We—as parents—know we are supposed to watch over our children’s virtual lives, but the vigilance required and the rapidly changing nature of technology can make that seem like an impossible task.
Your best bet is to work WITH your child. Talk about the potential dangers kids face these days, the hard decisions they may have to make when faced with difficult choices online and your family’s expectations as to appropriate behavior.
To that end, we are going to offer you some easy starter tasks to get you going:
- Together, check your child’s phone and computer to identify which apps they have loaded and what programs they are using. Work with the child to set the privacy settings on each of these platforms, games, and chat programs to the highest, most restrictive level. Because these privacy settings seem to change frequently, it is a good idea to do an online search to receive specific instructions on how best to manage these settings for any particular app. Your goal is to restrict who can see your child’s profile and how much private info that person can see. You also want to limit an outsider’s ability to be notified when your child is online.
- Talk about what a safe profile includes. Instead of uploading a profile photo of your child, suggest he uses a picture of his favorite pet or game character. Never post a full name—partial names or initials are a better bet. Don’t give out dates of birth, school info, or details about sports teams, hobbies, and the like.
- For new users, create a safe screen name. Avoid using your real name, if you can … as well as anything that identifies your age, gender, and geographic location. Obviously off limits: anything that is sexually provocative (or could be seen that way by others).
- Make sure you know who your child’s virtual friends are, and how often they are communicating. Are they talking by text? Video chat? Through gaming sites? Teach them to deny friend requests from people who are not face-to-face friends as well.
- Teach your kids that what they post online is forever. It can be very easy to share hurtful comments and personal pictures with your BFF or new boyfriend… but actions taken out of temporary teenage angst can have lifelong impacts. Colleges and employers are diligently digging up old posts to find out what kind of person you are. In many cases they can find posts you thought you deleted. Do you really want them to see that hateful thing you said or did in middle school? And, that embarrassing photo you thought you were only sending to one person? The whole school saw it in a matter of minutes.
- Finally, teach your kids to trust their instincts. If they have a sense that something is not quite right, they feel threatened, or they see something that is inappropriate—they need to know that they can come talk to you. Work with your school, local police, or the social media provider to report concerns. Most will have procedures in place for you to report abusive or inappropriate behavior.
As always, if you have been victimized by a cyber fraud, be sure to report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or call your local FBI office.