With Safer Internet Day on February 11th, and Pink Shirt (Anti-Bullying Day) on February 26th, this is the perfect month to address the topic of internet safety.
This year’s theme for Safer Internet Day is “Together for a better internet” and is a call to action for individuals and organizations around the globe to consider how they can make the internet a kind, safer place for kids and teens. It’s also the perfect day to talk to kids about internet safety, and simultaneously consider ways to protect yourself online.
From inappropriate content, to cyberbullying, to impersonation, and sextortion, it can be overwhelming to think about all the online threats, and how to protect your kids from them. Whether you have young children just starting out on the internet, or teenagers who, let’s face it, are possibly more internet-savvy than you are, it can be difficult knowing exactly what risks to warn your kids about and which ones they’re most at risk from. ProtectKidsOnline.ca provides a breakdown of online risks for different age groups from 5 – 15, and what can be done to help prevent them. Parents, caregivers, and teachers can also sign up to be alerted to emerging issues and be provided with resources to know how to deal with them.
The Better Internet for Kids site is full of helpful tips for the concerned caregiver. Their online guide provides up-to-date information about some of the most popular apps and social networking platforms. This is a fantastic resource if you want to understand what your teenage son means when he says he’s talking to someone on Discord while live-streaming on Mixer, or when your eight year old asks to sign up for Club Penguin. The guide provides details about privacy policies, minimum age requirements, in-app purchases and more, to help you understand the possible dangers that might come with their use. Consider downloading some of these apps for your own device so you can see what they’re all about. It will give you a better starting place from which to have a conversation about them with your kids.
Better Internet for Kids also provides suggestions for how to talk with children about what content is appropriate for them to share online and with whom, and how to talk to them about their online activity and concepts such as identity theft.
The truth is, while we all need to work to make the internet safer for kids, children and teenagers are not the only vulnerable internet users. Adults and elderly parents can also fall victim to extortion and online scams. The Better Internet for Kids portal encourages parents to talk with kids about creating strong passwords and being wary of suspicious emails; important strategies for adults to know and discuss with elderly parents also. And there is a timely warning for parents about consent: consent laws have ramped up in the past few years and yet parents rarely consider obtaining consent from their children when it comes to posting pictures and information about them online. A recent study by Microsoft found that 42% of teenagers questioned in 25 countries reported that they had a problem with their parents sharing pictures of them online. Something to think about.
Knowing what your kids are doing online, what apps they’re using, and being confident that they have strong passwords and a good understanding of privacy protection, is only one half of the equation though. Cyberbullying is a real psychological threat to teenagers today and even the safest internet user is not immune.
The Government of Canada website describes Cyberbullying as “the use of email, cell phones, text messages, Internet sites and chat rooms to physically threaten, verbally harass or socially exclude an individual or group. Social media technologies often allow bullies to remain anonymous while distributing damaging messages/pictures to a widespread audience.”
The first step is to give kids tools to know how to handle online bullying. ProtectKidsOnline.ca advises that if you receive a nasty message, don’t respond to it, don’t delete it, show it to someone you trust, block the person, and report them (most social media platforms have mechanisms for reporting bullying behaviours). Again, while this information is intended for children, the truth is, anyone who posts anything online opens themselves up to possible attack. The internet combines the ability to converse with people you’ll never meet in real life with relative (and sometimes literal) anonymity, making people bolder and frequently more willing to engage in heated discussions in a way they never would in person. Many people share stories and snippets of their lives on social media platforms and there are always individuals who see this sharing as an invitation for them to respond and pass judgement. The advice given to teenagers: don’t engage, don’t delete, report it, and talk to someone you trust, is applicable for adults as well. Staying safe on the internet doesn’t just mean password and privacy protection; it’s important to protect your self-esteem and state of mind as well.
Recognizing signs of cyberbullying is almost more important than teaching kids how to protect themselves against it. The negative psychological effects of bullying can stay with children their entire lives, and if you suspect that your child is a victim you should act quickly. This article provides some helpful insights into recognizing the signs and it’s necessary for any adult who works with or spends time with children to be aware of them.
Having your child spend time on the internet can feel a little like sending them out to cross a busy street on their own. But just as we teach kids road safety, internet safety can and should be taught. This February 11th, don’t let the opportunity to discuss online safety with your child pass you by. Check out some of the resources we’ve provided links to in this post; all of them provide helpful information plus links to much more. Arming yourself and your child with this knowledge is a great start to making the internet a safer place for them to explore.
For more tips on how to handle cyberbullying check out this article.
For more information on how to protect children online, check out the Canadian Centre for Child Protection site.