Tips for Internet Safety
If you’ve attended one of my sessions about social networking or digital literacy, you know that I am very much for teaching kids responsible, ethical use of the web. I don’t believe in extreme web restriction… teach them the guidelines and help them learn to be good digital citizens!
A quick analogy: if you TELL your child at the age of 2 that the street is a dangerous place to play, and then proceed to lock him in the fenced-in backyard until he’s 18, he will never learn how to navigate/negotiate the street! It’s true for the web as well. We need to provide children age-appropriate limits on the web, but also trust them enough to demonstrate responsibility as they grow.
Here are a few tips to share with kids about using the web:
1. Protect your identity. In most social networks, messaging systems, chat rooms, and even email programs, you are not required to display your full name. If you’re under 21, it might be best to adopt a screen name that your friends will know, but strangers will not. Additionally, you should never list your home address or cell phone numbers on your pages. If your friends ask for those, send that information through a private message.
2. Private pages are BEST. If you have a social network profile, like MySpace ™ or Facebook (tm), set your profile and home pages to Private, especially if you’re under 21. Only allow people you know to be your friends. If you get a friend request from someone you don’t know, reject it. If you’re not sure if you know that person, send back a message through the request system to ask how they know you. Ask for SPECIFIC details that only a real friend would know.
3. The Web is a PUBLIC PLACE. If you post something, whether it’s a comment, blog post, wall message, or photo… someone will see it. Anything you post to the web can be used to help you, and anything you post to the web could be used to hurt you. Don’t post photos of yourself that would be embarrassing to you tomorrow. Or 10 years from now. Even though it seems a long time away, a future employer could be doing some research about you. Also remember that online comments can be printed. If you don’t want someone to read it, don’t post it.
4. The Web is a PERMANENT PLACE. Just because you post something today and then delete it tomorrow doesn’t mean it’s really gone. Think about what you write in a post, a comment, a wall message… or even a photo. What you post today could exist on some server somewhere for years and years. If you don’t believe this, check out the WayBackMachine at http://archive.org and search for an online news page, like CNN.com. You can view that website and see exactly what it looked like in the year 2000.
5. Parents and Kids should talk about web activities.
Parents, ask your kids what they do online… and ask them to show you!
- If you don’t understand what your kids are doing, you can’t help protect them. If they blog, maybe you could start your own blog. If they have a social network profile, start your own.
- Keep the conversation pipeline open. Talk to your kids about productive activities online… how are they using their web activities for communication? for charitable events? how have they helped a friend through their time online?
- Discuss what kind of messages are best delivered face-to-face vs. online or text message. An emotional comment on a social profile “wall” or text message loses a lot of meaning when delivered by text only. There are no facial expressions, tone of voice, or body language in visual text. Some messages deserve face-to-face time.
- Also beware that some kids use these tools for gossip and bullying. Ask your kids if they have ever been bullied online or if they have been a bully. Open discussion can help curb these behaviors.
- Stay “in the know.” You need to be able to talk to your kids using common terminology. Most of the parents I work with have no idea what their kids do online.
Kids, your parents need to be sure you’re safe online. If you share what you’re doing and can show your parents how responsible you are, they are more likely to understand your need for some balanced, online time!
Above all, remember that our kids are living in a digital world. They need to understand how to create, develop, synthesize, analyze, and evaluate using digital tools. The web isn’t just their “playground;” it’s part of their world. Mutual respect goes a long way in developing responsible web users!