My friend Linda Tomczak works with girls in juvenile detention. One of her areas of expertise is human trafficking. It’s my pleasure today to introduce my readers to this her three-part series on keeping kids safe on the Internet.
Openly communicate with your kids
Explain that their safety is more important than their privacy.
Kids face challenges on all sides, and must navigate a social network that is extremely challenging. Try to understand things from their perspective.
Be your child’s ally in protecting his or her safety. Explain why you need oversight into what they view and who they communicate with.
Predators and pornographers are actively targeting kids, and are shrewd and technically savvy. Besides putting proper safeguards in place, parents must educate their children as to what is appropriate and what is off-limits, and why.
Teens brains are not fully developed. The prefrontal cortex, which controls logical thinking, doesn’t fully developed until the mid 20s, so even though teens may think they have good reasoning skills, and may even convince you of that, they really do still need parental guidance.
There are many age-appropriate videos that instruct children and teens of appropriate conduct on the Internet and the consequences of poor choices.
Limit screen time and collect phones at bedtime
Screen time can a reward, given in increments based on chores and homework done first.
Put a limit on screen time, and a screens-free cutoff time, preferably at least an hour before bedtime, as the blue light from devices disrupts the production of melatonin. Brains need screen-free time to prepare for sleep.
Teens’ body clocks change and they do not fall asleep till later than they did as children, but they actually need more sleep than adults. The lure of the Internet and responding to friends’ text messages can be too great, so parents need to be the heavy and take the screen away at a certain time, or kids will be constantly sleep deprived. Such deprivation is dangerous. And it affects academic performance, stunts teens’ intellectual development, and puts them at risk for making poor decisions. Plus, driving while sleep- deprived can be more deadly than driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
Many predators contact children and teens during the night when parents are most likely asleep, so their conversations won’t be discovered.
Kids with access to phones at night are often likely to be awakened by calls and texts from friends and then spend time talking or texting when they need to be sleeping.
Children/teens with pornography addictions are more likely to view pornography at night, when their parents won’t discover them.
Internet safety rules will vary by age, but they need to apply to entire family, including parents
Young children do not need phones with Internet connectivity, just phones that can be used as phones.
Game purchases need to be okayed.
Explaining how much you love and value your kid and that you want to protect him or her is much more effective than the “because I said so” approach.
If you receive pushback because you need to add restrictions, remind your teen that they are receiving the privilege of using a family phone and they must use it according to family rules and use it responsibly, and within family guidelines.
Have your kids sign a contract to use the Internet responsibly. You can download a sample copy here:
As a parent, sign a copy of a parent’s pledge:
Do not let your kids interact in chat rooms.
Of sexual assaults in which the initial contact was online, 86% originated in chat rooms.
Predators monitor chat-room conversations and respond to messages posted, hoping to earn the trust of the one who posted it.
Predators can usually estimate the age of the child by the content of the message and the way it’s expressed.
Kids who post complaints about their parents are especially at risk, because a predator will empathize and try to draw the child to himself, away from parents.
Pedophiles who are looking for girls will seek to engage them in chat rooms; for boys, they will seek to connect with them on gaming sites or through gaming consoles.
Predators initially contact kids in chat rooms, but quickly request to move the conversation to a private (unmonitored) chat room, or to a phone app, where there is no personal link to their identity and no lasting record of their conversations.
Many sex offenders have never been caught, so they are not on any sex-offenders list. And of registered sex offenders, the system has lost track of over 100,000 of them. Any predator can create a new online identity and engage with potential victims unmonitored.
Disable location services on apps so your child can’t be tracked.
Turn off geodata embedding on all cameras (location settings-off for camera).
Check browser history.
Set up separate browser accounts for each child, based on age.
Post no public photos of your children that contain any personal information.
(photos that include images of schools, your home, neighborhood)
In Facebook, you can create groups within your contacts and limit visibility of certain photos to that group.
Browse with your kids; educate them; prepare them for handling a variety of scenarios.
Treat Internet and phone use as a privilege; have each child sign a contract by which terms the phone needs to be used.
Don’t be intimidated by technology; it’s easy to find help online.
Don’t let your kids text via apps, only through normal texting on their phones, so there is a phone trail of whom they have been conversing with.
Lessen controls as children mature, but continue to engage with them about decisions they make online.