I have to believe that most of time kids are not intentionally doing things online that would make their parents cringe. They’re just kids being kids — having fun, being silly and testing their boundaries. Because young kids are very trusting and don’t understand the potential consequences of what they do and say online, parents must have some important conversations with their kids…and the sooner the better.
Below are some important points to consider when talking to your kids about internet safety. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but some key things to bring up — and more than just once.
Online predators exist and kids need to know it
- You hate to scare them, but sometimes you have to. Talk to them about the fact that there are people out there that may want to do them harm. Make sure they understand that there may be people online pretending to be someone they are not. Tell them there is no way to know if that is a 12-year-old girl commenting on their Instagram photos…or a 45-year-old man.
- Tell them that it is just not safe to “friend” or “follow” people they do not know well. And they should make sure that all of their online accounts do not allow people to follow them without their approval.
- Make sure your kids know to NEVER, EVER attempt to meet with someone they connected with online.
Photos and videos distributed over the internet or posted could show up anywhere, anytime
- Talk to them about the risks of posting pictures of themselves or their friends online. Have the discussion about what is appropriate and what is not. Make sure they know that creating OR distributing inappropriate pictures is a crime and they will be in serious trouble if they do it.
- Remind them there is no way of knowing what someone could potentially do with a photo of them or their friends, or how many people could see it.
- Point out that the photos and videos they think are funny today may be embarrassing to them in the future if they are found.
- Make sure your kids understand that once they post something, it is out there forever. Talk to them about the fact that things they post online could be found at any time and negative things could affect their ability to get into college or get a job in the future. Teach them to stop and Think Before You Post.
Cyber-bullying will not be tolerated and has serious consequences
- Make sure kids understand that posting negative things about another person is bullying and comes with serious consequences. Remind them that they should never put anything in writing that they would not feel comfortable saying to someone’s face.
- Try to deter them by pointing out how quickly information can spread online and how easy it would be for anyone to turn the table on them and make them the victim if they are not respectful of others. Ask them to think about how they would feel in that situation.
Privacy is important
- Make sure your kids know to never share personal information online. Remind them that they don’t want to let people who may want to do them harm know where they live, what school they go to, etc.
- Talk to them about the risks of identity theft from people who steal personal information and use it maliciously. This is a real concern in our society and they need to know about it.
- Discourage kids from using their real names online. If they are following the rules and associating with only people who know them, they can still easily connect with their friends as “baseball32.” Although there is the very big concern that when kids go online anonymously they will feel “safer” about doing things they shouldn’t, remind them that their actions are still traceable to them and you are watching them. Although I’m sure some would disagree, I feel more comfortable having my kids online with a username rather than their own name in the event they do happen to have a lapse in good judgment when posting. This way, whatever they posted will not show up in Google search results someday with their real name attached to it.
- Along the same lines, discourage kids from posting their pictures in their account profiles. Encourage them to find a picture of something they like or identify with, rather than their own face.
- Make sure your kids aren’t sharing private things about you or your family. Not only because someone might do something malicious with that information, but because you are entitled to some privacy. Talk to them about how important that is.
Make sure they know you are watching
- This fact alone may make some kids pause before they act online. No matter how tech savvy you actually are, tell them that you are in the know and have numerous ways to track what they do online.
- Remind them that you pay for their devices and you are well within your rights to take away the privilege to use them if they break the rules.