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Internet Safety For Parents & Families

The internet, indispensable as it’s become to us, has been around for a long enough time. And, with its power and reach makes it an incredibly efficient tool to those who wish to do harm. We’re interested in keeping your financial health in tip-top shape, and in these times, that includes helping keep you safe on the internet too (do banking or shopping online? Exactly).

In this blog, we’ll cover the basics of internet safety before moving into each one more deeply in the coming months. 

How the Internet Works

The internet is akin to tunnels that connect to every office, house, dorm, etc. And within each of those places, it connects to every type of computer, phone, tablet, and yes, even some cars. Anyone in the world can wander and explore through those tunnels. 

At each computer there are one, or more, doors. If none of the doors are closed or locked, whatever is behind the doors (your info) is there for the viewing or for the taking, or holding hostage for a price.  

Sometimes you don't care about what is behind the door because you think it is okay for the public to see and know...but you should. Seemingly trivial knowledge can be clues or keys for a thief to use to open other doors on your computer; such as doors to your bank account, your Amazon account, or even your children's social media. 

Predators and thieves are using over 80% of the Internet's capacity, searching and trying to trick you into giving them those clues to your most treasured things. That translates to thousands of attempts per hour, trying to see your stuff!

Seems trivial? Not quite. What happens when they look for and find your vacation plans which you shared with friends? Now they know when to rob your house while you are gone. Perhaps they will use your elderly relatives' names and addresses; call them, and pretend to be you, as though you’re in trouble, asking for money. 

Even your appliances may have computers that are on the internet now. Usually they are not locked. If the thief can use WI-FI to connect to your refrigerator, or TV or smart speaker like Echo Dot or Alexa, and those are not locked, that is an open door for them to get to the data used by your other computers. You never know who is watching what you are doing. Close those doors.

And, don’t forget, the internet is forever. Even if you’ve made sure to nail shut all those doors, anything that’s on the internet stays there, even after you think you have deleted it. Make sure that nothing ends up there that you will regret later, that could impact job prospects or personal safety some day.

Responsible Internet Parenting

Responsible parents instinctively protect their children from physical dangers. Internet dangers are not visible but just as real and possibly leave you more vulnerable. No responsible parent would consider willingly exposing their child to “some” risk with any known predators in the neighborhood. That seems so obvious, right? 

But when kids open the door to the internet, they are opening doors to many invisible neighborhoods. Children can’t possibly be aware nor be prepared for the unlimited dangers lurking in every online neighborhood they step into. So you, the parents, need to ensure you eliminate the risks.

Parents click here if you need details to become aware of what is available to children online. Child-friendly games and activities also lure those who are interested in exploiting children. A perfect example is “micro transactions”, tiny and easy-to-make purchases that children can make in the game to “get more coins”, more “loot”, more whatever...and cost you money.

Let’s walk through some valuable tips to provide even the most novice “internet parent” the steps to protect their children.

Family Rules (or How Much Is Too Much?)

Your child’s age and maturity level dictates what you allow, and how much of the dangers you reveal to your children. While you don’t want to frighten your children, you should explain that, just as there are things they are not ready for, outside their home, without your parental supervision and control, the same applies to the internet. For very specific details about age-appropriate suggestions, check out a great Guidelines Tab here.

Primary-aged children (4-9 yrs):  while they can appreciate what danger means, they rarely transfer “stranger danger” lessons to role-playing outcomes, surprising and inducing legitimate fear in their parents. This is a natural stage of development of children showing why parents must proactively protect their children from those dangers. 

Similarly online, when the dangers are invisible, children cannot be expected to self-regulate and resist the lures of online activities and messages. Parents and guardians need to keep a very close watch on what children are viewing and doing online. 

Pre-teens (9-12 yrs): they’ll want to venture further. Yet, even innocuous game consoles now have online components, so pre-teens need to be aware that your vigilance is about protecting the family, not about spoiling their fun. 

Teens: they will likely start to recognize and appreciate the technical pitfalls of the digital and online world. Yet their social development at this stage becomes much more vulnerable to the voices that lurk in the online tunnels of the world. 

Be particularly vigilant during this ever-increasing independent stage of their lives. You wouldn’t give exploitative strangers access to your teens at their school, so continue the same care for their online environment. 

