Families in a tech savvy world
Today’s world is full of technology. As a parent, you may be feeling like you child lives on an alternate planet, speaking his or her own language. Every time you turn on the television, there are advertisements for the latest cell phones, computers, video games, music players and more. These personal technology devices can provide information and connection to a greater community. Many children and teens use the Internet as their primary method of communicating with friends. Social networking web sites allow children and teens to post pictures self-photos, design personal Web sites, post writings and thoughts through blogs and chat live with friends. Many of these sites do not ask for an age when registering and most often have no way to verify a person’s age before allowing them to join.
Popular social media sites
Blogger - Google’s free tool for creating “blogs” which is short for web-logs and are a form of online journal.
Bebo - Stands for “Blog early, blog often” and is very similar to Facebook as a free social networking site. Users can create your own page to write about life, post pictures and other digital content while connecting with other individuals and groups.
Facebook - Free social networking website which allows users to design a personal profile page where to write about life, post pictures and other digital content while connecting with other individuals and groups.
Instagram - Free photo-sharing network where users can edit and post pictures directly from a smart phone camera or computer. Through the program, users can connect with other people to view each other’s pictures and share comments.
Myspace - Free social networking site that was more popular before Facebook. Myspace allows users to create a personal page to write blogs, post pictures and other digital content while connecting with other individuals and groups.
Snapchat - A mobile, photo sharing app that has quickly become popular among teens and young adults. Photos uploaded to the site are set to disappear within 10 seconds. The site can encourage risky behavior such as sexting and even bullying. While photos may be removed from Snapchat, screen shots and second camera photos of content can be captured and shared in seconds and without permission. It is important that children and teens using the site understand digital safety and that there is no expectation of privacy in the digital world.
Tumblr - Free website that allows users to create blogs that are photo-based and meant to be shared. Users can “follow” other users and receive automatic updates of content posted by the individuals they follow.
Twitter - Free social networking website that allows users to “microblog” which are written comments of up to 140 characters. Users can write and upload their comments and read other users’ comments as well.
Setting boundaries for children
Because of today’s easy accessibility of the internet to children, parents must set boundaries, provide guidance and supervision while training children how to use the Internet. Part of that is being an integral part of your child’s life in person, through school, and over the internet as well. Parents must be aware of both the positive and negative power of the Internet. Each year, one in seven children is sexually solicited online, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Online sexual solicitation is defined as “unprovoked, uninvited or unwanted requests to engage in sexual activities, engage in sexually explicit conversations or give personal sexual information.” The awareness surrounding sexual solicitation via the Internet has increased dramatically in the past couple of years, due to the alarming number of children being targeted and victimized. The websites that allow children to keep in touch with their friends also allow for predators to easily seek out potential victims, as they can search for users by location, or age and pretend to be the child’s peer. As technology evolves and advances, predators are able to target children through cell phones, and handheld computers. Many cell phones now come equipped with the ability to take pictures and video making it very easy for predators to transmit pornographic images. Children are being photographed and recorded without their knowledge or consent and these images are making their way onto the Internet and via wireless networks.
You may have heard or seen news stories of predators using cell phones to take pictures underneath girls’ skirts, in locker rooms, or other public spaces. There are steps you can take as a parent to keep your children safe. The single most important thing you can do is educate yourself.
Ways to keep your children safe from online predators
- Monitor internet access. Keep the computer in a common room, where you can monitor to whom your child is talking and what websites they are browsing.
- Never reveal personal information. Tell your child to never reveal their name, address, phone number, picture or any other personal information to anyone online (or through other digital devices). Your child may think that giving a first name or picture is harmless, but predators can easily use that information to track your child’s last name, address, or school. Once information is on the Internet, it is impossible to retract
- Consistently communicate the risks of the internet. Communicate regularly with your child about the benefits and dangers of the Internet. Reinforce the fact that people are not always who they say they are. It is very easy for a 56-year old male to pose as a 13-year old teenage girl when chatting online. Stress the importance of telling an adult if someone is making them feel scared, uncomfortable or confused online.
- Know the electronic devices. Cell phones and computers are living diaries of your child’s friends, activities and whereabouts. Know the people listed in your child’s electronic phone book and learn how to review calls and text messages. Phone manuals and manufacturers websites are a great place to find such information.
- Establish rules and guidelines. Explain which websites are okay for them to use and which sites, chat rooms, games, blogs or certain music downloads are off limits. Discuss consequences for breaking the rules.
- Know your child’s favorite websites. Visit your child’s website or personal blog. Review his or her profiles, pictures, emails, instant messages, video, and music uploads. Check the links that your child includes on his or her page. Make sure that the information on these pages is appropriate.
- Know your child’s contacts. Check their e-mail address book on a regular basis and ask about any unfamiliar addresses. Use every available opportunity to meet and get to know these friends and their parents.
- Enforce the consequences. For example, if you catch your child chatting online with someone they don’t personally know, take away his or her internet privileges for an extended period of time.
- Know your child’s screen names. Be sure that your children’s screen names are appropriate and not suggestive, like “sexyteen05” or “cutegirl6.” Predators are more likely to pursue children with sexually suggestive names.
- Learn the lingo. Children and teens use their own language to communicate online and via text messaging. Do you know what the acronyms TAW, POS or LMIRL mean? Many parents do not. TAW means “teachers are watching”; POS means “parent over shoulder”; and LMIRL means “let’s meet in real life.” When text messaging, teens may use phrases like these and others. Visit sites like dtxtrapp.com and type acronyms into the “DTXTR” to decode what your child is saying.
- Invest in monitoring or filtering software. Software can help limit access to certain areas and material online. It can also help you monitor your child’s online chats, e-mails, instant messaging and websites they are viewing online. Please note however that this software is not meant to be a substitute for parental monitoring and active involvement.
Reporting any disturbing incidents or suspected predators
To report any disturbing incidents or suspected predators call 800-THE LOST (843-5678) or go to Cybertipline.com.