How to keep your child safe in a digital world.
When you were growing up, did your parents teach you about ‘stranger danger’ by warning you not to talk to or accept gifts or lifts from strangers? It’s still good advice for today’s kids, but as Nikki Bush, creative parenting expert and co-author of Tech-Savvy Parenting (Bookstorm), explains, real-world predators aren’t the only threat your kids face. She shares some insights on online threats and how to protect your children from them.
Predators: online versus real world
Real-world predators aren’t always creepy men in vans, lingering outside schools. In many cases, they’re friendly and
charming… until they harm you. And as difficult as it can be to identify them, Nikki warns that online stalkers are even more difficult to identify.
‘They may be men or women, and often disguise themselves with fake profiles,’ says Nikki. ‘A 50-year-old man might use a girl’s name and photo to pass himself off as a 16-year-old.’ She explains that they use these profiles to ‘go fishing’ by putting out bait in the form of seemingly innocent conversations or responses to youngsters’ social media posts, and wait to see who bites.
‘All they need is for a child to respond, and they’re in the game,’ she says.
‘They gradually lure the child off the public platform into a private chat where they can become more personal and intimate. Often they affirm the child and make them feel good about themselves, playing on the common need among tweens and teens to be noticed and paid attention to, with the aim of luring them into meeting in the real world.’
Nikki says that unlike real-world predators who need to do an instant snatch when targeting a child, online predators spend time building relationships based on ‘trust’ so that when they eventually ask a child to meet in the real world, the target just can’t resist and does so willingly.
How do they know kids so well?
‘Online predators know a lot about their targets because so many children innocently post too much personal information about themselves online, leaving a trail that can lead right to your front door, their school, or to where they
might be hanging around with their friends,’ says Nikki.
She suggests following these tips:
- Beware of the photos that you and your children post on social media, and who can see them. Activate your privacy settings, and switch off the geolocation settings on your phone when taking photos.
- Teach your children the importance of protecting themselves by learning how to make good choices about what they post online, in texts, and on apps as far as photos and personal information go.
- Make sure you and your children use the privacy settings on social networks, and that you’re choosy about who you connect with online.
No more social media?
You may be thinking that banning your children from using social networks, apps, and the internet may be the best (and let’s face it, easiest) way to keep them safe, but that’s not the answer. Technology’s here to stay, and you need to teach your children how to use it as a useful tool, and how to use it responsibly.
Tip: Though it can be frustrating, for kids nowadays, having the latest tech and access to certain apps can mean being ‘in’ or ‘out’ of friend groups. Understand the importance of tech in their lives and try to lead them through safe online activity instead of excluding them altogether.
Nikki suggests spending time online with your kids while they’re learning how to navigate and use social media, and set boundaries regarding the apps they download and the time they spend on their phones as soon as possible.
Once you’re comfortable that they know how to use the social media platforms you’ve discussed, become their friend
on these and interact with them only if they initiate the interaction. This gives them a sense of independence, and you peace of mind, as you can keep an eye on their online activity without ‘supervising’ them.
If being their friend on social media and keeping an eye on them from a distance isn’t enough to put your mind at ease, Nikki suggests googling your kids every now and then to see what comes up and to make sure they’re leaving
a good digital footprint.
‘When you initially discuss their use of social media, make it conditional on periodic “check-ups” where you can look through their phone to make sure they’re not downloading any inappropriate content or apps you haven’t agreed to,’ says Nikki. ‘You can also install parental control software on their phones, and download apps like Net Nanny and Our Pact for extra peace of mind.’
This internet filter software helps parents monitor their child’s social network and chat activity, and even has anti-cyberbullying capabilities. Parents can also use this tool to manage the amount of time their child spends on online activities.
This parental control app allows parents to remotely block internet and app usage on their child’s phone, manually
grant or deny access to apps on their child’s phone instantly, and schedule or lock device use for activities like school time, dinner time, and bedtime.
Nikki says that sometimes sharing real-life stories of the dangers of online strangers with your children can make them sit up and think. ‘The recently released video, Kayleigh’s Love Story (available via YouTube), shows how in
just 15 days, a 15-year-old girl was groomed by a 28-year-old man on Facebook before he brutally raped and murdered her,’ she says. ‘Watch it on your own before watching it with your children over 13 years old. As scary as it may be, this real-life story is a wake-up call to act responsibly online.’
Discuss, don’t lecture
Preaching to your child about online safety isn’t always the best way to get your message across. Instead, Nikki suggests trying the conversation framework based on her digital safety mantra.
‘When discussing online safety with your child, explain that they have one mind, one body, and one reputation,’ she says.
‘Discuss what these three things mean to your child, and help them understand that they must look after these three precious things forever. Explain that they’re responsible for these things and that all the decisions they make, online and offline, will affect them.
Make sure they understand that all choices have consequences, and suggest that in any decision-making situation, they ask themselves:
- “Is it good for my mind?”
- “Is it good for my body?”
- “Is it good for my reputation?”
‘If they answer “no” to any of these, they shouldn’t do it.’
Nikki believes that open, honest conversations with your children about the dangers of online strangers, and other
serious or ‘difficult’ topics, is one of the best ways to protect them. Building a relationship where your child feels comfortable talking to you about cyber-bullying, porn, sexting, and other ‘awkward’ topics reduces the likelihood of them hiding things.
‘Make sure your kids know they can confide in you with any problem, no matter what,’ says Nikki. If your child – despite knowing they’re breaking the rules – starts talking to an online stranger, and becomes scared or uncomfortable, they need to know they can tell you and ask for your help without fear of being punished. That’s not to say there won’t be consequences for their actions (these can be discussed once the dangerous situation’s been resolved), but an honest relationship where your child trusts you to help, no matter what, could save them. ‘The best safety app is one you can’t buy; it’s your relationship with your child,’ says Nikki.
For more info, visit Nikkibush.com
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