By: Kevin Robinson – PNJ.com
Organizations like the Monique Burr Foundation and Cyberwise.org have some simple best practices for helping kids stay safe while navigating the internet.
People who grew up or raised children in the 1970s and 1980s will probably remember those old public service announcements that asked, “It’s 10 p.m., do you know where your children are?”
In those days, it was enough for parents to know their children were at home in their bedrooms for them to be considered safe. Not so much today.
These days, parents also have to ask themselves, “Do you know who your child is texting? Do you know what photos they’re sharing on Instagram? Do you know what videos they’re posting on Facebook Live?”
As technology becomes more common and integral in children’s everyday lives, it’s becoming more challenging for parents to monitor and protect their kids from the dangers lurking online.
“First and foremost, parents need to become better educated about technology.”
Stacy Pendarvis, Monique Burr Foundation for Children
In the Pensacola area, the community recently suffered a tragedy involving a youth and social media. Investigators say Naomi Jones, 12, was kidnapped and killed by an convicted sex offender from Alabama. Though he did not give specific details, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan has indicated Naomi interacted with her alleged killer on social media.
So what should parents do to safeguard their kids? There are some best practices parents can keep in mind, according to Stacy Pendarvis, program director for the Monique Burr Foundation for Children.
“First and foremost, parents need to become better educated about technology,” Pendarvis said. “If we don’t know something, we ask our kids, because they always know. But that really puts parents at a disadvantage as to how they protect their kids, if the kids know more than they do.”
The Monique Burr Foundation is a Jacksonville-based nonprofit organization that provides education and training to schools and communities on how to prevent bullying, cyberbullying, digital abuse and all types of child abuse and exploitation.
Safeguarding kids online can be a tricky proposition because children often feel they don’t need protection and believe a worst-case scenario “won’t happen to them,” Pendarvis said.
She said online predators often groom children by slowly building relationships over time. They’ll often express empathy for kids complaining about their parents, comfort children expressing their loneliness or depression, or cherry-pick information about children’s likes and interests to build trust.
Often times, they’ll do so by posing as a juvenile or gradually asking for personal information such as a real name or address or asking for a real-world meeting.
“People will say, ‘I have my kids’ social media names and passwords,’ when honestly, they have the ones that their kids want them to have”
“It’s important children understand the danger,” Pendarvis said. “Teach kids you don’t always know who you’re talking to.”
One of the safety strategies MBF is promoting is the use of digital safety agreements, a written “contract” between parents and children that spells out what both parties think are acceptable usages and limitations for digital and social media.
Pendarvis recommended starting off children with one age-appropriate, heavily monitored social media account, then allowing children more freedom as they demonstrate good judgement and responsibility. She said even for older teens, parents should know what their children are posting and coordinate with other parents to keeps tabs on how friend groups are interacting.
Pendarvis said warned that data showed 61 percent of children have had a social media account they keep hidden from their parents. For instance, some teens have admitted to creating a “finsta” — or fake Instagram account — that they use for communications they don’t want parents to see.
“People will say, ‘I have my kids’ social media names and passwords,’ when honestly, they have the ones that their kids want them to have,” Pendarvis said.
Pendarvis said monitoring programs can help address that issue, but that should be used in conjunction with the child’s knowledge and a broader, ongoing conversation about internet safety.
“The goal is really to educate children so that they’re making smarter decisions online and so that they’re safe,” she said.
MBF maintains a list of programs parents can install to monitor social media usage, from apps like The Parental Control Bar that blocks adult-oriented websites to TeenSafe, a program that allows parent to remotely monitor their children’s texts and online interactions.
Tips to protect kids
Cyberwise, an organization that provides technology education to parents and educators, provides tips to protect children from online predators:
- Most social networking sites require users to be at least 13 years old. Make sure your kids follow these age restrictions.
- Get to know the chat rooms your kids visit and with whom they talk. Check to see the kind of conversations that take place. Chat rooms featuring subjects that attract children and teenagers, such as music, sports or fashion, are prime targets of child sexual predators, who often disguise themselves as peers.
- Instruct your kids to never leave the chat room’s public area and engage in a one-on-one chat in a private area. These areas are not monitored.
- Tell your children to never respond to instant messaging or emails from strangers.
- Instruct children to never download images from an unknown source or upload sexually suggestive images of themselves.
- Tell children to never reveal personal information about themselves (including age and gender) and to avoid screen names with identifying info like ZIP codes, school names or mascots, etc.
- Tell children to never agree to meet someone in person they’ve met on-line, and to tell an adult they trust (parent, teacher, etc.) immediately if anything that happens online makes them feel uncomfortable or frightened.