June is internet safety month. This is an excellent time to talk about the dangers of the internet. There are many, but I would like to address only 3. The first is texting while driving. The second is cyber bullying, and the third is internet predators. Each of these activities can have devastating consequences. Now, I am not guaranteeing complete internet safety from any of these. I am only hoping to help you open a conversation.
We all know that texting, instant messaging and social media sites are wonderful ways to keep in touch with family and friends. We also know that texting while driving kills people. There is no doubt about this. Texting while driving is at least as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. None of us wants to see our teen kill or be killed in this manner. We need to talk to them about this very bluntly. Explain the dangers in very real terms. Then follow through. Check their phone and see if they were texting at a time they could/should/would have been driving. If so, take away the phone for a period of time that you have agreed upon previously. If you check the phone and all text conversations have been deleted, assume the worst and confiscate the phone.
Internet predators are harder to deal with, as well as cyber bullying. Keep a log of all emails and all instant message (IM) conversations. Many IM providers, such as yahoo, will allow you to do this automatically. This means when your child has an IM conversation with someone, it is automatically recorded for you to review later. First and foremost, this allows you to see with whom your child is spending time online. Secondly, it allows you to see the content of the conversation. Teach your children the dangers of meeting in person anyone they speak with online. Teach them not to give out personal information, such as full name, date of birth, social security number, phone number, address or parents' names.
American children and teens treat social media as a right. They think when they turn 13 years old, they should automatically get a facebook account. They don't understand that this is opening them up to a whole world of things you may not want them to see. The AAP addresses some of these concerns here. Before your children get that coveted Facebook site, make them realize that you will be monitoring their activity. You will check their page regularly, post to their wall, and occasionally share their posts. Do the same thing to their friends, and have their friends' parents friend your son or daughter. This will help you know more about their online activity. If inappropriate behavior, including bullying, is spotted, then it will be seen by many more parental eyes. If you find inappropriate behavior on you child's part, ground them from the internet for a predetermined amount of time. If it is someone else's child, you have several choices. Remember that victims of cyber bullying have committed suicide. It cannot be tolerated. You can contact the other child's parents. You can contact teachers and principals, as well as local authorities. Do not forget to contact your internet provider to stop the activity until further action can be taken.
I don't have all the answers. Please, leave me your thoughts and ideas. Let me know what your experience has been.
~Dr. Nan N~