Internet Safety is a subject that is both sensitive and ultra-important to all parents. As parents, our job is to protect our children. But, sometimes protecting them from dangers can be difficult, alienate them, and frankly even be hard to implement. The internet has its share of mysteries and many a parent that wants to provide Internet security in their home is confused by this ethereal place. A sexual predator as recently portrayed in the movie “Trust,” is the ultimate nightmare for any parent. It is our job as parents to learn about these “mysteries” and understand the Internet’s potential for good and bad.
My BTT partner Linda Sherman Gordon interviewed Ian Lurie (Portent.com, @portentint on Twitter, ConversationMarketing.com) on this subject at a Social Media conference. The interview was direct and valuable and made me realize how important and pervasive this issue is!
The bottom line of the interview with Ian was that being an involved parent is the job, whether it is monitoring what your kids are doing on the Internet, knowing who their friends and dates are, or dealing with the multitude of school-related issues.
As a parent myself, and a writer about family issues, this subject of Internet Safety comes up often in my home and with my readers and (radio show) listeners. But, it’s not simple.
Teaching your kids Internet safety is really no different than teaching them proper manners or how to behave in public. Plus, the Internet is public. VERY public! It’s a permanent record that can come back to haunt your kid if they ever post something stupid or embarrassing, as we read about all the time.
When my older teen started posting stupid photos of himself on his Facebook profile, I quickly reminded him that his potential employers might and likely would see that photo of him sticking up his middle finger or mooning the camera. Did he really want that out there for anyone and everyone to see?
Knowing what your children are doing online, knowing who their friends are, is really no different because it is online. As a parent, you want to know who their friends are, who they’re “hanging out” with, etc. This goes back to my assertion that the job of being a good parent isn’t being your kids’ best friend. They don’t need you to be their best friend. So, ask what they’re doing, ask to see the sites they’re on, and while it may be controversial, if you have reasonable suspicions of inappropriate activity (e.g. drug use or sexual mis-behavior), don’t be afraid to go on their computer and find out for yourself!
A GREAT suggestion made by Ian in the interview, which I’d never thought of, is to use “Google Alerts” to find out any mentions of your kid’s names. See my partner Linda Sherman’s “How To” on this subject, if you don’t know how to do that already.
In the meantime, here are some basic tips to consider right now:
1. A computer for your children is a privilege, not a right. Therefore, YOU have every “right” to monitor its activity and regulate its use. I don’t care what your kid’s friends do – it’s your kids you care about.
2. When your kids are still middle-school age or younger, there should be just one “family” computer for their use. It should only be in a very public place where their activity can easily be monitored.
3. Remember that your kids have many screens in their lives these days. Think about how many! There are iPods, cell-phones, laptops and desktops, iPads and their competitors, video games both portable and big, television, portable video devices, and on and on. Limit their time on these screens. Keep track of the amount of time your children spend on them. Maybe require an equal amount of outside/physical activity.
4. Just as you will have the “birds and the bees” discussion with your children at the right time, so should you have the “facts of tech life” discussion with them. People lie online. It’s no different than the advice you give your single friends about online dating. Be open, but be cautious.
5. When your children are old enough to have their own computer in their room, do not be afraid to check what they’re doing with it. This is not an invasion of their privacy. It is a protection of their innocence.
6. There are a myriad of Internet Safety programs you can employ. Boomer Tech Talk will follow this introduction to Internet Safety with some recommendations/reviews but in the interim if you believe you have a good one, install it. I don’t care what your teenager says, how much they howl “Trust Me,” or how many of their friends don’t have this sort of parental supervision, you just do it!
7. Don’t hide your head in the sand about what is online as far as the mainstream Social Media websites your kids use. Visit Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and any others you hear your kids talk about. Get familiar with them. Many of these websites are really your kid’s best friends…know them just like their human counterparts.
This subject needs to be out in the open. I want parents to NOT be afraid to spy on their kids. I want you to protect your kids and have your eyes wide open. We’ll follow up with more on this subject in a future article.
You can pre-order my new book, A Dad’s Point of View: We ARE Half the Equation at the Store at BruceSallan.com. The book will be published in May, just in time for Father’s Day. Get it for the dad in your life, the mom who wants her husband to be the best dad, or for yourself.