As part of our partnership with child safety experts Metaverse Mod Squad, and our ongoing efforts to keep your kids safe online, we’d like to offer a list of online safety tips for parents, written by Metaverse Chief Moderator, Susan South. We encourage all parents to take an active role in their child’s participation on FunGoPlay. Please email us anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or concerns.
None of us would let our kids play on the freeway, and really, we don’t let our kids navigate ANY road on their own for quite a few years. Unfortunately, too many parents are simply releasing their kids on the ol’ Information Superhighway without much in the way of warning, protection or supervision. In fact, many parents don’t even seem to realize that it could be dangerous. We can’t just forbid our kids to use the Internet, so it’s time to get on board and figure out a plan.
So, here are some tips for families-
▪ Set your expectations – Discuss in advance your expectations about your child’s use of the internet, then have your child write down his passwords. Check them occasionally to ascertain that they have not changed. You don’t necessarily have to use them, but having them lets the child know that you MIGHT use them. Decide in advance what the penalty will be if the child changes the password without letting you know, or if he is caught in a place online where he has agreed not to be.
▪ Educate yourself – Do not say “My child knows more about the computer than I do,” even if it’s true. Make sure you learn how to do everything that she is doing. No excuses. If your child developed diabetes, that would be her “new reality,” and you would learn everything there is to know about diabetes. Well, the Internet is her “new reality,” and you need to get informed. Do not be disheartened by this next bit: this process will never end. A few years ago, it was desktop computers in one room, then it was laptop computers all over the house, and next thing you know, every mobile phone is connected to the Internet. By next week, there will be something new. Get informed, and keep getting informed.
▪ No computers behind closed doors – Set up a place for the computer, so that the monitor is facing into a well-used room in your house, such as the family room. Walk past often enough to see what your child is doing (in general), but don’t hover. Ask a few questions, like “Is that a new site you’re on?” “Who’s that you’re chatting with?” Gauge their responses and demeanor when answering, according to what you know about your child. An overly casual or overly angry response might tell you that you need to investigate further. Every so often, stop behind them to chat about something, and see if there’s a rush to close windows or block the monitor.
▪ Password-protect the computer – The best parental control technology is the simple password. And it’s free! Password protect the computer, console, tablet, etc. that your child uses. When they need to ask permission, you can better gauge how much time they’re spending online. If you have to be the person to physically enter the password, you know when they’re on. It also removes the temptation to “sneak on” when you’re away from home, asleep, etc.
▪ Decide what information the child CAN share with strangers online – Gender and age range (such as “tween”) are probably fine, but you can discuss other things. If you live in a large, populous state, you might allow that to be shared. Otherwise, you might decide that a region (the South, the Midwest) is allowed. The less common the information is, the more dangerous it is to share it. 14-year-old Marigold from Monowi, Nebraska whose hobby is sword-swallowing is much easier to “find” than teenager Emma from the East Coast, who likes fashion. Kids like to talk about themselves, so help them decide in advance what details are safe to share. And never let your child share any information that is in violation of a site’s terms of service; most prohibit any personally identifying information for children under 13.
▪ Check out every online community in which your child participates – Find out what the moderation system is. If you find the community to be inappropriate for your child, suggest other interesting choices. Consider joining the site, and friending your child, but don’t overdo it.
▪ Enforce the rules – That seems obvious, but many parents are willing to be talked out of any consequences, because they just aren’t on sure footing, or don’t want to be the bad guy. Don’t be that parent. Even if the child has a reasonable excuse (“I wrote down the new password for you, but someone moved the paper.” “Someone must have hacked my account.”), there still must be consequences, and you need to be more vigilant in the future.
▪ Be a sleuth – Find out what sites your child visits by using the browser history, cookies and cache. You aren’t spying; you’re spot-checking. Google your child’s name and see if it turns up on social networking sites. You love him and want to trust him, but you need to check on him sometimes.
▪ Wait for the right time to turn over control – Delay smart phones and any other device with Internet access until your child has proven that she is mature and trustworthy. Even then, let them know that the device belongs to YOU, and can be removed at any time for any infraction of the rules. Remember, these devices are just small computers, and have the same dangers for your child that “the big computer” has. Probably more. Think this one over a long time, and do not let yourself be swayed by the “everyone else has one” plea.
▪ Share your expectations with other guardians – Discuss your family guidelines with anyone that monitors your child for any length of time. Grandma, a parent with shared custody, his friends’ parents, and babysitters need to be aware and on board with the guidelines.
▪ Be ready to adjust what is allowed – At my house, it is about trust and freedom. You have all the freedom that is appropriate to your age, as long as I trust you. Any violation, and I do mean ANY, results in a step back in freedom. As you show me you can handle that level of freedom, I trust you more, and you have more freedom. Any major violation of trust results in a major reduction of freedom. “I forgot” is a violation. A lie is a violation. A visit to an unsuitable website is a violation. Not telling the parent about a request for personal information from a stranger is a violation. Loss of freedom should be equal to the level of gravity of the violation. The child quickly learns that it is in her best interest to live up to our expectation of trust.
▪ Give your child confidence – Perhaps the best thing you can do to help your child prevent victimization is to increase his self-esteem. The lower a child’s self-esteem, the more likely he is to be a target for a predator or bully. The typical predator will seek out a child who lacks confidence, and who will respond positively to their advances.
▪ Popularity is not a number – If your child uses social networking sites, stress to them that their popularity is not determined by the number of “friends” they have. They should never accept a friend request from someone with whom they are not personally familiar. The personal information they share, even through casual status updates, is like gold to a predator, and can be used to gain their confidence and elicit more information. Parents should occasionally sit with their child and help them cull their friends list.
▪ Don’t freak out, unless it’s really time to freak out – If your child tells you that a person on the game they’re playing keeps asking for his phone number, don’t go into a rant and scream, “It could be a kidnapper! You’re never going online again!” Just calmly help your child block that person, report it to the game administrators, and thank your child for being wise enough to tell you. Your reasonable reaction now means your child is more likely to tell you things in the future, and could be the difference between safety and disaster.
▪ Watch for warning signs – Some warning signs: Your child is online too much, often at night. Your child receives phone calls from people you don’t know, or he makes these phone calls. You find pornography on his computer. He withdraws from the family. He turns off the monitor or minimizes windows when you approach the computer. If, heaven forbid, you find evidence that your child has been victimized, contact your state or local law enforcement agency, the FBI, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and turn the computer off to preserve evidence.
▪ Be the person that you want your child to become – While this advice applies in every area of life, it certainly also applies to Internet and computer use. If you can’t be bothered to listen to him talk about his baseball game because you’re chatting with Aunt Jane, or feeding your pigs on Farmville, then don’t be surprised when he ignores your calls to supper while he’s playing online.
Good luck, parents!