Help keep your kids’ online experiences positive and productive by learning the truth (and ignoring the rumours) about what really makes them safe
If you believe everything you hear about kids online, you might think paedophiles and cyberbullies are around every cyber-corner.
Yes, there is bad stuff out there. But the truth is, there’s a lot of good, and some experts are arguing against a ‘techno-panic mindset‘ that worries parents unnecessarily.
The bottom line is that we can’t keep our kids safe if we don’t know the facts.
Here are the five most popular myths about Internet safety – and the truths that can set your worries free:
1. Myth: Social media turns kids into cyberbullies
Truth: There are many reasons why a kid might cyberbully, and social media is just a convenient way to do the dirty work.
The reality is that kids who engage in this behaviour typically have something else going on that compels them to act out. They might be in crisis – at home, at school, or otherwise socially. They may also be bullying in person, or they may have an underdeveloped sense of empathy. Awareness of a cyberbully’s circumstances – though not excusing the behaviour – can help parents and educators recognise the warning signs and potentially intervene before it goes too far.
2. Myth: Teaching kids not to talk to strangers is the best way to keep them safe online
Truth: Teaching kids to recognise predatory behaviour will help them avoid unwelcome advances.
In today’s world, where kids as young as eight are interacting with strangers online, they need to know the boundary between appropriate and inappropriate conversation. Kids are often pressured by their own friends to talk about sex, so they need to know it’s OK to tell peers to back off.
Go beyond ‘stranger danger’ and teach them what kind of questions are not OK (for example, not OK: “Are you a boy or a girl?”, “Where do you live?”, “What are you wearing?”, “Do you want to have a private conversation?”).
Also, teach kids to not go looking for thrills online. Risky online relationships more frequently evolve in chat rooms when teens willingly seek out or engage in sexual conversation.
To keep your kids safe online – and to raise them to be responsible, respectful digital citizens – it takes more than installing parental controls
3. Myth: Social media alienates kids
Truth: Most kids say social media strengthens their relationships.
Most kids want to have fun, hang out and socialise normally online – and, according to the Pew Research Internet Project, that’s what the majority are doing.
4. Myth: It’s dangerous to post pictures of your kids online
Truth: If you use privacy settings, limit your audience, and don’t ID your kids, it is pretty safe.
Although it’s true that posting anything online invites some risk, there are ways to limit it if you’re smart about how you do it.
- Use privacy settings. Make sure your privacy settings are set so only the closest people in your network can view your posts.
- Limit your audience. Only share posts with close family and friends.
- Don’t rush your kids into social media. Obey the rules about keeping kids under 13 off social media. Once your children have an online profile, they can be tagged in photos, which magnifies their online presence. If you’re going to upload photos of them, don’t identify them and don’t tag them – that way the photo can’t be traced back to them.
5. Myth: Parental controls are the best way to monitor kids’ online activities
Truth: Focusing on only one Internet safety method lulls you into a false sense of security.
To keep your kids safe online – and to raise them to be responsible, respectful digital citizens – takes more than installing parental controls. For starters, parental controls can be defeated by determined kids. The controls can also catch too much in their filters, rendering any Internet search useless, and they set up a ‘parent vs kid’ dynamic that could backfire.
By all means, use parental controls to help prevent exposure to age-inappropriate material and to manage time limits, but don’t think they will get you off the hook. Continue to discuss responsible, respectful online behaviour, set rules and consequences for misbehaviour, and train your children to manage their own usage.