safeter internet day

In support of Safer Internet Day, I wrote about How my daughter turned me into a digital mom in 1996. Wow, that’s over 18 years ago. There were just websites and online journals in those days. The internet was not complicated as it is today with so many new technologies.

The question remains :

“How do we keep our kids safe online?”

“How do we reach our kids?”

As parents, let’s not try and race them with today’s technology. We’ll eventually lose. We , the parents have the edge in wisdom and that’s how we keep our kids safe when they venture into the cyber-world.

We need to understand the technologies better to know how they should and should not be used. We have to recognize where the real world begins and ends so we can help our children develop boundaries in both worlds. Parents also need to venture into the online world of our children to help them navigate the tricky waters, learn the rules, learn from our adult experience and still be safe.

cybersafe book In this book I own, “Cybersafe : Protecting and Empowering Kids in the Digital World of Texting, Gaming and Social Media”, I stumbled upon some myths which parents need to know.

The author, Dr. Gwen Schurgin O’ Keefe says that the “two of the biggest generators of myths is the disconnect in how parents and kids use digital technology , and how kid use digital technology compared with how their parents think they do. This includes not just the internet but vieo games, music, cellphones….the entire digital world.”

The book shares a list of the digital myth perspective that many parents take for granted as “safe” or acceptable but “in reality not what any of us are doing”.

1. Social networking is dangerous

Dr. Gwen says that “social networking can be safe and often is, if done thoughtfully, age appropriately and with a conscious following of stated age limits and privacy rules. ” Parents need to be involved on how their young teens manage the privacy settings or digital footprints

2. Predators track down kids in real life from their addresses online.

Online predators maybe foremost on our minds as parents, but the reality is that only 1 in 7 kids are solicited by online predators. Most encounters are from other youth and not intended to lure at all . Studies show predators don’t have the technologic capabilities to found our kids from their online addresses.

3. All online “friending” is dangerous.

The rules of friendship off-line extends to the online world including the act of friending. Dr. Gwen adds that “the best guideline is to only friend people you know and have a connection with off-line. Friending only becomes iffy when we add people to our lists who we don’t know well or at all and when we fail to set our privacy to “friend only”.

It is good to stress to our children that what goes online, stays online.

internet safety

4. All online discussions with strangers are dangerous.

In the offline world, we meet strangers everyday , be it the bank teller, security guards, clerks , doctors and many others. Dr. Gwen says that by observing our behavior with these people, our children learn tha it’s oOK to interact with these type of strangers and when they become more independent they’ll understand how to negotiate these social norms , whether in person, by phone or online.

We should help our children understand how to create a safe buddy list, keep personal information private and not to meet online friends off-line and to know their time limits online. When my daughters and I went to the United States for a choir trip, I allowed her to meet up with her online friends who was accompanied by their parents. Seventeen years later, they are still friends.

5. Online games are safe if they use cute cartoon characters.

This is so not true. I once saw a naked anime character. Cute doesn’t mean safe by any stretch of imagination. Dr. Gwen says it is important “to check all the kids your kids are playing….If you have a younger gamer at home, look past the character and first check the rating. If the rating is not appropriate for your child’s age, that’s your first red flag. Second, check the content of the game yourself, to see if it is appropriate for your child. Third, are there other players with whom your child will be interacting? If so, those players may be adults and the game just took on a world wide meaning that isn’t something to enter without thought.”

6. Updates for anti-virus software don’t need to be purchased.

There are a lot of free antivirus programs but these are very basic. One needs to get a full and comprehensive protection plan against more sophisticated threats such as Trojan horse. One would also need an anti-spyware protection. Having an Apple macbook spares me from having some of these threats. Still I am careful when I surf to unsafe sites. Google now stops us from browsing if there is a threat to a website.

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7. Parents know their kids.

Dr. Gwen stresses that “this is one of the most commonly expressed phrases from every parent I know, but the honest truth is we have to admit we’re getting to know our kids as they grow up!” The best we can admit is that we’re aware of the people our teens want to be and help them with that process.

