There is no avoiding it. The internet is just as easily our friend as it is our enemy. For all the good it does to help with information and support, it can quickly tear a person or a family apart. There is no reason why you should not be in continual conversation with your child about how to use the internet and how not to.
First, start those conversations from a young age. Don’t just put your child in front of games or learning apps and let them be. Start helping them to use the online world in a safe and positive way. Explain social media and the perils of ‘surfing’. It should come naturally, just like you are talking about the weather.
Be sure to lead by example. Show your child which apps you like and which you don’t and the reasons why. Help them to find the right sites for homework, to talk to family and to view the world. Be honest about how pressure comes from the wrong people and the wrong sites and they need to steer clear from that. Also, limit the amount of time you spend on your phone so your child can easily emulate that same behavior.
Don’t be afraid to ask your child about the websites they visit or the apps they use. In return, ensure they feel comfortable in asking you about sites and things on sites rather than asking their friends. Open dialogue will go a long way when your child inevitably runs into something they shouldn’t.
Set boundaries and be realistic.
Each age comes with new things to learn and assess. You should be there every step of the way when it comes to the internet as well. Remember, the goal is about their safety and their positive mental and emotional image. It is not about punishment or denial. Take time to explain those boundaries, so it can be a joint decision.
Talk about cyberbullying. Bullying isn’t okay under any circumstances, but cyberbullying is so often not known by others until it is too late. If your child is receiving negative messages, feeling harassed or scared, they need to share with you so you can help. Similarly, they are responsible for what they post, so encourage them to stay away from gossip, arguments and wrong conversations over text, etc.
Here are a few key points to determine before embarking on this internet journey with your growing kid:
Determine how much time and when they should be online and offline.
Set up some parental controls and monitoring—this is not to invade the privacy of your child but rather protect them from the predators out there.
Regardless of what happens, stay calm. Your child will never reach out if your emotions control the conversation.
Talk about what personal information is—help them understand and develop awareness of why it is significant and why they should be cautious in sharing.
Teach them that what is put online, stays online—many things can never be fully deleted, including those Snapchats meant for just one person.
If your child engages in gaming, be sure to discuss the various ratings and use your best judgement on what they can and can’t play.
Finally, regardless of the situation, you are the parent and should not feel awkward in acting upon those warning signs. You know your child best and when you recognize something is wrong, talk openly to your child and listen without rushing to judgement.
If they know you are always there for them, you both will be able to navigate through these internet waters.