In preparation I called up one of my husband's friends who is a police officer, asking him what things he wished parents knew. He said that people, including children, are being victimized more often as the result of the ever advancing technology. In fact, I-phones are the number one theft in America right now and people are not skipping over children in these kinds of thefts.
The first mistake we make is thinking that our family will be exempt from anything bad as a result of our internet activity.
After teaching this lesson I thought I would share some of my internet safety tips.
1.) Know the settings of the device or program you are using:
So many people have Facebook Profiles but don't ever check their settings. This allows anyone to view their personal information, photos, conversations, etc without ever having to be a "Facebook Friend." As a people we put way too much information about ourselves online, the least we could do is be in control of who can and can't have access to that information.
2.) Protect your photos
What does a photo say about you? The more photos we post on the internet the more information about ourselves we give out. However, as technology advances so does the type and amount of information we give out. I watched a video on YouTube a while back where someone was taking a photo of their daughter in her room playing with their smart phone. They uploaded it to the computer and where able to find the exact coordinates of where that photo was taken, right down to the very room in the house. Scary. However, this can be a quick fix. On your smartphones, I-pods, digital cameras, etc. make sure your "GPS" setting on your photos is turned off.
Also know that when you upload a photo to the internet it is as easy as "CTRL C" for someone to take your photo and do what they please with it. (Hence the reason I add a watermark to my photos)
Once you upload it or text it, it is there forever.
3.) Be careful with specifics
Teach your children what information they should and shouldn't put on the internet. Things to consider are dates, personal contact information, locations, names, and when you will be out of town.
If I post a photo of my family on our Disney Cruise on Facebook with the note, "Wish you were all here with us," I have just announced to all my Facebook Friends that my house is empty. Now you may think everyone on your list is trustworthy but most home invasions occur by somebody the owner knew.
I leave out dates and names in my blog posts for the safety of my family. I use my birth date to get access to all sorts of personal information. Instead I use general terms like "the husband," or "our anniversary month."
4.) Social Media, Emails, Texting, etc is not a way to communicate clearly
Have you ever written something and had someone completely misinterpret your meaning? I know I have plenty of times. Why do you think that is? When we write things the people on the other side of the screen can't see our body language, hear the tone we intended, see what kind of mood we are in, etc. In addition we tend to project our own mood and feelings on something when we read it. If I'm offended at the moment I read something I will read it in a way the makes it sound like the writer was intending to be offensive.
I also know that often times we are multi-tasking as we read something and often skim through the text, missing part of the meaning.
As I've worked with teenage girls and college Freshman I've seen how quickly things get misinterpreted when communication is done solely through writing. It's getting to the point where kids, myself included, grow up not knowing how to make a phone call and as a result sometimes self-confidence or relationships suffer. I wonder sometimes if true communication is a dying art form.
5.) Public Forums are not an appropriate place for fighting
I'm not saying you can't disagree with an article someone has written. Instead I'm talking about arguments and disagreements with those we know and/or love. If I'm mad at my husband and post something like, "My husband is such a pig, I've been slaving away all day taking care of the kids, cooking dinner, etc and he can't even do one lousy load of dishes. When will he ever get a clue?" Not only have I made him look bad but included 500 of my closest friend in a discussion that should have been held between just the two of us. People will start judging him without all of the facts, it will make him feel attacked, and it resolves nothing. Same goes with friends, co-workers, children, or parents. (BTW, my husband is great about helping around the house.)
6.) While we all have opinions we should not demean others with them
I am a very opinionated person but that doesn't mean I'm always right or that I have the right to make others feel bad because they don't agree with me. We often forget that there are people on the other end of the screen. I try and live by the mantra, " If you wouldn't say it to their face, don't say it online or in a text." This is how online bullying starts.
Thus if I'm writing about my parenting style I should present it in a manner that lets others know why I have chosen it for my family but that I also understand what works for me doesn't work for them. If I belong to one political party I should respect others' rights to belong to the other. All democrats or all republicans are not bad people. There's good and bad on both sides.
7.) Know what your children are saying/doing with technology
Some kids may think it is an invasion of their privacy or that you are ruining their lives, I know I did as a teenager. With technology comes responsibility, something we are often taught by our parents. Growing up there was the rule that my phone was subject to random "spot checks." At one point I had run over my minutes so my parents pulled up my call list to find out why. They discovered I was talking to my boyfriend late into the night. Of course I got my phone privileges taken away and my life was ruined forever. However, they wanted me to get an adequate amount of sleep so that I might be successful in my school studies. I needed to learn how to balance and I needed my parents to help guide me.
I know as a parent you can pull up phone records and text/pic messages for your minor's phone if you feel it necessary.
8.) Monitor your child's Facebook and Myspace accounts
This is for a few reasons. Know who your children's friends are, who they are talking to, who is talking to them. Read through their walls. Most kids will not tell you if they are being bullied online. It will also help you to know if they are putting out too much information.
Our police officer friend also said to know that many kids have several accounts. They will have the account that their parents can see and then they will have their secret account. To try and help combat this he suggested that every so often you look at their friends list, select some of the closer friends, and then look through their friends lists to see if your child has multiple accounts.
9.) Check your Browsing History
Know what sites your family is accessing. Children are technologically savvy and they may delete their browsing history. Thus sometimes you may have to keep track of when they are on the internet and make sure your history matches that timeline.
In conjunction help your children to know what to do if they come across a bad site. They need to feel comfortable coming to you when they happen upon something they know they shouldn't and not fear you are going to get mad.
10.) Set limits and a time to unplug
Facebook, texting, I-pods and anything related to our modern technology can quickly eat away our lives if we aren't careful. Thus it may be a good idea to set limits for how long we are on these devices. Create technology free zones. Perhaps you have a basket that everyone drops their cell phone in before you sit around the dinner table so that you may have 30 minutes of un-interrupted family time. I know the husband and I will sit down once a week and calendar times we are going to do things together. Sometimes it is as simple as scheduling a time when we are both going to a read books in the same room. Both of our lives are highly centered around the computer and if we are not careful we can spend every waking minute we have together not saying a word but instead be in separate offices working. I know I don't want that for my family. There will always be work to do but the times we have together as a family are limited.
In the end we as parents, leaders, role-models and teachers have to set the example for our children. Do you have to do all of the above? No. You need to decide what rules and practices are going to be best for your family. Is there more you can do? Of course, these were just ten suggestions I came up with.
How do you approach internet safety for your family?