Online Safety

The Safe Online Outreach presenter, Merlyn has been at the school, several times. Along with SOLOS, she has an excellent take on how the Internet works for young people and how they can avoid getting into trouble.

She also has some guidance for parents:


Advice to Parents

By Merlyn, on October 27th, 2011
By now, one would imagine most parents are well aware of how to help their children safely negotiate the internet and its occasional hazards, but it’s actually not that simple. Advice and tips must be age-appropriate, for one thing, since the habits, expectations and online behaviours of a ten year old are going to be very different from those of a sixteen year old. Also, we sometimes forget that the very concept “the internet” may refer to a number of widely disparate platforms. Many people only refer to the World Wide Web as the internet, forgetting that the internet encompasses everything from smart phones to email clients to electronic tablets to chat programs to video gaming systems and more. The internet is in fact a network of networks, consisting of “millions of private, public, academic, business, and government networks, of local to global scope, that are linked by a broad array of electronic, wireless and optical networking technologies.” [link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet] All of this must be kept in mind by parents attempting to help their children stay safe online.

And then there are the hazards and issues themselves. No longer simple, these range from cyberbullying/harassment, sexting on cell or smart phones, inappropriate content, webcams, chat rooms, gaming, blogging, as well as all the aspects and consequences of the social networking explosion. The original moral panic of luring via the internet has turned out to be a minor issue in terms of its frequency, and yet devastating to those caught up in it. It is still worth reminding everyone off the bat that giving out personal information to strangers on the internet is not a good idea and meeting a stranger even less so.

With all this in mind, it can seem overwhelming, but there are some first basic principles from which parents can initially work.

Here is a breakdown by category, although some of the advice will be interchangeable. And for “parent”, please read the appropriate “guardian” designation throughout.

Cyberbullying

Help your child understand that responding to rude or unkind comments online generally only fans the flames of harassment and can quickly escalate.

The parent or the child can help by noting times and dates of harassing comments, as well as recording the comments themselves.

Internet Service Providers can be asked to remove any webpage from their servers that was created specifically to hurt an individual child.

Use the “block” function in email, chat rooms, Instant Messaging and on social networks such as Facebook.

Bullying on cellphones (text or audio) can be combated by a simple change of phone number and some basic security steps once it has been changed (don’t give out the new number to everyone, for example, and check out the phone’s blocking capabilities).

Involve schools if harassment is occurring between students. Ask them about their cyberbullying policies.

Don’t forget to report anything you hear that feels like it might be illegal.

Webcams

Locate the computer and especially the webcam in a busy, central area of your home. Your child must know you can supervise their activities.

Ask to see any videos your child has made. Give your questions a sense of discovery not surveillance. And ask your child what they would do if anyone asked them to do something on webcam that made them uncomfortable.

Talk to your child about what types of information you would like them not to share online. Make it a discussion and not a series of commands.

Do the same for webcams, emphasizing what is appropriate and what is not.

Be prepared. If you do discover an inappropriate comment or even solicitation toward your child, have a plan already outlined.

Do not upset or scare your child. If they are afraid, they may be less likely to tell you if something uncomfortable happens to them while online. Be calm and explain that occasionally some things happen online and if they do, they should not feel they are in any way responsible, and to report these incidents to you and, importantly, they have to know you won’t freak out.

 

Cellphones

Read the invoice or bill carefully, noting late night calls or texts and/or suspicious numbers.

Have occasional conversations to remind your child of the viral nature of texts, how easily forwarded and shared they are. Make sure this aspect is firmly in your child’s mind. They will roll their eyes at you anyway, so best to err on the side of overdoing the reminders.

It’s basic, but again, your child may need reminders not to reveal cell phone numbers and passwords online.

Have at least one conversation about the consequences of sending sexually explicit images or texts. Don’t lecture, let your child lead the discussion once you have prompted him/her.

Be aware of all the security features on your child’s phone, preferably before you purchase it.

Again, conversation is key. Don’t impose rules from on high, and allow your child input and even be prepared to compromise on some things. Ask them things like:could you show me what features you use on your phone? Do you personally know all the people in your Contacts list? Have you taken any embarrassing photos of anyone? If so, did you pass them on? What would you do if…? Those types of open ended questions.

Gaming

Gaming is often given little credit by non-gaming adults, and yet studies have shown that important problem solving skills, as well as hand-eye coordination and even social skills are learned by young gamers.

As with other technology, there’s no escaping the need for parents to be savvy and as up-to-date as possible. That way, you will know whether your child’s gaming equipment has certain safety features, such as a voice-masking headset, for example.

As with computers, keep gaming consoles in busy household areas that are easy to check on.

Again, as with computers, make sure your child understands not to give out personal information when online (all major consoles have online or “live” capability) or to arrange to meet anyone they chat with in there.

Your child should also know not to enter into “trash talking” situations in which insults are traded, as they can escalate.

Have clear limits of how much time you want them to play. Again, you can discuss this, but your child’s idea and your idea of an appropriate length of time may be very different. Compromise may be required.

Always supervise any financial transactions. For instance, online time is usually bought via credit card, and if the child is too young, the likelihood is it will be your card they have to use!

Moderators are available for some online games, and it is worth knowing this.

Find out how to report any inappropriate behaviours ahead of time.

And always engage in discussions about the game your child is playing, how they feel about its content, how much they disclose of themselves while playing, how safe they are feeling, etc. Get creative with your questions, and don’t forget the fun part of gaming.

Social Networking

It’s always important to emphasize the positives of the internet as well as the pitfalls, and social networking is no exception. Such networks help people find likeminded individuals with matching interests and also help develop social and group skills via the sharing of what motivates and interests us. There is also a degree of privacy involved that can be a challenge for parents who recognize a certain amount of privacy is essential in their children’s lives.

Parents must handle this sensitively or they risk alienating their child if they are too heavy-handed.

Discuss with your child privacy settings. Go on the site together and problem solve, tweaking the customizable settings in a dynamic, ongoing way, using negotiation and compromise. Even then, take full privacy with a grain of salt; it’s an illusion at best.

Make sure your younger children know all their social networking friends in person.

Sporadically check your child’s friends list and see if any of their friends are posting information or photos of your child.

Ensure your child him/herself is not revealing overly personal information: street addresses or even schools, for example, as they can be traced and a quick Google Map search can reveal the route they take to school.

If your child insists on posting their birthday, leave out the year of birth.

And keep talking. Do you use your real age when you talk online? What makes you decide to add someone as a friend or contact? What kind of stuff do you post on your profile? Again, not in grilling mode, but because you are interested.

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This is largely an overview, and more detail can always be teased out. When it comes to sexting, for example, it’s very important your child is aware of the potential real world consequences of the activity: public humiliation, loss of future educational opportunities and even criminal repercussions. Another issue is the bystander effect, whereby no one reports a potentially scary or dangerous situation either because they assume someone else will have done so, or because they don’t want to “break ranks” and be the first out of the crowd to react. These are complex issues without easy fixes, but can also be very serious ones.

This is meant as a very brief guide, and not as a comprehensive or definitive list. There are hundreds of resources out there, however, so please keep yourself informed since the technologies are constantly changing. I hope this blog post helps.