In the modern world of ubiquitous internet access, parents can no longer reliably keep their children off the web. Rather than fighting the presence of the internet, parents nowadays have had come to terms with the fact that children are growing up in a world of constant connectivity.
The best way to prepare your child for that reality is to teach them early on how to safely navigate the web without putting themselves or their family at risk. There are a number of safety tips your child can use to protect themselves on the internet, including five of the most important ‘internet rules’ all parents should teach their children.
1. Everything stays on the internet forever
One of the most important lessons to teach your children is that absolutely everything you post online will stay on the internet forever. Even when you delete content you’ve uploaded, website servers will frequently maintain a copy of the content you posted, and multiple archiving programs maintain different versions of websites to preserve changing content. Your kids must recognise that any information, photos, or posts they share on social media or other websites may become permanently associated with them, and can harm future education and work opportunities.
2. Use privacy settings liberally
Your kids should learn about privacy settings on social media sites, how to control and maximise them whenever possible. Websites like Facebook and Twitter have options to post privately or to a controlled audience, but your kids may not realise that their accounts are unlocked and viewable to even users they’ve blocked. Instagram has a geolocation tagging feature that can pin the location of a photo down the exact address, often revealing someone’s exact home location unintentionally. Parents should review social media privacy settings with their kids, ensuring that nothing they post is publically viewable, including their location.
3. Identify obvious signs of scams and viruses
The internet is rife with scams, viruses, and malware that aren’t always easy to identify. There are some classic types of scams that your kids should be prepared to face, including emails claiming to be from an organisation or business. Kids should learn to double check a URL before logging into a website to ensure they’re not entering their login info into a scam website. They should also learn to avoid clicking on suspicious links that may download something onto a computer unintentionally, as well as how to install and use malware protection.
4. Internet behaviour has real life consequences
Your kids should learn, along with how to protect themselves, how to conduct themselves online. Many children may unintentionally find themselves in toxic internet communities that encourage illegal behaviour, insisting that it not be taken seriously because “the internet isn’t real life.” Worse, they might gain access to the so-called dark web where such activity goes unchecked. Internet harassment, trolling, doxing, and scamming do have serious real life consequences, up to and including federal prison charges depending on the severity. Your child should learn to apply the same rules of using manners and treating people with respect during their internet interactions. They can learn to recognise signs of illegal behaviour online as well.
5. Recognise and report cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is a problem that kids growing up with the internet face more and more frequently. Like real-life bullying, it has serious consequences on their emotional development and self-esteem. It can feel exceptionally worse, actually, because kids feel like they can’t get away from it wherever they go. Dozens of cases of teen and child suicide associated with cyberbullying have been reported in the past several years. Your kids should know where they can turn to report cyberbullying—and that should include you—as well as when to report it.
Teach your kids how to protect themselves online for their emotional self-esteem, their future prospects, and the safety of your computer. It’s an invaluable skill they will need as they grow up in the modern world of constant internet connectivity.
Featured photo credit: Startup Stock Photos via flickr.com