The internet suddenly became scary when we had kids. They can see and read anything with just a few clicks. Once they do, we can’t take it back. Images and words are so powerful. I know I can’t shelter the monkeys from everything, but it’s my job as a parent to help them find their way — safely.
It’s ironic that most of the information I’ve learned about internet safety I’ve read online. It wasn’t until I heard Detective Aaron Wojtkowski and Officer John Lucey III from the Newbury Police Department speak about internet safety that the topic really came to life.
The officers not only educated parents about the risks of social media, but also they shared real stories about local kids getting into trouble online. Big trouble. I got the chills more than once.
I’m quite certain that if I’m not vigilant, one of my monkeys could be their next case story.
It’s a complicated world out there. The internet is far from safe. Many social media applications can be dangerous. But regardless, kids are already using them or will be in the near future.
As parents, how do we keep our kids safe online? With new technology like mobile phones, iPods, laptops, and video games coming into our homes, we as parents need to educate ourselves and set family rules to protect our kids.
Officer Lucey recommends keeping all computers in a common area where an adult can monitor computer use at any time. He said that shared computers are easier to monitor and therefore safer. You’ll be more apt to check browser history on a computer you also use, not to mention how powerful walking by can be!
Well, that was my first mistake. I immediately took the laptop out of Bean’s room after the presentation. She has been respectful of our new “computers on the first floor only” rule but I’d image this will become more difficult as she gets older. Officer Lucey recommends that parents don’t allow kids to bring their phones to bed. We’re planning to have the kids leave their devices on the kitchen counter when we reach that point. This gives kids some healthy insecurity and gives you a chance for random checks.
Limiting the amount of time that kids spend online at night is another great tip. Most predators work during the day, making kids at greatest risk at night. This never would have crossed my mind and I definitely haven’t read about it online. “No computers after dinner” is another new rule at our house.
My monkeys don’t have mobile phones or an iPod touch yet, and I plan to hold out as long as I can despite the constant requests from the 10 year old. Common Sense Media, an online resource that helps kids and parents navigate our technology driven world, suggests that kids are mature enough to manage a phone at age 13 when they have a better sense of what’s happening in the world around them. Read more about their reasoning here.
The internet brings cyber-bullying to the forefront 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Once kids are connected, they can’t avoid it. Victims can’t win. Detective Wojtkowski says not to engage bullies over social media and never reply impulsively. Some apps will allow you to access the privacy settings to block an abuser. Make sure to save and print the conversations first. It’s good to know that companies like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter that are based in the U.S. cooperate with law enforcement, but not all apps do.
If you have teenagers, watch the move Cyberbully on Netflix together. I watched it myself last week and can’t believe how much stress social media adds to teenagers’ already complicated lives. There are so many apps out there it’s hard to keep track. Take a look at this guide on Common Sense Media.
Surprisingly, dating sites and apps are really big right now in middle and high school. This was a bit of a shocker for me. Kids can lie about their age to get access to a number of apps. Some are designed for kids over 18 — but some allow access to 13 year olds. Have you heard of MeetMe, Tinder, Hot or Not, Plenty of Fish, Okcupid, and Zoosk? Time to get acquainted. Besides avoiding dating apps, Officers recommend steering clear of the following apps because of cyber bullying and predators: Ask.fm, Chat Roulette, Omegle, Kik, and YikYak.
Have open conversations with your kids about internet safety. Let your kids know that you’re watching. Keep track of their passwords. Set rules. Have clear, set consequences for when they’re broken.
Locally, the Newbury Police Department will hold another Internet Safety presentation for Triton Middle School parents on January 28, 2016 at 6:30pm in the Triton High School auditorium. Contact your local police department to find out if they host talks on internet safety for parents.
You can reach Detective Aaron Wojtkowski from the Newbury Police Department at 978-462-4440 ext. 124 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Greg Whitney is the School Resource Officer in Newburyport and can be reached at 978-462-4411 or via email at email@example.com.