This will definitely be the time to maintain, even increase, your dialogue with your teen about all the adolescent issues they are dealing with, especially as they relate to their online activities.

To dig into deeper detail for age-appropriate strategies, we suggest you start by creating a set of family rules around the use of screen devices, and incorporate the creation of boundaries regarding online tools and use.

Filters

Parents can readily employ software that’s available to filter out everything except what you will specifically allow children to access. 

Personal computers, tablets, gaming devices, cell phones, plus many apps, come with built-in parental controls available. Start with those! 

Add an easy-to-set-up direct-control filter for your home’s devices. You aren’t just going to filter against mature content. You will want to consider filtering against malicious online activity that pokes at all the internet doors on your family’s devices to see if they’re locked. Some of these filtering options are free while others charge fees. This is not the time to try to save money by lowering your defenses. 

One basic way to protect your own data from being accidentally accessed by your children, is to never give them your own password; they should have their own account I.D. and password on your family devices. Some children have found ways to access their parents’ online payment-options to buy enormous quantities of some beloved food item, from an online merchant! This step makes those accidents preventable.

Cyber-bullying

The common occurrence of cyber-bullying is a matter of significant urgency, based on its effects on our children. This has created a wide array of information to help parents with preventative strategies.

And yet, the prevalence of information and those strategies has not, however, done much (if anything) to lower the incidence. Sadly, since cyber-bullying has become a normalized experience of adolescence, despite its link with suicide, it should increase the response from us as parents, to intervene; perhaps on a completely different level, and perhaps in a different way. 

Although it is satisfying to find an increase in serious studies about effective prevention and intervention, if you are a parent now, you aren’t able to wait. So, let’s look at some of the best practices thus far:

If your child is currently experiencing cyber-bullying, start some conversations right away, and give your child permission to block or walk away from the bully, the bully’s messaging.

Involve all responsible entities and authorities as soon as possible. This includes the app or digital provider through which the cyber-bullying messaging occurred (e.g. Twitter, Snapchat, etc). Most organizations are actively seeking ways to prevent cyber-bullying and will assist in any way they are equipped to do so. Contact the school, and civil authorities. Document the messages without contacting the bully; saving them as screenshots is quick and easy.

As your children grow, help them build resilience; this will serve them exceptionally well throughout life, but especially throughout their teens. That way, if they encounter a bullying situation, whether as a witness or as a potential victim, they will have the best chance to emerge from that intact. 

Some tips on how to achieve that include:

  • Spend time with your children.
  • Provide consistent guidance and structure.
  • Be aware of children's whereabouts and activities.
  • Give warm emotional support to children.
  • Set family goals and have children play an important role in working towards them.
  • When your child is defensive or aggressive, help them reflect on the situation to understand what is causing their behavior. Children may lack the skills to handle what's happening. They may need support. Help them build the skills they lack so they can respond in better ways in the future.
  • Practice role-playing: how to handle different problems. This helps children develop ways of handling challenges.
  • Model an attitude of grit and optimism in the face of family challenges.
  • Work on solving problems together.
  • Teach your child how to manage stress. Participating in wellness activities together, like exercise or healthy cooking, can be helpful.
  • Find someone (like a tutor, mentor, or school counselor) to help your child improve specific academic or life skills.
  • Volunteer together to help others in need.
  • Talk to your child about past challenges and how they helped you grow.
  • Help your child find practical solutions to problems as they come up.

What might need to change

In developing our relationships with our children, we should focus on instilling them with values that reduce their reliance on peers for affirmation. 

Their peers are still learning and developing into adults too, so their feedback is also at a teen’s level of development. Yet, because it is natural for teens to gravitate to their peers as a resource, they need to already have a lot of valuable feedback and affirmation from their parents. 

Social media sites (and the messages therein), like Instagram, Tik Tok, Twitter, and others, compete for precious time with parents, siblings, pets, education and activities that are better at character-building.

Make sure there isn’t a vacuum your teens are trying to fill. Be the parent or guardian that has already helped them build enough character to know who they are, by the time they enter their teens. Social media sites very readily fill any gaps left by the absence of legitimate and necessary attention from parents.

More Next Time

With so much to be aware of pertaining to the internet and its safe use, we urge you to commit to make use of the best practices available. Check back with us next month for the next segment in on our internet safety series!

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Services, May 20, 2021

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