Each month, this series will provide important facts and tips surrounding child safety in an effort to support parents and caregivers as they navigate reducing risks and creating the safest environment possible for the children in their lives.
Online Safety Should Be Everyone’s Concern, But Especially Parents & Caregivers
February 7th is National Safer Internet Day which has become a landmark event in the online safety initiative globally, with more than 180 countries and territories participating and taking action. This day is set aside to raise awareness and create educational campaigns to empower young people and adults on the ever-evolving online issues and concerns such as identity theft, cyberbullying, trafficking and more.
Understanding the Risks
As education and entertainment have changed over the years, the way children interact with the online world has become more immersive with several benefits but also with some potentially serious drawbacks when safety guidelines are left out of the equation.
Whether internet use is frequent or not, it’s important to remember the risks:
- Unbalanced use of internet & screens
- Dangerous content
- Cyberbullying & hate speech
- Identity theft & hacking
- Internet predators & trafficking
Protection and Supervision
As a caregiver to a child, it’s important to understand the risks and how to educate and arm your children against the negative aspects of the world wide web. The best defense against internet crime and safety issues will always be open conversation with your child. Keep an open line of communication over the years reminding them of internet dangers and that they always come to you if they face a problem.
Additionally, setting boundaries around internet safety as well as utilizing parental controls and tools to block unwanted websites, keeping things age-appropriate on devices and supervising your child’s activity can make a huge difference.
Here are a few helpful supervision guidelines from KidsHealth.com and Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD:
- Spend time online together to teach your kids appropriate online behavior.
- Keep computers in common areas, not in individual bedrooms.
- Monitor time spent on smartphones or tablets, especially social media apps.
- Explain that passwords are there to protect against things like identity theft.
- Check your credit card and phone bills for unfamiliar account charges.
- Discuss the dangers of interacting with strangers online, reminding them people may not tell the truth.
- Find out what, if any, online protection is offered by your child’s school, after-school center, friends’ homes or any place where kids could use a computer without your supervision.
Warning Signs to Look Out For
Despite your best efforts, there can be times where something slips through the radar, and your child may fall victim to an internet safety concern. Oftentimes, there are common warning signs you can spot in a child, especially if they are being targeted by a cyberbully or online predator.
- Withdrawing from friends, family or activities they typically enjoy and love.
- Sudden behavior changes; heightened emotions or lashing out unexplainably.
- Turning off their computer or smart device when you are around.
- Sudden increased time spent online, especially at night or when they are alone.
- Receiving unsolicited gifts in the mail or phone calls from unknown numbers.
Taking Action If You Suspect Something Isn’t Right
It’s important to always take your children seriously if they report an uncomfortable online exchange whether between someone they know or don’t know. If there is a problem surfacing from a fellow child or student online, you can contact the school and report the bullying immediately. If you believe your child is subject to inappropriate or unlawful internet activity, you can contact your local law enforcement as well as contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST. If specifically reporting online child sexual exploitation, use the electronic Cyber Tip Line or call 1-800-843-5678.
Helpful Resources to Learn More
- Safer Internet Day – saferinternetday.org https://www.saferinternetday.org/en-US/
- Kids Health – www.kidshealth.org https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/net-safety.html