If you allow your children to get online, it is essential that you have easy to understand rules in place. If you have not had any restrictions in place up until now, that’s okay; it’s not too late. You should expect to get some resistance from older children (teens in particular) if you haven’t had rules in place before now, but this is not insurmountable, it will just take consistency and clear expectations from you.
Explain to all the kids in the house, regardless of age, what the new rules are and more importantly, WHY those rules are in place. Then stick to it, no matter how much resistance you get. It may be a struggle at first, but if you are patient, and explain why it is necessary, in a way they can understand, most children, teens included, will not continue to fight it unless they are hiding something.
Why Online Rules are Important
The internet can be a wonderful, amazing place where people can conduct and start businesses, keep in touch with friends and family, learn about virtually ANY topic, and even meet people to date.
When it comes to children, the internet can be a terrifying place where they can encounter people and situations that they are not old enough or mature enough to handle. The internet isn’t a bad place for kids, but it IS a potentially dangerous place where they can stumble upon information that is inappropriate and also where they are in danger of being targeted by a predator.
Because these dangers exist and can happen before you realize it, it is important to establish set rules and boundaries when they first start getting on the computer. These rules will help reduce the chances of your child have problems with child predators. The majority of child predator encounters that occur online can be prevented when the tips below are implemented.
Know what your kids are posting
Many people use the anonymity of the computer to behave in a way that they wouldn’t if they were face to face. Cyber bullying is a great example of this. So is flirting with strangers, lying about who you are, and other similar activities. Online is still the real world, and you should act with the same awareness and good thinking that you should use in the offline world. Kids that are in their middle to late teen years need to be especially aware of the consequences of their online activities.
Another reason to be very mindful of what your kids and teens are posting is that child predators use the information they find on children’s profiles to strike up conversations with them. If a predator sees a child posting about their location or that they are going to be alone at home, that can lead to hazardous situations.
You want to teach your kids to be very mindful and vague when it comes to posting on social media sites. Never post locations, never post plans that are made, keep the posts general and lacking any information that can be used by child predators to get closer to them. They will use a fight a child had with their parents or friends, feelings of loneliness, desperation to have a girlfriend or boyfriend, being bullied, and other sensitive topics to open a dialogue with the child or teen.
Keep Computers and Other Devices in High Traffic Areas
One of the most effective ways of keeping an eye on what your children are doing online is to keep computers and laptops out of their bedrooms and in the main part of the house. When the children or teens know that anyone walking by can see what they are looking at, it becomes a good automatic regulator of their internet browsing and behavior.
This practice is especially useful for teens that have a tendency to want to be secretive and private about everything, even to their detriment. Get into the habit of looking over your child’s shoulder at random times while they are online, so they know that looking at inappropriate sites or talking to someone they don’t know is not a good thing to do.
You want to teach your children the dangers that come with inappropriate websites and the scarier consequences that can result from talking to people they don’t know. Even if you start teaching your children about online safety and behavior from day one, they will be tempted to do things that they know you wouldn’t want them doing as they get older. Knowing that you could look at their activity at any time will be a great deterrent to engage in behavior that is dangerous or harmful.
The public location of the computers, laptops, cell phones, and tablets will help keep them in the right frame of mind and choosing the right things. If your child is allowed to have a cell phone, make it a regular habit of checking the phone and make sure your child knows that you are checking.
Become friends with your child on their social media accounts
Being on your child’s friends’ lists on ALL their social media profiles is another way to monitor their activity that works together with other strategies to keep them safe. Being on your children’s social media pages is not a replacement for checking their browsing history, being aware of whom they are talking to, and periodically checking emails and messenger are all important tasks that you should make a regular part of your child’s internet time.
Being on your children’s social media friends’ lists will automatically make them think twice about what they are posting. Unfortunately, as kids get older, they want their parents to know less and less about what they are doing and who they are hanging out with. This is when it is important to lay down the law. If they want to be online at all, they will comply with the rules and the checks as well.
Do not become blind to the fact that you need to do more than state the rules. Even being on their social media lists isn’t enough. Make sure you know ALL the apps that your child uses, all the chat rooms they visit and all the websites they go frequent. It’s easy to check these things and make sure that your children are not engaging in any behavior that is potentially dangerous to them. If you are not familiar with some of the apps your child has on their phone or computer, look them up online and see what they the subject matter is and what the site or app does.
If your child is a teen, they may not want you to look at their messages to their friends, and that is understandable. Checking on your children’s internet behavior is not about invading their privacy it’s about keeping them safe. Having a good communication line with your kids can enable you to trust what they tell you, so you do not have to worry about who they are messaging because they will tell you when they meet new people.
You don’t want your children to feel like you don’t trust them. These tips aren’t about not allowing them any privacy. If you have taught your children the value of internet safety, appropriate online behavior, and what they are and are not allowed to do from the very beginning, it becomes much easier to trust that they are doing what they should. Only periodic checks are needed in that case as well as simply asking them if anyone has contacted them that they don’t know or what new sites have they found.
If you are starting later in the game, it can be a real challenge to rein in a teen that has had no restrictions on internet behavior. It will take patience on your part as well as consistency to get the point across and ensure that they realize why these new rules are in place. If you find that your child has been conversing with strangers, or you suspect that they are a target for a child predator it is important that you act right away and take care of the problem.
Although your teens may feel like you have ruined their lives, you very well could be saving their lives, so don’t let tantrums and pouting sway you from your ultimate job as a parent; protecting your children.