TALKING TO YOUR CHILD ABOUT THE DANGERS OF THE INTERNET
As with everything in life, there are pros and cons to the internet. For children, during the coronavirus pandemic, it has very quickly become an educational space – used for research, classes, communication and gaming.
However, with the internet comes the risk of exposure to inappropriate content, cyberbullying and being targeted by individuals with insidious intentions. It is up to parents and guardians to monitor their children’s online activities and actively warn them of potential dangers.
My friend’s have a ___ account, can I get one too?
Adolescent years can be tough – your body goes through a variety of changes, you start feeling things and there’s a sudden pressure to fit in. One of the ways in which this pressure can manifest, is the inexplicable desire to seem “cool” on social media.
At what age can a child have a social media account? This would depend on the child’s maturity. Many websites have a set minimum age requirement for users, and may also ask for parental permission. These requirements are in accordance with data protection laws – they don’t necessarily mean the site is inappropriate (or even appropriate after that age).
However, before opening an account, it is crucial to speak with your child about the potential dangers and unexpected situations they may find themselves in online:
- Relationships: The internet is a great way to stay in touch. However, it can become a breeding ground for harmful behavior and bullying. Discuss with your child ways in which they can be responsible and kind With older children, touch on the topic of consent and privacy. Talk about how peer pressure manifests online, and emphasize that they need not feel controlled or forced to do anything.
- Sharing & Posting: The internet is forever – whatever is uploaded can be shared and saved. Remind your child to be mindful of what they are posting and the possibility of it ending up somewhere they may not want it to be seen. Sate clearly what is appropriate to share online. If they don’t want certain people seeing it, they probably shouldn’t post it. Many social media platforms have the option of privacy settings – teach your child the importance of using these features.
- Stranger Danger: Never share any personal information. The internet is a tool often used by predators and scammers. They may send inappropriate messages, images and links, try to scare the child or impersonate someone wanting to be friends. Warn your child of these red flags, and the dangers of sharing personal or financial information.
- What they might see: Apart from receiving inappropriate messages, your child may stumble across other potentially harmful content. These posts may involve violence, sexual images, self-harm and encourage dangerous or illegal behavior. Discuss “safe searching” on search engines – you can’t always monitor your child’s online activity and there is a chance they may search “curious” topics or something they may be embarrassed to talk to you about. Teach them how to use trusted mainstream search engines – some sites, such as google, have filters in place for parental use. Be sure to highlight the dangers of clicking on unknown links and ads, downloading unspecified content and how to spot if a website is real.
- Parental Controls: A lot of devices have this monitoring feature available. Set ‘family rules’ for using the internet. However, be careful to not use this as a form of punishment – your child should understand that these controls are in place for their safety. Often, children hide things due to the fear of being punished, or having their device taken away. Similarly, using surveillance apps secretly will send a message that you don’t trust your child. Being open with your child will not only encourage them to do the same, but also tell them that you trust them to be responsible, making it more likely that they approach you for help.
- Reporting Incidents: Firstly, it is important that your child knows that you will not blame them for anything that happens online. They should be secure in knowing that they can rely on you. Many platforms have a reporting & blocking system in place – this is a feature your child should know how to use.
How will I know if something has happened?
Your child’s behavior can offer clues as to what may be happening in their social lives.
If you find your child has suddenly stopped using their phone, or uses it more than usual, especially at odd hours – it may be due to an incident online. Other signs can be withdrawal from family and friends, a lack of interest in social events, low self-esteem, fear, a decline in school performance, stress, a loss in appetite or trouble sleeping.
Approach your child gently, and subtly bring up the topic. Being too confrontational and interrogating may have them withdraw further.
In case of an incident, save the evidence and report it. Depending on the nature of the incident, consider meeting with school administrators or relevant legal authorities.
While you may want to ban your child entirely from the internet due to its potential risks and shelter them from all dangers, this isn’t realistic. Children will eventually end up online – what is important is that they understand how you feel and why. Talk openly and often. Explain your worries and reasonings. With the right care and understanding, it is likely that your child will have a positive and safe experience online.