Use these tips to ensure your family has a safe summer online.
We all remember the joys of summer when we were kids. There was nothing more exciting than the thought of sleeping in, hanging out with friends, and having a carefree three-month break. As parents, summers aren’t so carefree anymore. With the growth of technology and the internet, we have a lot more to worry about than we did in the past. These tips will help prepare you and your family for the dangers that could be lurking behind the screens.
Be involved in your child’s digital life
As parents, we struggle with guilt regarding the monitoring of our children’s digital life. You don’t want your kids to think of you as overbearing or a buzzkill. You need to see the internet as an extension of their social circle. You wouldn’t let your child run all over town with just anyone — you would meet their friends first. The internet is simply that, one large city full of strangers. Find out where your kids like to hang out in that city, find out who they hang out with there, and always make sure you research any answers you are given.
Talk to other parents
You would be amazed how much information you can learn from someone else’s life lessons. Any mistake your kid could make when it comes to their online activity has probably already been made by another child. If you talk to other parents about what their kids like to do online and what issues they have run into, you might be able to prevent trouble before it even shows up.
Learn what apps are popular
A great first step is to learn what apps are popular and why they are popular. There are many apps which are designed for good purposes but have very serious downfalls which can be discovered through a little research. A good way to learn which apps are popular is to look at the most popular apps in the app store for your devices. It’s also important to remember what’s relevant today could be obsolete very quickly. Make sure you don’t fall into the trap of doing research once and thinking you are done.
Ensure you have access to their devices
The easiest way to stay on top of your children’s activity is to make sure you have access. I always recommend people use PIN codes or pattern locks on their screens to ensure that people cannot gain unwanted access easily. However, as a parent you should always have access to that PIN code or pattern. Pick up your child’s device from time to time and make sure it works. If you pick up the device and the PIN isn’t the same anymore, they don’t get it back until you know the PIN or pattern and gain access.
Look at the apps on their devices
If you don’t know what the app is, then you need to research it. If you feel your child is honest and you are comfortable they will not lie to you, you can simply ask, “What is this app for?” or “Show me how this works.” It’s a great way to be involved, and also to make sure they know you might poke your head in one day and ask questions. It helps to keep kids honest.
In today’s virtual world, cyberbullying has become a serious issue. It’s so easy for people to write vile, hate-filled comments to someone else with a few clicks of the keys. Talk to your child so they understand the serious nature of cyberbullying and the consequences related to this problem.
Another great option is to set a physical limit on internet usage at your home. Some routers have technology built in that allows you to set a schedule for internet use. This is a fantastic tool to ensure they aren’t up all night playing online.
It’s not always the kid’s fault
Understand that in this wide world of the internet, communicating online is now the norm. Some very popular apps have features that should raise red flags for parents. For example, “Chat with strangers.” This is a double-edged sword because even if your child doesn’t try to reach out to anyone, someone can reach out to your child and start a conversation.
Treat the internet like the real world
If a stranger started trying to talk to your child at the bus stop or at the mall, you would want them to tell you about it, right? We need to encourage our children to feel comfortable reporting inappropriate online behavior to us. If your child thinks they will be in trouble if they bring the information to you, they are not likely to tell you and could continue to be exposed to potentially inappropriate messages and images.
Report suspicious activity to law enforcement
If someone was acting in an inappropriate manner toward your child in your local town, you would report the incident to the police. We need to have the mindset that illegal or inappropriate activity online is still reportable and can be investigated. If your local agency doesn’t have a cybercrime division, they can at least point you in the direction of someone who can help you.
Location, location, location
As parents, there are a few decisions we get to make that can absolutely help protect our children. When it comes to computers and internet use, a good rule of thumb is to only allow use of the device in a high traffic area of the home. For example, a child using a laptop at the dinner table can be more easily monitored than a child on a laptop in their bedroom with the door shut.
Look at the history
If your child has been online doing research for a paper or visiting YouTube, you will be able to go back and view their history on your internet browsers. Check their history regularly and have discussions with your child if you see websites or videos that are concerning.
Don’t be afraid to make changes
If it is too hard to monitor what your child is doing on their phone, you can always get them a basic feature phone. As summer kicks off and your children are buried in their devices, take steps to ensure they are protected not only from strangers on the internet, but from themselves.
Olin Rankin is a detective with the Benton County Sheriff’s Office in Bentonville, Arkansas. Det. Rankin has been with the Benton County Sheriff’s Office for 10 years and is a Certified Forensic Computer Examiner. Det. Rankin and his partner in the Cyber Crimes Division host presentations including a live demonstration geared toward educating parents on the dangers of particular apps, chatting online and techniques used by children to elude detection by parents.