Like it or not, the means of communication our children use have changed drastically over the past decade.
They are far less eager to call or meet each other, but are constantly available online in social networks. When it comes to 11 to 14-year-olds, depending on what’s hip in their environment and, to some extent, the local legislation, your son or daughter would want to register a Facebook or Vkontakte account. Yet as a parent, you are the sole bearer of the responsibility over the way your child’s online life goes.
Prohibiting never works
Some parents would save it for a ‘special day’ like ‘sweet 16’ or some other important event when allowing their child to register a social media account. This effort is futile because a teenager will do it when his peers do, not willing to become an outcast. If you impose a iron-clad ban on social networks, your child could do it secretly. You don’t want that. If you can’t fight it, then take the lead.
If you have a home PC in the living room, thinking that then your child’s online activity is under supervision, then you have forgotten smartphones, tablets, school PCs, TVs, game consoles, and, maybe, refrigerators. Getting in touch with friends is possible by all of these means. Smartphones, without a doubt, are the primarily communication tool. This fact conceals a number of dangerous things which both you and your child should know about.
Taking care of privacy
When you are looking at your computer monitor, it is hard to imagine that there are billions of people online just a couple of clicks away. Among those people are frauds of all kinds, trolls with any level of bad intention, and even more dangerous individuals like pedophiles. To ensure your child is 100% protected from these types, you much teach him the code of conduct on the internet, which is just as important as road safety.
The rules are simple: Do not disclose your name, school, or place of residence and report any disturbing conversations to parents or official representatives straight away. You must then rigorously monitor any content your child posts online. Photos and videos are the most risk-prone types of content: Besides making it possible to include visual clues about the location of the child in the photo, modern smartphones eagerly geo-tag the photos by default. That means this function must be switched off on your child’s mobile device.
The main rule
The biggest mistake both adults and children make online is thinking that it is just a game. When one does not see the interlocutor, or scan regular feedback tokens of live conversation (gestures, body language, intonation or facial expressions), it is easy to believe the conversation is not ‘for real’ and let slip a couple of undesired words.
The second biggest mistake is misunderstanding the scope and magnitude attributed to words said online. Many people, both known and unknown, and many robots as well, will see this conversation. That is why the key wisdom each parent has to explain to a teen is to not say anything online that you would not say in person, publicly. Only those who have apprehended the meaning of this rule are okay to surf the social networks on their own. In simple words, “Written can be more dangerous than saying,” or “Every word and action is seen by outsiders”.
Strike a fair deal
Even if you are absolutely sure that your child has understood all the rules, as a parent, you should check in from time to time just to see how he/she is coping. Do not do it discreetly; ideally, you should make a pact with your son or daughter to define how the control is going to be enforced. Would your child be okay with giving you a password from his social media profile? Or adding a parent as a friend? Or succumbing to special parental control software? If used correctly, the latter would be the most comfortable choice.
Quality software solutions can raise an alarm only in certain circumstances (for instance, on detecting a keyword in a message chain) without the necessity to dig through the entire correspondence. Besides, it is highly recommended to set all possible administrative measures to influence your child’s online behavior, including blocking the online access on all devices before homework is done or banning the mobile phone entirely for serious misconduct. Of course, you should elaborate a balanced ‘grounding’ policy and not limit the child’s online freedom when he or she behaves.
Beware of bullying
One of the most dangerous things happening to teens on social networks is online bullying by their peers (lately, a special term of ‘cyber-bullying’ was introduced to define the concept). Unlike usual problems a teen may experience at school, cyber-bullying has two distinctive features: Online harassment does not stop with classes and continues at home and, as we have outlined earlier, with no personal contact the bullies might get carried away, inventing new perverted and ugly forms of bullying. There is a variety of ways this is done including: Discovering a child’s password to post something undesirable on his account, posting a person’s photo online in order to humiliate the victim in the eyes of the classmates, and disclosing someone’s secret to everyone, etc.
These types of bullying are not obvious to the parents, yet are very depressing for a teen, so when feeling any doubts about your child’s emotions or seeing him or her distant and strange, make a serious effort – from a simple talk to as far as parental control – to find out more about the situation and stop the bullying. Many countries have special organizations which help parents to deal with bullying, but even if there are none, there is a pretty straightforward way to help your child: Go to your child’s school and ask the school counselor for help. In some cases, your child could be the bully. Your response should be immediate and on a large scale. You need to explain to your child that bullying can be dangerous and is serious, considering occasions when a victim of bullying committed suicide, while his/her offenders ended up prosecuted by the court of law.
The best way to conserve the connection to your kid while he/she starts traveling down the path to the world of the internet is to do something together. Help your child establish an account on Facebook and set an appropriate level of privacy. Be aware of and read the industry news (on our website or at our friends’ place, Threatpost) to be able to tell your kid that Snapchat photos are not self-eliminated, and SEM advertisements on the web pages might help to find out what exactly a teen was searching on Google. Teens are seriously concerned about their privacy, so when a parent and a child are on a same team, a parent can earn additional points in becoming his child’s best pal.