Our teens can easily outsmart us especially if the strict rules are unreasonable. For instance, my husband disallowed sleeveless tops for the girls for the longest time. How would I know that they would bring it with them when leaving the house? In the end, the kids will behave just like all the others kids their age, in one way or another.

8. The other kid is the bad guy.

It takes two to tango, right? Regardless of the situation, there are always two sides of the story. Dr. Gwen adds “when it comes to their kids, defenses go immediately and most parents quickly aim at the other child and family”. Are you willing to recognize that our child may not be innocent all the time? In cyber-situations, Dr Gwen says “our teen is likely as others to be part of the issue, from cyber-bullying, to sending inappropriate texts and e-mails, to not handing the receiving sext correctly. ” Parents can help their kids understand online misunderstandings, by helping our kids be realistic about their own behaviors and to own up to their role in a situation that does not come out too well.

9. Handheld gaming does not connect to the Internet

In the early 2000, this was not true. Today’s handheld devices now connect to the internet mostly via wi-fi. This means our children can easily communicate with others through chats set up through games.

real world and digital world

10. Cell phones are fine for young kids.

The purpose of the cellphone is essential. Some schools don’t allow it. I recall giving cellphones to my two girls so I could easily communicate with them but they were not allowed to bring it to school. If you must give a cellphone to your child, avoid smart phones. Phones that call are more appropriate. Dr. Gwen recommends that high school is the appropriate time to consider a cellphone.

11. Everything kids are storing is stored off-line

What happens online stays online . Every time teens post publicly, they are leaving their digital footprint. A digital footprint is the data trail one leaves with everything our kids do online. Data is being stored from their smartphone to the Internet and social networks. Parents can gently remind their teens on caring about their digital footprint through this article, Teenagers: Why You Should Care About Your Digital Footprint .

12. Kids would never post in the nude for a picture

Remember the STC Cebu Bikini controversy on Facebook? The poor girls were not able to be part of the graduation exercise.  In this age of social media, this will not be the last instance of STC students posting comments , pictures in Facebook or other social media sites.  Let’s face it, kids will always be influenced by peer pressure. We have to continually remind our children that what they post online will not always be private , even if posted as “friends only”.

13. Kids will not use their webcam for any stupid things.

Same as number 12. Some kids can do dumb things online. They just have to know what happens online stays online. That has to be repeated often enough for them to get it.

digital footprint

14. Kids don’t hack other kids.

Dr. Gwen says “just like nice kids sometimes say mean things to kids online, nice kids sometimes hack other kids’ computers.” I don’t recall my daughters ever being mean to kids online. I never gave them more than an hour online to venture out and hack someone’s computer.

15. The reason kids use headsets and microphones when playing games is to listen to game sound effects without disturbing the family.

I discouraged my kids to use headsets when we are not at home . That is because they may not be able to hear a phone call , fire alarm or something.

Dr. Gwen adds that “the best way to learn what your kids are listening to is to listen with them”. I always took note of the music they were into. I once recalled this song in 1999 which had lyrics “horny horny”. My six year old son then asked “What is horny?”. I looked at the horrified expression of my daughter who tried to explain that “horny” meant the devil. Some lyrics are just not age appropriate especially if music is shared to the whole household.

16. Xbox is a game device.

That is just the tip of the iceberg, says Dr. Gwen. Playstation 3, Xbox, and Wii are multimedia entertainment units that can run everything fro games to DVDs, to music and can even connect to the internet. With the convergence of content into devices, future devices will likely have many more applications than today’s “games” and digital devices.

You have just gone through 16 myths. Parents must learn to drive the vast cyber-space, the internet, its components and the issues that surround it. This helps narrow the digital divide between the parent and their digital native. It also sends a clear message to our kids that we know how to use and understand technology and we are there for them online as well as offline.

Source: “CyberSafe. Protecting and Empowering Kids in the Digital World of Texting, Gaming, and Social Media.” by Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe , Ameican Academy of Pediatrics.

digital citizens