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Technology: Are your kids ready to be online?

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The Internet has revolutionized the way we communicate and function in our day-to-day lives, exposing us all to an unimagined volume of ideas and possibilities. We are only beginning to understand the full impact that such expanded access to images and information is having on adults and children. Access to the online world via computers, other communication devices and networks offer an experience of anonymity which increases the chance that both children and adults will take risks and experiment with behavior they might never attempt in “real life.” We must acknowledge our responsibility to educate ourselves and our children about safely using this rapidly changing technology.

Become familiar with this new territory

By taking protective actions in advance and speaking up about questionable behavior, we can help prevent harmful use of the Internet and its venues. Technology can be used as a tool to abuse power and exploit children in sexual ways. To stay safe online we must learn the “language” of the Internet. We must also recognize that there are many ways in which different kinds of files, images and texts exploiting the sexuality of children are shared, traded, or sold: websites, newsgroups, Internet Relay Chat, file servers, peer-to-peer file transfer and devices that include cell phone technology.

Anticipate the risks kids will take

We are also learning how children and young people may place themselves at risk and be vulnerable to abuse. When communicating via the internet and mobile phones, young people tend to become less wary and talk about things far more openly than they might when communicating with someone face to face. Young people may not always follow ‘keep safe on the net’ advice. Take the time to speak directly with your kids as soon as they begin using the Internet.

If you have a feeling something is wrong

By the very nature of their age and development, older children and teens tend to be adventurous and prepared to take risks. However, they are often fearful of their parents and other important adults in their lives -- or even of their friends finding out what they have said to other people while online. If they have been the victims of online exploitation, they often have a sense of shame and feel responsible and guilty for what has happened, which makes it very difficult for them to tell anyone about it. It is important to give our children a clear message that it’s OK to tell, even if they feel they have done something wrong.

What you can do now to prevent a dangerous situation later

It is important that all adults are aware of the potential dangers to children and young people and are able to prevent them from being harmed. We can do this by recognizing the warning signs and by encouraging the people concerned to question the young person’s behavior and stop.

Top 10 tips to help

your children be safe online:

1. When buying a computer, install software that can filter inappropriate material and allows you to monitor what your children are doing online.

2. Place the computer where you can always see the screen.

3. Encourage offline activity – playing with their friends, family activities, hobbies.

4. If they’re signing up for email, chat or on a website, have them use a nickname and make sure that it’s one that does not identify their year/date of birth, or have sexual connotations.

5. Teach them not to give out personal information about themselves, family or friends.

6. Clarify the definition of “friends.” “Friends” online are not the same as friends they have met face-to-face.

7. Be open – take an interest in their Internet use and talk to them about what they’ve seen.

8. Educate your children to use the Internet wisely. Encourage them to question whether the information they are receiving from people is true.

9. Let them know that they can tell you if they become uncomfortable with anything that happens on the Internet and acknowledge that it may be difficult for them to do this.

10. Ensure that your children understand the danger of meeting up with someone they have only met online whether that person says they are a man, woman or child and that they should never go on their own.

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