When most parents think of having the dreaded “talk” with their kids, they’re probably envisioning an awkward, bumbled discussion of the birds and the bees. But there’s another talk that parents have to have, and it’s equally as important and equally as difficult.
It’s the Internet safety talk, and just as the sex talk is important for your child’s health and general well-being, this one can prevent damaging, even deadly scenarios from happening to your kids.
Below are some helpful tips for talking to your kids about Internet use, based on age and maturity level:
Younger children – Typically, a toddler, preschooler, or early elementary school student isn’t using the Internet unsupervised and isn’t surfing the web randomly. These digital users tend to go to websites or use tablet apps that parents or teachers have already vetted and approved for use. One of the biggest threats is in the form of ads or in-app purchases, and the way to curb this is also one of the most important tips you can arm your children with, regardless of age: if you don’t know what it is, don’t click it! Come get mom or dad if something pops up and you’re not sure what to do.
Middle grade and Tweens – This is a hard age group, as any parent or middle school teacher can tell you. One of the biggest driving factors for so many of these kids is conforming to the standards their peers outline for them, which is why there is so much crowd following at this age. This is the age when your kids are likely to start coming home with requests to use different websites that you may not be familiar or comfortable with. They’re ideally still young enough to seek your permission to use them, but they may also be testing their boundaries and simply using a website or app that they heard about without your knowledge.
This is the age when most kids will feel the need to always be connected. This can mean multiple social networks and parents need to be aware of the sites in which the children have accounts. Parents should also begin to teach children about cybersecurity at this age. That doesn’t mean forcing your child to learn the risks of data breaches, but it does mean that parents should explain that it is not always a good idea to connect to any old WiFi connection just so they can stay connected. It is also a great time to explain what personal information is and what needs to be protected and why. The best way for parents to teach children about Internet safety and security is to lead by example. Make sure that all of your devices have antivirus protection, your passwords are strong, and you take measures to protect your own personal information.
Teens and Young adults – For parents who want to engage in useful, realistic dialogue about Internet safety, it’s vital to understand that being a teenager today is nothing like it was when we were younger. Cyberbullying can happen at the touch of a fingertip and Internet predators coerce young people—both boys and girls—into sexual activity under threat of reputation smearing and even bodily harm. Teach your students about the dangers of engaging in bullying behavior.
In addition, this is the time that your kids will start to use their credit and parents should be sure to explain to them what identity theft is and how to protect themselves. This would be an ideal time to show them how to check their credit reports and monitor their financial accounts so that they may monitor for identity theft.
Of all the issues that parents can help their kids work through, protecting themselves and their identity online at every stage of life is crucial. Kids must understand the threats from predators, hackers, identity thieves, and anyone else who intends to use the internet for malicious purposes. Leading your child through this danger from the very beginning will arm him for a future when you aren’t there to look over his shoulder.