By Tanya Glover
Protecting Your Children in the Digital Age
When I was a child we played outside until our parents called us in for supper or when it got dark, whichever one came first. We played hide and seek and tag, and rode our bikes. Television was a treat that we only got to an hour, or maybe two, per day. We knew who our neighbors were and we knew where the dangers were as well. Sadly, the world that I grew up in is now gone and the dangers our parents faced pale in comparison to what the parents of today have to worry over. I knew not to talk to strangers and not to go with someone I did not know. But, today, strangers can reach our children in places we would have never thought imaginable in the past. With computers, cell phones, and other technological items, danger is lurking around every corner and it is difficult to know where it may come from and how to protect our children from it. This is a scary world we live in. While we cannot protect our children from everything all of the time, there are some preventative measures that can be taken in order to help ensure their safety. It is enough to make you shudder.
The Internet: Full of Information and Full of Danger
The World Wide Web can be a wonderful place. Who could have imagined that one day we would have any information we wanted right at our fingertips? We use it to work, we use it play, and we use it to keep in contact with family and friends around the globe. Schools have started doing away with hard copy text books and traditional teaching and instead opting for using computers are the main teaching and learning tools. People have little use for libraries anymore and when is the last time anyone can remember finding a door to door encyclopedia salesman on their doorstep? There is no need for such things in the day in age! Do you need to know how to make a roast chicken? Look it up on the internet. Need to know when each president of the United States was born? Again, use the internet. I am not saying this is a good or bad thing. It is just a fact. And it is for the most part, quite useful. Our children can do their school reports and find every bit of information they need on one machine. They can chat with their friends from school without tying up the phone lines (for those of you who still have a land line). Yes, these are good things come with having internet access. However, with the good always comes the bad and when it comes to the internet, there is a significant amount of the bad. With the growing popularity of social websites such as Face Book and MySpace, people are able to contact your children with ease. For the most part, the people that your children have on their friends list are pals from school and family members, but there are also many people who reach out to children online who are predators. One downside to the internet is that you can be whoever you want to be. Your daughter may receive a friend request from someone who says they are a boy her age living in another country. Your son may receive a friend request from a girl his age claiming to go to a neighboring high school. In reality the young man may be a 40 year old man surfing for his next victim and the young girl may be 34 year old woman who has a thing for young boys. The person befriending your child may be a killer, a rapist, a kidnapper, or a child molester. Internet identities can be very elusive. While the web is a wonderful place to educate yourself it is also the best thing that has ever happened to child predators. This is why educating your children on the dangers of the internet and laying down ground rules for internet usage is so important to their safety.
Knowledge if Power
It would be impossible to keep your child away from the internet. You can find it everywhere; home, school, friend’s houses, libraries; cell phones all have internet access. Also, you do not really want to keep them away from it. The internet holds wonderful discoveries for them and will most likely play an important part in their education and possibly even their adult careers. Since you cannot keep them away from it then you must educate them on the dangers they can, and most likely will, encounter. Talk to your children honestly about what is out there. Give them the freedom to access the internet but only under certain conditions, letting them know that the rules must be followed if they want to keep the privilege of internet usage. The rules should be specific and non-negotiable. · Computer use will be done in a central part of the home where their activity can be monitored. Being alone in their bedroom is a no-no. This is not to say that you should not trust your children but please understand that their ability to make the right choices has not developed highly enough to trust that they will handle certain situations properly all of the time. · As the parent, you should have every password to every account your child has. This includes social network sites and emails. You should be able to access any of your child’s accounts at anytime and should do so often. Monitoring their online behavior can help to ensure their safety. If they do not want to give you their passwords then they do not get to use the internet. Make it clear that you do not want this information in order to spy on them or because you do not trust them. They may not believe you but at least you are being a responsible parent and making sure that they are okay. · Look over the friends who you children socialize with online. If you do not know some of them, ask questions. If your child admits to having met them online and not knowing them in the real world, do some investigating. If you cannot find any valid information or verify who they really are block all contact. Even if you find yourself suspicious of someone, step in. Gut feelings are usually right and should be followed. Always err on the side of caution. · Block websites. There are many sites with content that you may fell is inappropriate for your children. Use the computers parental controls to ensure that your child does not have access to any place you do not feel is appropriate. · Check the history on any computer your children use. Find out where they have been going and who they have been connecting with. · For any parent who feels that their child cannot be trusted to do the right thing online, make it a rule that they cannot use the internet when they are home alone. Some children are savvy enough to know how to delete browsing history so you cannot see what they have been up to.
Talk to Your Children About the Dangers of the Internet
Talking to your children is the most important thing in keeping them safe. Setting rules in important and helpful, but without telling them why the rules have been set it is pointless. They will simply think you are being mean or unfair or trying to ruin their lives. (The last one is my favorite. It is typical teenage mellow drama.) · Tell your children about internet predators. They need to know that they cannot trust everyone and especially not someone they have befriended from on internet meeting. · Let them know that if they feel uncomfortable or in any way threatened by someone they are talking to online that they should come to you right away. They do not need to try to handle it alone. I actually tested this one on my stepdaughter one night. While she was on the computer in the family room I got on mine in the bedroom. I made up a male screen name and started chatting with her. She was polite at first but once I asked where she lived and if I could come see her she could be heard running down the hall telling me that some guy she does not know is asking for her personal information and she was scared by it. I did confess that it was me but I was very glad to know that the things we warned her about sunk in! · Make very clear to your children that they are not to give out any personal information over the internet. This means no phone numbers, no addresses, and no other identifying information that may allow a predator to track them down. This includes telling someone where they go to school or when their soccer practice is. · If your child is going to the skating rink on Friday night do not post it anywhere online. While this sounds like innocent enough information meant for their friends to read, it can lead a predator right to their location. · Do not divulge any routine information. This includes the times when their parents get home from work, when they get home from school, or where they are every Monday afternoon after school. Again, this type of information can bring danger right to them without them even knowing it.
Don’t Be Afraid to Be the Parent
It can be hard to lay down so many rules for your children, but rest assured, you are not being an over protective parent. You are not being paranoid as the danger you fear is very real. Your children may not like the rules and may be angry with you for setting so many limits but remember that you are the parent. While you may want your child to think you are a “cool” parent or you may fear them being angry with you, it is much better for them to be mad then to be gone. One day when they are parents they will look back and have a real understanding of why you made the rules that you did. And just think; If the parents of today have so many things to worry about in way of the dangers from technology, just imagine what our children will have to face when they become parents.
Christie Hunter is registered clinical counselor in British Columbia and co-founder of Theravive. She is a certified management accountant. She has a masters of arts in counseling psychology from Liberty University with specialty in marriage and family and a post-graduate specialty in trauma resolution. In 2007 she started Theravive with her husband in order to help make mental health care easily attainable and nonthreatening. She has a passion for gifted children and their education. You can reach Christie at 360-350-8627 or write her at christie - at - theravive.com.