Are You Connected to Your Child’s Online World?
by:Detective Rich Wistocki, Be Sure Consulting & TrueCare Advisor
I am a detective. A largecomponent of my job is to track downand prosecute predators who use the Internet and social media to lure children.I encounter many parents who think their children are safe online because theyhave taught them right from wrong and “stranger danger.” I also have made it myjob to alert parents that social media has many dangers and provide them withtips on how to keep their kids safe online.
We are faced with rapidly increasingnumbers of Internet crimes against children. A growing population of kids is atrisk of online pitfalls and dangers as they grow up in an online world. The cases I see every daywould shock you. What would surprise you even more is that many Internet crimescould have been prevented. That’s because many children are victimized asa result of unmonitored Internet use.
Most parents are completely unawareof what their kids are doing online. Parents, you are responsible for yourchildren. Not only in theirphysical world, but their online world, too. A great number of parents still don’t know that they need tobe on guard as their children engage in online activities. However, parentstoday face a big challenge. They can’t keep up with all of the new technologiesavailable to their kids. As parents, we are generally behind in our knowledgeof Facebook, chatting, texting and gaming. As a result, we tend to avoid it.
I have teen aged boys. I have instituted everything I havelearned in my position to make sure they are safe while at home and away fromhome. I monitor their computer use as well as their phone use, using amonitoring service. Do I physically check those devices every day? No; only when I see reason based on monitoringalerts. If I see an “A” grade go to a “C” grade, then I will check it. Ifthey are not talking at dinner, I will check it. If they appear moreaggressive or withdrawn, I will check it. These are examples of how youbecome responsible for your child in their online world.
WHAT EXACTLY ARE THE DANGERS?
There are two primary risks: Internet predators and cyberbullying. Here’s one scenario: Your child meets someone on a social media siteand has a relationship with this person. No one knows about it. They text, theyplay video games together, and talk to each other on Facebook. This person is astranger. And this is how Internet predators find kids; then lure them to meetin a secret place, often posing as someone the same age as your child, a trustedfriend.
When using social media, someone can create a fakeidentity. They can be whoever they want. Consequently, any video game, phoneapplication game, or social networking site that utilizes an Internetconnection poses a risk. Everyone has access to your child. The trouble comeswhen parents are disconnected from what’s going on in their child’s onlineworld. They can’t protect them.
Cyber bullying can happen in the same way. Kids can createfake accounts to say mean things to each other. The victim feels the need to respond to protect themself.Then, once posted online, it provides an opportunity for anyone associated withthe accounts to get involved, whether they know the victim or not. Children whoare cyber bullied have no peace. School bullying now finds its way into theirhomes through the Internet and cell phones.
BE ON GUARD: How to Stay Ahead of the Technology
The truth is that it will take time and effort to keep upwith what your kids are doing online. But, it’s a valuable investment. To beahead of the game, make it your mission to learn all you can. Case studiesprove that parents serve as the first line of defense against Internetpredators and cyber bullying.
Here are 10 smart ways to connect with your child’s onlineworld:
1. Be nosy about what your child is doing online. Ask a lot ofquestions, like, “What did you do online today?” or “Did you make any newfriends?” and “Did you play any new online games today?”
2. Be “friends” with your children on social media sites to observecommunication with their “friends.”
3. Educate your child about online stranger danger, just asyou would if they were going to the park.
4. Establish household rules around Internet and computer use.
5. Ensure that privacy settings on all Internet-based accountsare set to your standards.
6. Checkto ensure these privacy settings also are set on cell phones.
7. Use a social media monitoring service that sends you alertsabout your child’s online activities.
8. If you need to learn abouttechnologies, such as Facebook or Twitter, sit down with your kids and ask themto show you. Most kids love to demonstrate their knowledge.
9. If you uncover somethingquestionable, don’t discipline your child harshly. Learn more about the issueand get them to talk about it. Help steer them in a harmless direction.
10. If you think your child is havingtrouble online with cyber bullying or a predator, don’t underestimate yourinstincts. Look into it and escalate the issue to authorities if you think itis warranted.
Along with my partner, TrueCare.com, my goal is to helpparents understand how to safeguard our children in their online world. Our jobis to move needle in raising awareness and make “monitoring kids online” thenext “buckle your seatbelt."