Social media websites are very powerful tools, allowing people to connect with friends, family and complete strangers. They encourage the collaboration of ideas and are the new norm for the way children communicate to the world.
Bullying has been around forever and now with children getting access to social websites like Facebook or Ask.FM, cyber-bullying has become a lot easier. Many people use social media to vent their frustrations out onto the world for anyone and everyone to see. Sometimes, those rants can have serious consequences. We have seen many children succumbing to bullying and unfortunately taken their own lives, or those of other people.
After being linked to five separate teenage suicides, Ask.FM, an online social website, has stated it will hire a safety officer and moderate what is being said online. The site managers have also said that they would make it easier to report online bullying and harassment.
But will this make a difference?
I believe that protecting children online goes well beyond the measures that Ask.FM and other social websites have put in place. Steps need to be taken to ensure that people behave appropriately when online and foundations are set in place at an early age.
For many parents, their children know more about computers than they do. Kids have grown up in an on-demand world where information can be accessed instantly. There are more smarts in today’s cheapest cell phone than was used to land man on the moon. And you’d struggle to find a new phone that doesn’t have a camera or Internet access – so what should we do? We give kids these phones and hope they will use it safely?
We teach our kids to swim so they can be safe around water. Young adults need to get a learners permit before they can learn to drive a car – but do we do the same when it comes to kid’s online activities?
Setting the right foundation is an important step in making their online experience safer. Most people state that “WWW” stands for “World Wide Web.” I like to think of it as the “Wild, Wild West.” Thinking in those terms means I’m more cautious about what I do online and what I allow my children to do online.
Deciding the basics
Start with the basics – what kind of computer, mobile device, gaming console, Internet connection, etc. will you buy or let your kids use? More importantly are they at an age where they are ready for it? Access to social media is a common request for most 10+year old children. Most social media sites like Facebook won’t allow access until a child is at least 13 years of age.
Set the rules
Next is deciding where, when, with whom, and for how long should they use it? For example, would you allow your children to text their friends when at the dinner table?
You should also ensure that any Internet enabled device be used in a public area in the house and not in their bedroom. Children are more likely to get up to mischief online behind a closed bedroom door. Paedophiles are also more likely to target kids that are on the Internet in their bedrooms because they can have a private conversation with them.
Talk about digital citizenship
Many people stop after setting the rules. In an age where technology is changing all the time, you need to take it a step further. You need to talk to them about safe and responsible use. I use the old adage here, “Treat other people the way you want to be treated yourself.”
Show them how
Beyond setting the rules and telling them what’s right or wrong, you need to set a good example and even use technology together. I ask children what is the latest app they are using and why they like it. I get them to show me the app. This is important because it is difficult to teach what you yourself don’t know about. It’s about being an “active” and “aware” parent.
You also need to be a good role model. For example, we don’t want our children to download music and movies illegally – but if we do it ourselves, are we setting the right example for our kids?
Let them try
Finally, let them try whilst they are still under your roof and under your guidance. My 11-year -old daughter desperately wants to get onto Facebook because her friends are already on it. Stopping her from accessing Facebook could potentially alienate her from her friends. I will help her set up her account on 13th birthday and show how what she should be doing online.
I like to think that we don’t raise kids, we are raising adults. One day they will be on their own and they will need to know how to make good decisions on their own. Let them try things with their guidance and make mistakes with you where it is safe and not outside where the consequences might be greater.
I work for Trend Micro and the opinions expressed here are my own.