Most of our kids have never lived in a world without computers and smartphones, and they have never known a world where life wasn’t lived online and off. But once upon a time there was a world without the Internet, and there are a lot of us who can remember what life was like before and how it’s developed since then.
When I was in university the web was brand new to us, and I managed to stumble across forums and chat rooms I wished I wouldn’t have. My own experiences ended up being a good thing because, as I had kids, it made me really cautious about how I and they spent time online. Despite the fact that our kids have never known a world that wasn’t online, they don’t always have the maturity to think beyond the moment. Because of that, they don’t always know how to make the right decision and get themselves out of situations where they have the potential to be hurt.
Educating our kids about cyber safety begins long before they begin spending a lot of time online. Whether you’re just thinking about talking with your kids about potential dangers online or you need to enforce some hard and fast rules for daily device use, here are a few tips for teaching your kids about cyber safety.
Most kids’ first forays online aren’t on a desktop computer. They may use the family computer at home, but a lot of kids get their intro online through a phone or tablet.
You can enable parent controls via IOS or Android, but there are still a lot of ways for kids to connect with other kids. There are so many different apps on iTunes and Google Play stores including Discord, TikTok, Twitch, and Instagram, and they give your child an instant window into the world of social networking with strangers.
They can usually set up an account and chat with other people within minutes of downloading. To protect them, you can restrict their app account so they can’t download anything without you knowing. You can also create a family account where app purchases have to be approved before they can be added to their phone.
You may also want to choose a few apps that are a no-go for your kids. When my kids were younger the apps I restricted were always those that had the potential for disappearing messages. Now you can find that feature on most social media platforms like Whatsapp and Instagram. I didn’t want my kids to have access to them because I always thought it was too easy to send and receive messages that could be hurtful or inappropriate.
Beyond getting smart about apps, one of the ways you can teach your kids to be safe online is to let them know that keeping passwords to themselves is extremely important. What can happen with a password that’s shared online? To start, having your child’s password floating around can open them up to cyber bullying. Someone could log into your child’s Instagram account and post embarrassing or fake photos, and that can hurt your child now and in the long term.
Passwords protect your child’s personal information, and you’d be surprised what can happen when someone hacks into their account. Full names, birth dates, and email addresses are required to set up profiles online, and if someone gets access to that, your child’s safety may be compromised too. Your best bet is to show your child how to create unusual, difficult-to-figure-out passwords.
Imagine your child posts pictures of him or herself on an Instagram account. The account is private and you watch their friend list so you aren’t worried about what he or she is posting. But one day your son or daughter posts something that you’d consider inappropriate – maybe it’s a photo of them and a friend doing something you wouldn’t like, or it’s a selfie of some kind. You ask them to delete it and they do, but that saying ‘what goes online, stays online’ is absolutely true.
If it’s on Instagram, someone could take a screenshot before it was deleted, then share it with others. That might be the end of the photo spreading online, but it could have a snowball effect where someone shares it on multiple platforms and search engines pick it up. Once a search engine picks it up? It could be online forever. If your child’s name is attached, all you’ll have to do is search for their name and you could see that photo. Depending on what type of photo it is or what the situation was behind it, images can also get reposted by others, so you could see it on multiple big sites including Reddit.
The bottom line? To stay safe, kids should be extra careful of what they post online. A good rule of thumb is to teach them the10 minute rule. If they have an image they’d like to share or thought they’d like to post, tell them to wait 10 minutes before they do. During that time, they should ask themselves what could happen with this photo if it was shared beyond their account, if would they mind if you saw it, and if there could be any repercussions if they share it. If they are in doubt, he or she should ask a parent or trusted friend for a second opinion before posting.
The 10-minute rule doesn’t always prevent slipups, but stopping to think before they post is a good habit to take with them as they grow.
Our kids will never know a world where they don’t have a digital footprint and that world has become a lot smaller thanks to smartphones and computers. Teaching kids about cyber safety is as important as teaching them to avoid getting in the car with strangers. If you’d like more information on teaching your kids about cyber safety, I’ve written a post about the dangers of online bullying.
This is yet another reason why I stick with BlackBerry and will likely have my kids do so as well. With Android and iOS, you don’t have an option to select permissions. What you see is what you get and if you don’t like you don’t use the app. With native BB10 apps, you generally have the option of what you allow the app to access on your phone, which is nice. In some cases, denying access to certain aspects of the phone cripples the app from performing the desired function, but so far I have been amazed at how many apps ask for access to a lot of things they don’t need to operate properly. Most of the apps I use have all the permissions set to “deny” and still work just fine.
That’s a good point @Juice0904 . With new apps coming out every day, whatever we can do to block inappropriate content before they see it is a good thing.