Thursday, June 30, 2011

Back to Basics - 8 Common sense tips for maintaining a safe internet environment in your home

With today being Social Media Day I thought I'd share a great article written by Dave Barker of TrueCare Awareness Online.

Back to Basics 8 Common sense tips for maintaining a safe internet environment in your home.
by Dave Barker, TrueCare Awareness Online

In a world where almost everyone has a nightmarish story involving kids and social media, being a parent in 2011 can be a terrifying thing. It is almost impossible to monitor a child’s online presence at the level we’d all like to. No one has that much time. That said, we’d like to offer some tips for preserving sanity and peace of mind when it comes to worrying about your sons and daughters on the internet.

1. Discussion. Discussion. Discussion.

Parents must have a good sense about what’s going on in their kids’ online worlds. Since Facebooking has become a daily routine for kids, it needs to be part of the daily conversation. The more open you are with your kids and facilitate a safe and non-judgmental environment for conversation, the more likely they are to tell you if they come across an issue. While the idea of openness and parenting sometimes seem like they shouldn’t go together, imagine this: do you want to talk about things at the dining room table in a calm atmosphere or after something forces the issue?

2. Keep The Computer In A Common Area
Laptops, smart phones, and tablets have allowed us to overlook the cardinal rule of kids on the internet – keep the communication vehicles in a common area where parents can monitor websites and time allocated to internet activity. Making them mobile makes it even more difficult to monitor and manage. We all grew up without access to the internet on our phones and still managed to survive. Your kids can too.

3. Manners For Texting, E-Mailing Or Chatting Online
As you have in every aspect of your child’s life, you set the expectations for manners and appropriate behavior. Coach them to behave as you have taught them in real life.  Typed content is the same as verbal communication. Digital manners need to be reinforced just as regular manners do.

4. Understand the Settings of Social Media Sites
While settings can sometimes be difficult to find and hard to navigate, understanding the settings can save you time and heartache down the road. They control what information people can and can’t see and what information is sent out upon posting.  Be certain that any settings are set to your preferences. Also remember that Facebook technically prohibits children under 13 from even having a Facebook account.

5. Posting Pictures – Interpretation is in the Mind of the Beholder
A picture posted online is not private. A photo sent between cell phones is not private. Make sure that your children are aware that mistakes do happen and so-called private messages go public, or that sometimes people you trust make mistakes in judgment.  Once a photo hits Facebook, it is legally owned by Facebook and will always be on their servers even if you delete it. It can be downloaded and reposted across the entire web within hours.  Explain that on the internet, nothing is really ever gone, and the consequences of an immature decision will be viewable for years to come.

6. Kids and Adults should Not Be Friends
You and your kids should be connected in social media so you can monitor their behavior. However, you may need to be careful with their connections to other adults because of the adult content that person and their friends can bring to your kids’ social networks.

7. Teach children what to do if they get an offensive or threatening IM, e-mail, or chat room post
According to the National Crime Prevention Center, in 2010 over 40% of children were the victim of an online bully. Of that number, 90% never discussed the situation with their parents.  The more conversations you have with your kids about what occurs online, the more likely they will be to talk to you about what’s going on. Take every opportunity to teach them how to manage themselves in confusing situations.

8. If Your Child Has A Social Media Account, They Are At Risk.
No one can hide on the internet.  A social media account means that a child’s personal information is available in a search engine. Be certain that content is managed appropriately. Performing a Google search every once in a while may be a good idea to make sure that you’re aware of your kids’ online presence.
We aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel here, and we know that what we’re saying is largely common sense. However, we feel strongly that there’s no such thing as too much caution when it comes to our kids and the internet. That’s why we started TrueCare, and why we feel so passionately about what we do. We are all concerned parents and nothing is more important to us than the safety and well-being of our children.

Unfortunately, these days it is almost impossible to devote the necessary time to comb through their pages. However, there are programs out there that are able to monitor your child without your daily intervention. Such programs are available to sift through your child’s social media profiles (Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace) and when they come upon certain keywords will alert you to a potential issue on your child’s page. References to sex, alcohol, bullying, drug abuse, depression, suicide, violence, and racism will trigger an email to you containing an alert.

We don’t do this because we don’t trust our children. We do this because we know that the world we live in now isn’t the same as the one we grew up in. It’s our job as parents to try to protect our kids from as much as we can, in whatever way that we can. We do this to try to keep bullies and predators from harming the things that we love most. We feel that nothing is worth more than that, and we think you do too.

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