuse and leads to a safe and enjoyable school year.
iPredator: A child or adult who engages in psychological and/or physical victimization of others motivated by; peer acceptance, malice, spite, and criminal or deviant drives using digital communications technology, telecommunications, or mobile devices.
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1. FBI’s Parents Internet Safety Guide: Visit the FBI’s website and thoroughly read their excellent overview called “A Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety.” Before moving on to step two, make sure you’ve written down and have easy access to your local police department’s phone numbers.
2. Become Cyber Stealth Savvy: Cyber Stealth is a term used to define how online users engaged in nefarious activities use the anonymity information, and communications technology offers everyone online to their advantage as they plan their next cyber attack. Please encourage your children to be cautious of others they meet online and educate them on cyber stealth tactics.
3. Offline Distress Dictates Online Response (ODOR): If you’ve already read my article, you’ll immediately recognize this concept. A child is particularly prone to engage in high-risk behaviors online if he/she is feeling discouraged, angry, or distressed. Do not move on to the next step until you’re confident your child is feeling encouraged, stable, or monitored by a professional or trusted loved one. Of the hundreds of articles and studies I’ve researched, a child’s psychological status highly correlates with their online behaviors. If there are ongoing conflicts at home, recent traumatic events, or any other anxiety and/or distressing events in the home, it’s essential to monitor your child’s online usage.
Just as important as your child’s home environment is your child’s school environment.
Given you can’t be with your child when they are at school, it’s important to maintain regular contact with school officials regarding your child’s attitudes and behaviors on school grounds. Although academics in school are a priority, your child’s demeanor with teachers and fellow students speaks to their psychological and emotional welfare. Research has directly linked a child’s school and home environments to their online activities.
4. Personal Information Prevention Planning: The number one and most important issue to address with your child is the amount of personal information they share online. Getting your child to practice minimal release of their name, contact information, photographs, and passwords to their social sites is highly desirable. If I were to approximate the several hundred articles I’ve read on internet safety and cybersecurity, 99% percent of them list restrictions for sharing personal information online are vital to internet safety.
It can’t be emphasized enough, but children who disclose their contact information, personal information, and images freely are at a much higher risk of being targeted by an iPredator. As an Internet safety proactive parent, the goal is not to totally restrict or forbid your child from sharing personal information, but to educate them on being highly cautious and consistently aware when, why, and what they disclose to others.
Research has proven that the vast majority of taunting, abuse, cybercrime, and sexual assault that children endure is most likely coming from their peers and/or known adults rather than unknown adult online sexual predators.
5. Peers, Parents & the PTA: Given you can’t monitor your child’s online activities when they’re not in your presence, it’s paramount to access those people who will be. Your child’s friends, their friend’s parents, and their school are the three prime social targets you should be in regular contact with. The goal is to initiate and sustain open communication with your child’s friends and parents regarding internet safety expectations. Just because you have restricted your child from certain online activities doesn’t mean your child’s friends are restricted or their parents have online house rules.
Using your capacity to be cordial and polite, maintain a consistent open dialogue with your child’s social circles. It’s important to have an open dialogue with school officials and/or the PTA to ensure internet safety and cybersecurity mechanisms are in place regarding your child’s school environment. Before the school year begins, contact school officials and investigate their internet safety measures, educational emphasis on Internet security and procedures for cyberbullying, cyberstalking, sexting, mobile device usage during school hours, and cybercrime related to adolescent life.
6. Know Your Child’s Social Networking Sites: As of 2011, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Tagged, and MyYearbook are among the most popular social networking sites children and teens look to for their cyber identity, digital reputation, and online social relationships. Thanks to the Internet and digital technology, many children and teens look to the digital universe for their developmental milestones and self-esteem.
Unfortunately, predators also choose these sites as their most favored websites, spending most of their free time trolling for unsuspecting, nave, discouraged, or high-risk children. Given the 400-500 popular global social sites and growing, it’s of the utmost importance to spend time with your child discussing digital citizenship and cautious online communications.
7. Smartphones & Cellphones Need More Smarts: A smartphone is a wireless phone with voice, messaging, scheduling, e-mail, and Internet capabilities. Research and marketing trend experts’ project sales of smartphones will exceed personal computers by the end of 2012. In 2012, 500 million smartphones were projected to be sold. Despite the benefits of mobile digital technology, children and teens are becoming more dependent on their mobile phones more than ever before.
Recent studies have suggested children who are depressed, anxious, and/or discouraged spend more time interacting with their mobile devices and less time being typical children. It’s vital that as a parent, you monitor the amount of time your child spends on their mobile phone and contact your phone carrier about additional security features that they may offer. If a cellphone or smartphone is in your child’s future, be sure to have the store you purchase the phone from install or set up all the necessary safety and filtering devices and software.
8. Weekly Digital Dinner: The term may sound absurd, but making it a habit of discussing the family’s digital habits at least once weekly during dinner is both proactive and helpful. In today’s dual economy and single-parent households, dinnertime is one of the few weekly consistent, predictable, and social events. As just mentioned, it’s the family’s digital habits and interactions discussed and not the child’s weekly interrogation. By discussing their internet activities, children will feel more comfortable disclosing information relevant to internet safety and their online activities.
During these weekly discussions, always discuss the importance of being highly cautious of sharing personal information online. It’s also highly recommended to discuss positive, beneficial aspects and stories about online usage to make the weekly discussions fair and balanced. Before every weekly digital dinner discussion, it’s highly recommended to announce to all involved that any information shared regarding online activities will not cause punishment, retribution, or embarrassment. This weekly announcement may be redundant, but it reaffirms to your children that they won’t be punished for their mistakes or irresponsible behaviors.
9. House Rules Include Online Rules: Just as children have curfews, responsibilities, and chores, they also should have online rules & regulations. Based on my conclusory findings, there are no universal online rules applied to children of all ages. The three that I feel are relevant to children of all ages and at all times are; cautious disclosure of sharing personal information online, never meeting someone they’ve met online without supervision, and never sharing their passwords to anyone other than their parents.
Other than this triad, parents should establish house online rules based on their child’s age, developmental maturity, knowledge, and persistence of internet safety. In addition to the trifecta of obvious rules I mention, research has led me to conclude that nighttime online usage and time patterns should be considered when negotiating or designing online rules. Research on predators has concluded that they prefer to troll for their victims during evening hours and at time intervals when the child or children they’re targeting typically log on to the internet. The predator learns online log on habits and sets their online schedule to match the child they’re targeting.
10. Emphasize the Child’s Developmental Achilles Heel: Part of being an effective parent is being a creative parent. All children, starting anywhere from 7-10 years of age, develop what’s commonly called self-awareness. Once self-awareness begins, the child begins to worry about how their peers perceive them. As they continue physical & psychological maturation, this fixation on self-image, popularity, and peer acceptance becomes their primary driving forces until they’ve finished college.
Knowing your child will be experiencing these theatrical & emotionally charged events, you can use them to your advantage regarding their online activities. Instead of telling your child “NO,” educate them on how images and information we share online can last for years. Just as rumors of friends spread, online rumors and embarrassing images can go “viral.” Directly connecting your child’s developmental fears to their online behaviors of disclosing the information is an effective and natural internet safety technique. When done in a kind, respectful way, this method for teaching your child to be cautious of sharing personal information can be highly effective.