Internet filtering and security products alone will not protect your kids from cyber bullies or worse. Education is a key part of the prevention. Here are some tools and tactics to keep your family cyber safe and savvy.
Use filters to complement, not replace your supervision of Internet use. Some software, such as SafeNet, allows kids to monitor themselves instead of blocking sites. It records the addresses of every site your kids visit so you can peruse them later. Other security programs such as Sonicwall, and Watchguard block undesirable sites by comparing the Internet addresses your child tries to access against its own list of off-limit sites. Keep in mind, however, that phones or computers that do not have filter software are unprotected.
Phones are no longer just for talking. They have Internet access, cameras and videocams. Just as in chat rooms, kids need to think about who they text and talk with. They should never text/talk with strangers and should never allow other people to photograph or film them without permission.
Talk to your kids about what personal information is and why it should never be given to people online. Remind them to keep passwords private, even from best friends, and not to share photos of themselves or family with people they meet online. Nothing written on the Web is completely private.
You’ll learn a great deal about your child’s Internet habits by surfing the net with him. Get your own Facebook and Myspace accounts and befriend your kids – you can then read their profiles. When asking your son about the neighborhood boys he hangs out with, be sure to ask him about his ‘online friends.’
Get to understand their cryptic code – http://www.netlingo.com/acronyms.php – is a list of acronyms used for texting and online chats.
Make sure your child has two trusted adults (you, a teacher, another parent, or counselor) that he can turn to if needed and communicate often with these people. If your child is harassed online, save the evidence and if it escalates, contact your local authorities. Also, remind your kids not to be a bully or a bystander. Even if they don’t like someone, it’s a good idea to be decent. The Golden Rule applies well here. Watching or forwarding mean messages only empowers bullies and hurts victims. It’s time to let bullies know their behavior is unacceptable in any venue.
Most importantly, the best remedy is to keep an open line of communication. Talk to your child about being civil, about being a friend, about privacy issues, about ethics and morality, and about sexuality because if you don’t, someone on the Internet will. No matter how tech savvy a parent becomes, he will never match the intuitive abilities of a generation that grew up in cyberspace. The responsibility lies with us all to give our impressionable youth a firm foundation upon which to make wise and healthy choices and the gift of trust to strengthen their ability to do so.
Contact Margaret Lavin at firstname.lastname@example.org