Are parents taking online safety for their kids to the extreme? How can you introduce your children to the Internet while ensuring they don’t fall victim to scams and other threats? Joan Leong shares her views.
I have seen articles floating on the Internet, expounding the argument about how children should remain anonymous online to protect their privacy. Call me ignorant, but I always crack a wry smile seeing how sensitive people are over others putting up pictures of said people’s kids, or even list their names. To each his own, I do not disagree.
This is not to say I do not understand nor care about how protected my child is on the Internet. I always feel that as long as we have the knowledge and know-how, we can take reasonable steps to being safe online and in real life. Interestingly enough, I do get messages from people, on the occasion, when they have spotted my child out with relatives or friends. If you ask me, that’s pretty good tracking for me!
However, let us talk about the measures we should be taking to ensure that our children are able to stay safe online.
Make time to understand the gadgets and apps of the world today. Take the time to learn how to use parental controls on the phone and computer. Keep your ears plugged in to the latest social networking thing and figure out the pros and cons of each one. You should always be in the know – latest developments in technology; the tricks that people get up to these days; and the good things that people can do online that betters the world, not worsen it.
When Foursquare first came about, I was quite obsessed over checking in to places to earn badges and be the Mayor. Each time I was ousted from being Mayor, I became more obsessed over redeeming the position again … until one day, I read an article about the safety of Foursquare – each time I checked in to a location, it was simply confirming to the world that I was not at home at the time. By checking in to Starbucks, it means I would be there for at least a while to enjoy that cup of coffee.
The occasional check-in to places on various apps, I understand. But I was literally allowing Foursquare to track my movements all day, which just serves as a guide to anyone who might be keen to either stalk me or break into my home.
When you understand the usage of these apps, you are in a better position to counsel and work through with your kids on what the acceptable boundaries are in the online world.
Which brings us to the next point.
Guidelines on Do’s and Don’ts
Do a set of guidelines on what your child should or should not be doing online. This starts with the basics of not putting every single detail online such as home addresses, our full names, passwords and other sensitive personal family data. You would not want someone to be able to easily answer that security question, “Which street did your mother grow up on?”
My personal rule is to never put up anything online that you do not want anyone to know about. You may set multiple levels of privacy on your apps, locking it to a particular audience only, always be prepared for it to be accidentally leaked (if not on purpose). If you cannot live with others finding out your deep dark secret, then do not put it online. Go out and meet your bestie for coffee or write it on a piece of paper, burn it and drink it with water after.
Educate Your Child
Discuss the pros and cons of the app du jour that the kids are into, like the ones below.
Facebook: While fantastic to keep in touch with friends, one should be mindful not to add strangers especially those who message to say they have randomly come across your profile and would like to be friends.
Instagram: While great to share cute photos of one’s pets online, one should be careful of what appears in the background of photos like bills or a parent sitting on the “throne” in the bathroom.
FaceTime: While great for video calls, one should be careful that mummy is not running around the bedroom, trying to get ready for the day.
Snapchat: If you think that the photos will disappear and be deleted after a certain time frame, think again. These things have a way to always come back like a boomerang, so even if you think you are in safe hands sending a picture of yourself flashing your small group of friends only, once that photos is out there, it IS out there.
Discuss Current Affairs
Highlight current cases of people actually getting conned on the Internet.
Someone wants to give you a million bucks? Nah, we’ll pass.
Someone tells you have won a free trip? Erm, when did we ever sign up for a lucky draw to win a holiday to Timbuktu in the first place?
Your best friend emailing you to say she is in Bangkok and that she has lost her phone and needs a few hundred bucks to tide her through the next few days? Well, is your best friend really that dense?
With knowledge and know-how, you are giving your child the greatest gift in the world – in arming her with the appropriate skills to meander around the big world of bits and bytes, while still protecting herself.
Of course, this should also go hand-in-hand with other safety measures like having a system of checks in place, like the “stranger danger” rule; no swimming unsupervised; always getting to know their friends and; more importantly, staying in constant contact with the parent and keeping an open line of communication.
Joan Leong is a mummy, reality television producer and photographer. She watches an insane amount of dramas and comedies in her spare time. Her idea of taking a break is undisturbed time in the plane where there is no network access. She gets very excited over handbags as well as the next big gadget. Her life and photographs can be found on www.valska.com.