From quick information to global communication, the Internet has completely changed the world. This also includes our immediate worlds — our family and our children. New websites and apps are developed every day, making it almost impossible to keep up. Along with many positives, the Internet also has its share of drawbacks like online predators, cyberbulling, oversharing and inappropriate material. How can we responsibly raise children in a world of ever evolving technology? Do we really have to study and understand every new app and website? What parent has time for that?
Luckily, laying solid groundwork early like clear boundaries and open communication can be more effective than spending hours researching apps that are outdated by the time you fully understand them. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, some basic tips to help keep your children safe on the Internet include:
• Set ground rules like establishing when your kids can go online, what sites they can visit and how many texts they can send per month. Keep everyone on the same page.
• Research devices before you buy. Handheld games can often connect to the Internet and many laptops have built-in webcams. Don’t forget that technology is often mobile on phones and tablets and travel with your children. Understand the technology you purchase.
• Don’t just sit there — REPORT! If your kids are dealing with cyberbullies or potential predators, report them to the website, cellphone service law enforcement or www.cybertipline.com.
• Supervise Internet use. If you can see what your kids are doing, they are less likely to get into trouble. Keep the computer in a high traffic area like a kitchen or living room rather than a child’s bedroom.
• Safeguards do not equal safe kids. Installing CIA-level monitoring software on your kids’ computers does not guarantee they will be safe online. Technology can’t replace your time and attention.
• Don’t go overboard. Keep an eye on your kids’ social media profiles, but it is never cool when you post embarrassing messages or pictures to their page.
• Talk to your kids. They are not as mysterious as you think. Your kids may not tell you everything, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask. Get involved so you are not the last to know.
• Challenge them at their own game. Get involved in the video or computer games your kids like to play. When you respect their interests, they are more likely to respect your rules.
• Do not just pull the plug. Taking away Internet access as a punishment does not solve the problem. Talk to them about protecting themselves and respecting others online.
For more information, Ray of Hope Advocacy Center is excited to offer a full training for parents, guardians or those working with children. Our multimedia Internet safety presentation utilizes the latest statistics, online resources, videos, and expert tips to educate, engage and empower children and adults to be safe on and offline. If you, your group or your organization are interested in more information, please contact Kara at (918) 337-6177.
Rhonda Hudson is the executive director for Ray of Hope Advocacy Center. Jordan Ihrig is co-owner of Musselman Abstract Company and a Ray of Hope board member. Both are mothers, native Bartians and advocates for children, teaming up to help you create positive relationships with children in your life.