As parents, we let go a little at a time… sometimes by inches. Crossing the street alone, attending a sleepover for the first time, or learning how to use the stove are all badges of honor for growing kids. These successes mark a child’s burgeoning independence and should be celebrated.
As they become pre-teens and teens, however, the stakes get higher and higher. And, letting go (even a little) often becomes more difficult for concerned parents. How much independence is enough? Too little? Too much? And, keeping kids safe on the Internet gives many parents sleepless nights.
No, mom. You’re not overreacting. The dangers of the Internet are real.
Between cyberbullying, sexting, over sharing, and predator worries, it’s enough to make many parents swear to go “off the grid.” Here are some sobering numbers:
- 87 percent of our children have encountered cyberbullying either as a victim or witness.
- Only one out of ten children will notify an adult when cyberbullying happens to them.
- 40 percent of teens admit to sexting.
- 500,000 predators are logged online everyday seeking new victims.
“Many parents begin questioning if they should actively monitor a child’s online activity,” says Hillary Smith in a recent article for Women’s Voices Magazine. “Unfortunately, this places parents in a precarious situation, because many people (especially teens) view these acts as an invasion of privacy.”
Setting the rules (and making sure they are followed)
A heart to heart talk is the first step. It’s important that kids they understand the very real dangers that may lurk behind a smiling (and potentially fake) profile picture.
It’s also vital that they understand that every search, web site visit, online posting and email is registered or recorded somewhere on the Internet. And, once something is out there — a racy photo, an impulsive cyber rant, or a traceable address — it’s virtually impossible to actually “delete.” It’s the ultimate example of “letting the genie out of the bottle.”
For example, the popular Snapchat app is billed as an easy way to send a photo or video from your phone, determine how long the person on the other end can see the image, and then have it self-destruct. A lot of images from Snapchat, however, are regularly posted to revenge porn sites, called “snap porn.”
“Users think their snaps will disappear and they are wrong. It’s actually pretty easy to recover a Snap, take a screenshot of it and share it with others,” explains Ann Brenoff of The Huffington Post in The 12 Apps That Every Parent Of A Teen Should Know About.
The best defense is a good offense. Know what your kids are doing. Here’s how:
Sometimes, even the best kids hide things from parents. And, today, there’s an app for that. Some of the top apps for hiding everything from photos and videos, to text messages include:
Audio Manager, Calculator% and Vaulty are all innocuous looking apps that are, in reality, ways to hide messages, photos, videos, and even other apps.
Snapchat and BurnNote offer “self destructing” abilities, which are easily circumvented. What was intended as a private photo, video or message can be made public all too easily.
Omegle is a chance to converse online with random strangers about… anything.
Tinder, Blendr and KiK Messenger are “hook up apps” where adults can easily find kids.
Final words of wisdom from the experts
The best advice? “If you wouldn’t do it face to face, don’t do it online,” says Shelagh McManus, an online safety advocate for security software Norton by Symantec. “For example, would you go up to a complete stranger and start a conversation? Would you be abusive to friends or strangers in a pub or bar?
Just because you feel protected by the apparent distance a screen gives between you and the person you’re talking to, you must remember that online is still the real world.”
For more tips and information, visit Internet Safety Tips at WebMD.
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