It’s no news to anyone that the dangers of your children being online are ever increasing.

In just a few clicks, on what are seemingly harmless websites or social media platforms, your child could be at the very mercy of an online predator.

This article is not intended to scare the be-jezus out of you, nor is it intended for you to go on an Internet-ban rampage after you finish reading.

It is aimed at informing parents about the realities of what really happens online. This article will offer you easy strategies you can take on board and implement, to ensure your children are kept safe.

The need-to-know facts about your child being online:

1) Sixty-one percent of 16 to 17 year olds accept ‘friend requests’ from people they have never met.[1]

2) Seventy-one percent of teens post the city or town where they live. Ninety-one percent post a photo and 24% post a video of themselves online[2].

This means not only can a stranger put a face to your son or daughter’s name, but also they can see them come to life through online videos that they post.

What’s even more alarming, these strangers can see where you live.

3) As Facebook grows popular amongst mums and adults, teenagers are not interacting on Facebook as much as you think. 

You are more likely to find them on Snapchat or Instagram. For those teens who are active on Facebook, the chances are they have a second profile that mum and dad don’t know about[3].

4) Snapchat is proving to be ever popular with our teenage audience. Snapchat allows you to post a photo or video for a certain amount of seconds before it disappears. Most would think the photo has been uncaptured and then diminished into thin air.

However, smartphones still allow you to screen shot the image when it pops up on your screen. This leaves many teens red-faced…need I explain why?

5) Online predators frequent chat rooms and online video games, posing their profile as a young boy or girl. Grooming a child online, is similar to that of grooming a child offline. ‘Grooming is the predatory act of maneuvering another individual into a position that makes them more isolated, dependent, likely to trust and more vulnerable to abusive behaviour[4].’ It starts with the predator striking up a conversation. They then begin to show an interest in your child and form some sort of ‘friendship’ with them[5].

Worst case scenario, your son or daughter organises to meet their ‘new’ friend, putting themselves in potential danger.



The top five tips that will help keep your children safe online:

Empowering your children with knowledge and the ability to make informed decisions will more than likely get results, as opposed to demanding information from them or telling them what to do.

Probably the worst thing you can do is pretend you know more than them, because the harsh reality is, when it comes to being online, you probably don’t!

Approaching the topic in a casual way, possibly over a period of a few discussions, will appear less intrusive. Therefore an open discussion is more likely to be had.

1) Ask your son or daughter if their profile is on private. If not, inform them of the dangers of having their profile open and available for the world to see. Then ask them to go into the ‘settings’ of the social media platform and change the settings to ‘private’. 

2) Ask them if they have made your home address public. Representatives from the Australian Federal Police have declared that there is a growing trend in house burglaries due to people having their address public online.

People ‘check in’ at places; thus notifying the public that they are not home… ‘Yes, please come rob my house!’

3) Teach them how to set up a secure password. Discuss the dangers of sharing their password with friends, even if they think they can trust them.

A recent study reported that 30 percent of teenagers have shared an online password with a friend.

The study concluded that ‘while some passwords may be guarded by some youth, password sharing among peers can be a sign of trust and intimacy’[6]. As you can imagine this opens your child up to all kind of risks – bullying, harassment, identity theft…and the list goes on. Over the past ten years working with young people, I have observed and noted that it is quite often those closest to your child are the ones who end up putting them in a compromising situation.*Choosing an effective and safe password: Choose two nouns or verbs that don’t go together plus a symbol and 2-4 numbers. For example shoemirror?0967

4) Remind your children that images that go online, stay online. Even if you think you have deleted the images, someone, somewhere will have a copy of them. This is a hard one for young ones to fathom, however when they start applying for casual jobs, that is when the harsh reality can hit home for some. These days’ employers are turning to Google to find out whether youngsters are suitable for serving fellow patrons at your local McDonalds, second to their character reference on their resume.

5) Bullying happens everywhere and unfortunately teenagers don’t get a break from it. In fact 64% of females from years 6 to 12 reported being cyber bullied[7].

Gone are the days when your child could come home from school and escape the harsh criticism of their fellow peers.

Eighty-four percent of students who were bullied online were also bullied in social offline environments such as school[8]. Take note of any change in their behaviour. Try and take as much interest in their life as possible and if you are aware that they are being bullied online, encourage them to not respond to any mean messages or comments. Extensive, ongoing or threatening behaviour should be reported to the police immediately.

How do you keep your kids safe online? Please share in the comments below.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com
SOURCES:
1) Australian Communications and Media Authority Submissions to the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety. (2011). High-Wire Act.
2) Pew Research Centre http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/teens-fact-sheet/
3) Australian Federal Police (AFP), Teacher Professional Development presentation on Social Media at Narre Warren South, P-12 College.
4) Out of the Fog http://outofthefog.net/CommonBehaviors/Grooming.html
5) Family Safe Computers http://www.familysafecomputers.org/predators.htm
6) Chicalogic sited PEW Internet Study http://www.chicalogic.com/tips-tricks/new-study-finds-teens-sharing-their-passwords
7) NoBullying.com http://nobullying.com/bullying-statistics-in-australia/
8) Child Health Promotion Research Centre, Edith Cowan University, Perth http://www.chprc.ecu.edu.au/projects/past-projects/chprc/development-of-parent-education-resource-materials-to-reduce-cyberbullying
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