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HOME SAFE HOME

The family provides the best protection from the first time children use digital technology. In the same way that parents teach safety for real-life dangers such as fire hazards, slip and trip risks and “stranger danger”, preventive guidelines, communication and modelling can effectively reduce online risk.

SAFETY CHECKLIST

1. PURPOSE: Before giving children access, establish the positive purpose of online technology such as computers or smart phones:

  • Means of communication with family and friends
  • School research
  • Age-appropriate entertainment

2. RISKS: Talk about the dangers involved in going online:

  • Malware or spyware which can endanger your data
  • Cyberbullies who may harass your child
  • Identity theft or theft of important information such as credit card numbers
  • Violent, aggressive content and content not appropriate for your child
  • Predators who may “groom” your child, earn their trust then harm them
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3. SAFEGUARDS: External precautions can mitigate risks, for example:

  • Place computers in the living room or study to discourage private browsing
  • Practice age-appropriate access. For example, younger children must be guided by a parent at all times when online, older children less so.
  • Invest in parental control software to filter content and monitor internet use. Read up on common OS and browser parental controls:

4. RULES: Set and discuss ground rules (see below) to further reduce these risks. Agree on sanctions for breaking the rules – and rewards for following them.

5. MODEL: As a parent, model safety openly as well, and display a moderate and healthy use of digital technology.

6. RAPPORT: Keep communication lines open. Encourage your child to talk about anything they feel uneasy about. You may check your child’s browsing history regularly, but candid talk trumps sleuthing!

GROUND RULES

Here’s a set of simple guidelines you may want to set for your child:

  • Keep the following information private and never share them online:
  • Birthday
  • Full name
  • Email address
  • Home address
  • Phone number
  • School
  • Identifying posts and photos (e.g. through geotagging)
  • Do not talk online with people you don’t know in real life.
  • If you feel uncomfortable or afraid about anything you encounter online, disconnect and talk to a parent.

RECOGNIZING RED FLAGS

Children may sometimes not want to open up for fear of embarrassment or punishment. If you notice several of the following signs, observe and gently probe your child to let you know if they feel there’s something wrong going on.

Your child might:

  • spend more time than usual online, on social media, gaming or texting
  • spend less time than usual online, as if withdrawing
  • hide their mobile phone or erase their browsing history
  • be secretive or overly defensive about who they’re talking to or what they’re doing online
  • be angry, upset or pensive after spending time online
  • cut class or avoid activities they normally enjoy
  • be anxious, aggressive, withdrawn or behave differently than usual
  • engage in risky behavior, drugs or alcohol
  • entertain thoughts about self-harm or suicide
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HOW TO RESPOND

If you feel your child may be a victim of online abuse and exploitation, first – stay calm. Do not overreact or be overly emotional as this might lead to your child withdrawing more.

Offer an open observation: “I’ve noticed that you’re spending a lot of time on your phone and that you’re often quiet. If there’s something you’d like to talk about, I’m just here.”

Be patient – your child must be at ease with you and understand that they can trust you and depend on you to:

  • Listen carefully and take them seriously
  • Assure him or her that it was the right thing to tell you
  • Tell him or her that he or she is not to blame for the abuse
  • Keep their concern reasonably private
  • Take action to stop the abuse
  • Contact the proper authorities who can help