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Talking to children about internet safety

It’s back to school season, and the time of year when I often hear from parents who are concerned about internet safety. While we all know the basics – use strong, unique passwords, use two-factor authentication, avoid clicking links – it may seem difficult to explain online safety to your kids. Here are some guidelines for talking to kids of all ages about the internet.

As parents, it’s our job to model appropriate behavior. That might mean asking yourself some hard questions. One of the most important is: Do you overshare online? For example, are you sharing pictures of your kids without asking them? Asking for permission to post can be as simple as saying, “Hey, you know the cute picture that Aunt Judy took of you at your ballgame? May I share that with my friends online?” Be sure your kids know that anything posted online can become public, even if it’s set to private.” And if they ask you not to post, respect their wishes. Remember, yours will be the example they turn to when they’re teenagers and Instagramming every moment of their day.

A child is never too young to begin learning the basic rules that will form a solid foundation of online safety. Even the youngest kids can be taught not to share their real name, address, phone number or other personal details on the computer. Older kids are capable of understanding that anything posted online can become public. Don’t try to teach them all at once and assume you’ve tackled the task. And don’t wait until they’re tweens and teens. Online safety is an ongoing conversation and should occur throughout childhood.

Some great resources include NetSmartz.org, which has a variety of helpful guides. They also have age-appropriate Internet Safety Pledges that you and your kids can discuss and sign. Common Sense Media is valuable for checking movies, TV shows, video games and other media for undesirable content. The FTC has additional safety guidelines on their website.

It’s important to stay in touch with technology as your kids get older. Are they playing online video games? Find out which games they enjoy. Perhaps you could even play them together! This will not only bring your family closer together but also will keep you informed about their latest online interests.

Cyberbullying has become a greater menace than ever before. If you are concerned your child is a victim, try the StopBullying.gov site which has a section on cyberbullying. Even more difficult for parents is the realization your child is not the victim, but the aggressor. Teach them bullying is not acceptable, whether it’s a cruel comment in a text message or a nasty remark in a video game. It’s up to you, as parents, to be responsible for monitoring their online behavior. Don’t just stick a laptop or game console in their rooms and assume they’re behaving responsibly, because they may not be.

Remind your kids you’re here to help, not to punish. If they come across anything online that makes them uncomfortable or uncertain, encourage them to let you or another trusted adult know.

• Triona Guidry is a computer specialist and freelance writer. Her Tech Tips blog www.guidryconsulting.com/techtips offers tech support advice for Windows and Mac.

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