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Parents Guide to Internet Safety: Keeping Your Child Safe Online

As of 2015, 92% of teens reported going online at least once per day. Of that 92%, there were 24% of teens who said they are online constantly. On average children ages 8 to 18 are spending 44.5 hours per week in front of screens.

Why Is Internet Safety Important?

With such high exposure to the internet it's necessary to teach our kids how to protect themselves online. Whether it be from predators, identity thieves, cyberbullies or simply inappropriate material, it's important for parents to show their children how to protect themselves and avoid dangerous situations.

This is no easy task - children today are born in the digital age and there is a myriad of social media and game sites that can be difficult for adults to wrap their heads around. Snapchat, Ask.fm, Kik, Whisper, Minecraft, Tumblr, Instagram, Pokémon GO, the list goes on and on. New apps and social media sites are being launched everyday.

Due to the ever changing landscape online and the risks it poses, it's important to maintain an open dialogue with your children about their internet use and how to stay safe by protecting personal details and not trusting strangers.

What Is Cyberbullying?

Common forms of cyberbullying are:

  • Sharing media (photo or video) that is meant to embarrass a person and is cruel in intention, violent, or sexually explicit.

  • Repeated harassment and physical threats made via social media, text messages, or message apps.

  • The creation of fake social media profiles to solicit personal information, or hacking social media profiles to send untrue and hurtful messages.

Cyberbullying, unlike traditional bullying, can be unrelenting and inescapable. Once a video or photo is posted online it can be downloaded and shared thousands of times making it impossible to remove it completely from existence.

How Do I Know if My Child Is at Risk, or a Victim of Cyberbullying?

Every child is at risk of being bullied online. The best thing to do is keep an eye out for changes in behavior and listen to your child. If you suddenly find that your teen is not spending time with their friends, seems depressed or angry, doesn't want to go to school, is doing poorly in school, or is avoiding their computer or mobile phone, start a discussion about cyberbullying and ask if they are okay.

It's important for victims of cyberbullying to feel loved and supported at home, and for them to know that it isn't their fault that they are being targeted. Victims of cyberbullying are much more likely to use drugs and alcohol, hurt themselves, and may even contemplate or commit suicide.

How Can I Protect My Child From Identity Theft?

Children, like adults, are susceptible to identity theft. However, in cases where children are the victims of identity theft it could take years to realize the damage that has been done. They may not find out that their credit score is terrible until they apply for a credit card or school loan, identity theft could prevent your child from both of these things and mean many more problems for their future.

Maintaining online privacy isn't just important for your child's personal wellbeing, but also for their financial wellbeing. Make sure that they're not sharing any overly personal information like their home address, cell phone number, and other sensitive pieces of information online. You can use a reverse phone lookup service, like CallerSmart, to make sure that your child's cellphone number isn't listed publicly. Many times a child might post their phone number on social media sites making it public.

Parents also need to be very careful with their children's personal information, be sure to never share your child's social security number in an insecure manner or with someone you don't know who has contacted you in an unsolicited manner. Be aware of email and voice phishing scams that could try to solicit sensitive information from you.

Are Online Games Dangerous?

Many adolescents now play online and mobile games as a means of entertainment and a way to socialize with others. Due to the fact that often times a gamer will have never met who they are playing with online in person, extra precautions need to be taken.

How Can I Protect My Child if They Play Online Games?

There are a number of ways in which you can help your child stay safe while playing online and mobile games:

  • Research the games that your child wants to play and check their ESRB rating to make sure that they are appropriate.

  • If they are playing on a computer make sure that it has up-to-date antivirus and anti-malware installed. Have the computer in a central location, like the family or living room.

  • Tell your child to let you know before they download something and look into installing parental control software.

  • Help your child choose a username that doesn't reveal their identity. Usernames should be non-identifying, like "Frisbee10," and not include things such as first and last name, nickname, birthday, address, or school name.

  • Passwords should be strong and complex. They should contain upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. You can make up a sentence with your child that they can use as a password for their gaming accounts.

  • Make sure that your child knows about the importance of privacy and not to share information with people they meet online. Just as they wouldn't tell a stranger on the street personal details, people that they are playing games with online shouldn't be privy to personal information either.

  • Discuss cyberbullying with your children and make sure that they know how to handle cyberbullying situations. Encourage them to ignore cyberbullies, and teach them how to document and report cyberbully abuse.

How Can I Reduce My Child's Screen Time?

It's important to put limits on the amount of screen time your children spend everyday. A good way of doing this is by setting a positive example yourself and following some of the same rules that you've set for your children.

Some easy ways to reduce screen time are:

  • Create a no phones/TV/tablets rule during family mealtime.

  • Have a family game night or practice a shared hobby together at least once a week.

  • Encourage your children to participate in after school sports or some form of exercise that's outdoors.

  • Have a tech curfew and don't use cell phones, TVs, computers or tablets after it. To better enforce this rule you can set up a charging station that is outside of the bedrooms. Smart phones and tablets can get left to charge overnight in this area.

  • Use an analog alarm clock instead of your phone.

  • Don't have TVs or computers in bedrooms.

There are many different ways that you can help your children reduce their screen time, you can even incorporate them into the conversation and get creative. Find out what their interests are and how you can help them pursue them.

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