If your kids are like my kids, they are suddenly spending 50% or more of their waking time online. School classes are online. Most of their classwork is online. Socializing with friends is online. Music lessons are online. Speech class is online. And of course.. video games are online. Combine this with the need for us, parents, to work from home and you can have a dangerous combination of more online time with less detailed supervision.
Why should we be concerned about kids online?
Online pedophiles. First, some adults intentionally stroll online places intended for children in order to manipulate and exploit them. Then, predators go where prey is. Instagram, yup. Kid’s YouTube, yup. Roblox, yup. If a website or game has a chat feature then there is the possibility of your child being engaged in conversation that is not appropriate for them.
Inappropriate videos. Kids spaces are frequently violated with videos that look like their favorite cartoons doing inappropriate behaviors. There are also many videos that are beyond what children, tweens and teens are mental prepared to view.
Pornography. My son came to me the other day and asked me what “porn” was. First, a friend of his had used the word. I reminded him of a previous discussion we had about the dangers of pornography and he immediately remember what we talked about. How lucky I am that he didn’t decide to do his own research online. I mean, he spends half his day researching for school online. Furthermore, how interesting it was to me that he also didn’t connect the word “porn” with pornography.
Sexting. Nuff said. For an in depth discussion on this topic check out Teen Sexting.
Educate your child about online dangers and online safety
Educate yourself and educate your child.
Never trust people that you don’t know in real life, online. This has a variety of components to it. First, don’t trust or talk to people you don’t know online. Additionally, tricky people, the words I use with kids, will work hard to trick your child. At first, they are people your child doesn’t know. But by the tenth time your child sees their username, your child starts to feel like they are someone familiar. When you ask, “who is user rockstar734?”, your child might say, “some kid I play Brawl Stars with.” They have seen rockstar734’s username so many times that they “feel” like they know them.
Another situation is that rockstar734 might be “friends” with your child’s friend. “Mom, rockstar734 is my friend, James’, friend.” James might have just met this person online and really have no idea who they are. This is why your kids need to know if they haven’t met them in real life, they CANNOT trust them and should not be engaging any ongoing “friendship” with them. Tricky people will befriend one friend to get to the others. This is true for elementary school kids and teenagers
Teach your children about pornography (aka porn).
There is a wonderful book called Good pictures Bad Pictures that explains the dangers of pornography in a child friend way (ages 7+). Read more about educating children on porn in The Day I Read my 8 year old a Book about Pornography..
Children like to check out the variety of videos on Youtube. Teach your children that there are many different kinds of videos online. Furthermore, once you see something you cannot unsee it. This includes scary, disgusting, and violent videos. Additionally, we must be protective of our minds and what we expose it to. If it’s something they really want to see, suggest they come to you to discuss.
Have clear guidelines with your child about what they can and cannot watch. This will look different at different ages. Rules should be clear and firm with younger children. With your teens, be sure to make this a conversation.
Keep the conversation about online safety going
Let your children know they can come to you about ANYTHING. Give them examples of what anything might mean. Ask them if they have ever run across any of these things online. Talk about taboo subjects, like what curses mean (kids start exchanging them in elementary school). Discuss private parts and sexuality. Inform them about tricks adults will use to manipulate kids. A great book for this is “I Said No! A Kid-to-kid Guide to Keeping Private Parts Private.” Talk about hard decisions they have to make with their friends.
Demonstrate a calm matter of fact attitude. Of course, this is important both when you are talking with them about sensitive subjects AND when they come to talk about something important. If children and teens think you will become upset by what they are saying they will avoid speaking with you about it.
Provide clear instructions on what to do if they come across pornography or a tricky person on the internet.
Just like if a stranger were to approach them outside, they should run to get you right away. A great acronym for responding to pornography is Can Do.
Close your eyes immediately
Always tell a trusted adult
Order my thinking brain to be the boss
Great books to assist in these conversations for younger kids:
Good Pictures Bad Pictures by Kristen A. Jensen, MA
Get Creative with Online Supervision
It is hard to work, manage a household, and supervise online activities. I frequently recommend parents get creative with this.
Consider limiting online play to family common areas, like the kitchen. For instance, have children do online activities next to you while you work. Avoid letting younger children and tween spend hours in their room by themselves with their devices.
Have conversations with teens regarding your expectations of their online behavior. Consider putting gaming consoles in a common area to supervise game and internet use. Consoles allow teens the ability to easily switch between the internet and gaming. For those teens using the internet to access pornography and hiding it by switch to gaming, specific difficulties can occur. This can include distorted ideas about sexuality becoming intrinsically connected with aggressive video games.
Enlist sibling help by having them monitor each other. Just by having other people in their space can help your child from wandering down a dangerous rabbit hole.
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