5 Ways to Keep Your Kids Safe Online

Originally posted on www.jasonwellsauthor.com. 

If you’re reading this, it is likely that you are doing so from a social networking account of some kind.  I can at least guarantee that you are reading it online.  It’s the way of the world; it’s how information gets out to the masses.  And from my perspective, it’s a heck of a lot easier than firing up Gutenberg’s printing press after slaving away over some old typewriter.

Unfortunately, the Internet has also become the most effective tool for predators and tormentors.  It’s a land of information lawlessness, where vile people can peruse for victims while hiding under a veil of anonymity.

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare, and it has crept itself into our social culture virtually overnight.  When I was in middle school, I had a paper route.  Now kids today don’t even know what that is.  The Internet and online social interaction have changed all of that.  The problem is that we were so excited to see if we could do it, that we never stopped to ask if we should… and now we have a system wired into every fabric of our lives that puts our children in danger.

Scared yet?  I’m just getting warmed up.

My friend forwarded me an article this week about the popular video game “Minecraft.”  To call Minecraft a “video game” is insulting by Minecraft standards, though.  It is considered a “sandbox game” or one where the gamers can build, develop and play in a variety of scenarios using resources that they discover and/or just conceive with their own imagination.  It’s very easy to manipulate and is offered on just about every platform you can think of from video game consoles, to tablets, to even smartphones.  It’s also a very interactive system online. The dangers of interactive online systems is that they provide an avenue for predators to interact with our children.

The article was on the dangers of Minecraft, and you can read it here.  Fair warning, if I am scaring you with what I am writing, wait until you read this article.  All I’m doing is shouting, “BOO!”  This write-up is like seeing people dressed as scary clowns and roaming your neighborhood.  My kids have been coming home for a year now raving and raving about this “Minecraft” thingy, and I just sort of nodded along while I was obsessing over my fantasy football league…. Now I see the very serious issue I need to deal with.  I’m just grateful that they were being closely monitored while they were using it.  You see, a lot of schools use “Minecraft” for educational purposes, and that system differs from the popular “free-for-all” system.  Nevertheless, it exposes my kids to a system that they are going to eventually want to try at home.  And if we hadn’t understood that the security and safety settings of our version would be different, we may have let them play without further monitoring. Anything could have happened and I’d rather not think about it.

 

And in the world of Internet evil, this is the “easy” stuff.  I mean, let’s be perfectly honest:  the predators who are propositioning our children are the obvious ones; they’re easy to spot and deal with.  It’s those others… the ones who form a relationship that are the real dangers.

It’s okay if you’re upset from reading this.  Believe me, it’s harder to write.  It’s a topic I don’t want to discuss.  I want to just pretend it’s not there, or that it will never happen to me or my kids.  I just want to turn the computer off and pretend that I’m turning off the Internet.  I wish it were the case.  I wish I could monitor my children all of the time.

I can’t.  Neither can you.  That’s the real terror.  This great system of information that we have built is too good.  It’s impossible to hide our children’s eyes and ears from the world anymore.

Makes you feel helpless, doesn’t it?  How can you protect yours from something so overwhelming?

 

I’m not going to lie and say that these monsters under your bed aren’t real; but I will reassure you that they are powerless against you and your family if you deal with them appropriately.

  1. The Internet world is the real world. –   You shouldn’t approach the Internet any differently than you approach the community you live in.  If someone knocks on your door, don’t you ask who it is before you open it?  Absolutely.  Do you have a security system in your home to protect your family?  I hope so.   Do you leave pictures of you and your family on the street, or in a public place?  No, of course not.  The cyber world should be treated exactly the same.  Do you have online access?  Then get a sound security system for your Internet. You don’t let your children talk to strangers in real life; don’t tolerate them doing it online. You don’t leave pictures of you and your family all over the stores you shop, or the restaurants you frequent.  So don’t post pictures of your family out in the open for everyone to see.
  2. You have friends on the Internet – I was reading that this week the popular social networking site Facebook just announced that they have started to implement a system on their website to combat cyberbullying.  Users can now report individuals for cyber-abuse to the Facebook domain security, and it will be addressed by the company.  This is a great strategy and one that I personally fully support.  Like a school or an office, the environment should be policed to ensure that people feel comfortable when they are in it.  Internet domains are no different.  Whatever websites you and your family frequents, I encourage you to research their strategies for stopping cyber harassment.
  3. Be “iParent” – There is no greater anti-virus, Internet safeguarding system than you, the parent.  You are the most adaptable, relatable protection software that the world has ever seen.  If Apple could bottle you up, they would put you in every single iPad, iPhone, and iWatch they could and call it iParent.  You are the greatest weapon against Internet harassment, predators and bullying.  There is no better defense, and aggressive offense, to protecting your child from the cyber community than you. You set the example for safety in the real world and the cyber world.  Just as you teach them daily about the dangers of life, extend those teachings to the Internet.
  4. Talk to others – The information about Minecraft came to me because a concerned parent wrote a blog about it.  Now it is going to you.  Keep that line of communication flowing.  The irony is that we should use the same system, the Internet, to share information about its many dangers.  Don’t stop with your local community; share it with your schools, your businesses.  Many schools nowadays host social networking sites.  Use them, share this information and work with your fellow parents to find solutions.
  5. Talk to the kids – Impulsively, we as parents want to hide our children from the dangers from the world.  The sad truth is that they probably have more insight into these issues than you and I.  As such, they are a valuable resource.  Talk with them about it.  Find out what they are learning from other kids, and what they are being exposed to in their young lives.  Don’t be afraid to let them know why you are doing it.  A child may act like they don’t need protection, or that they are embarrassed of it, but they are grateful for the security that you provide them.

 

Jason Wells is the author of “Our Path To Safety: A U.S. Secret Service Agent’s Guide To A Safe Community” about which you can find more information here. Jason is the President and Founder of the National Advancements for Proactive Safety, an educational non-profit organization committed to providing a safe community through intervention processes and a former Special Agent with the United States Secret Service. He is a contributing writer to the online publication Robious Corridor and has been featured in the Huffington Post, Forbes, Slate and Fatherly.