This is one of a series of articles with suggested resolutions for the new year. See the other suggested resolutions.
If your kids got a new smartphone, iPad, computer, Xbox, or other Internet-connected device at Christmas, now is a great time to have another talk with them about Internet safety.
Talk to your children about what they should and shouldn’t be doing while online. Make sure you have anti-virus, anti-spam, and parental controls in place to safeguard your family against bad experiences. And remember, it’s not just about home computers anymore–you need the same on any device that can connect to the Internet, like smartphones, iPads, and Xboxes.
Talk with your children about texting and appropriate messages and photos. You should know about programs like Snapchat–a phone app that lets users send a picture that self-destructs after a few seconds. It can be used for legitimate purposes, but mostly it’s used by teenagers for sending inappropriate pictures without getting caught.
Talk with your children about their activities on social media sites like Facebook. There is a fine line between respecting your teen’s privacy and doing things to protect them.
- Friends. Set your teen’s privacy settings so that his/her posts and photos are only visible to his/her friends. And make sure your teen only accepts friend requests from people he/she already knows. Do you know the friends your teen hangs out with online? Shouldn’t you know their online friends as well as you know their physical friends? If you’re like most parents, you have friended your teen on Facebook so you can see what he/she does. But that doesn’t mean you’ll see everything (as you’ll read below). There are services, such as SociallyActive that monitor your teen’s Facebook network and alert you when there is a potential threat.
- Posts. If you are your teen’s Facebook friend, you can see what he/she posts to his/her own status updates.
- Comments. You won’t see the comments your teen makes on his/her friends’ posts unless you are friends with them, too.
- Photos. Depending on how your teen’s privacy settings are configured, he/she may be uploading photos or being tagged in his/her friends’ pictures, and you’ll never see them. Tagged photos show up in the taggers’ timeline for all of their friends to see. Unfortunately, unless you’re their friend as well, you won’t see these photos, or even know who the person is that tagged them.
Remind your children about not divulging personal information online–like where they live or their phone number. But also be careful about what you post as a parent. For example, “I have to pick up Johnny from soccer practice again, it ends at 3: 15, I hope I can make it,” “His school team the Schwerman Eagles made championship today,” and “…he’s really into this goth girl…” All common innocuous statements you may make online. You are a proud parent and you want the world to know, but do you realize just how much information you are putting out there? You’ve probably even posted pictures of your angels. But just from those few statements someone knows his name, school, soccer schedule, and that he seems to be hanging on the fringe of the goth crowd. The pictures let them know exactly who he is. What else have you told the world? Be careful what you post, and the privacy settings on who can see your posts.
Talk with your children about video games to make sure their experience is fun, safe, and secure.
- Check the rating. Just like movies and TV shows, some games are meant for children and others are really intended for adults to play. From “E for Everyone” to “M for Mature,” Rating Categories and Content Descriptors appear on nearly all video and computer games sold in the U.S. and Canada and are an easy guide to gauge age-appropriateness. See esrb.org for more information. If you can’t find enough information online, talk with an expert at the video game store or talk with a friend who has the game.
- Activate parental controls. Game consoles offer parental control features that allow parents to restrict games by ESRB rating, manage online access, and even limit how much time a child can use the system. Follow these instructions for your system to help you manage your children’s video game play.
- Protect kids’ privacy. Because online-enabled games can allow players to speak with one another, kids should know that they shouldn’t share personal information with others, even people they think they can trust. And that’s not limited to e-mail addresses and phone numbers, either. Kids should know not to share personal details like where they go to school, where their parents work, or what their weekend plans are.
- Be vigilant about cyberbullies. Cyberbullying is a growing concern as more and more kids go online, and just like on a real playground there can be the occasional bully in the game world as well. Talk to your kids about their online gameplay and make sure they know who to turn to if they encounter a bully, online or off. And do everyone a favor by reporting misbehavers to a game publisher or its online community moderator. See this video game discussion guide for parents.