Everyone in Virginia agrees that cyber safety is important, but what, exactly, does it mean to be "safe" online? And what do parents really need to know? Here are the top five things you can do to teach your kids how to become responsible digital citizens:
- Teach them about privacy settings: If you have young children, it's best to use parental controls yourself to limit and monitor your kids' online activity. Older children can be taught how to use privacy settings so their photos and messages cannot be seen by just anyone on the web. Whether they're using Facebook, Instagram, or another web-based application, show your kids how to navigate privacy features or help them set up their accounts using appropriate limits. Show them how to disable location on any device or app they are using, so that they cannot be easily found by others. Regardless of your child's age, help them to understand that keeping their information secure is a priority, and to assume what they put on the web is accessible to anyone unless they take steps to protect it.
- Teach them to post responsibly: Kids should understand that once they put something on an app or website, it cannot be taken back (even if it seems like it can); so they should think carefully before posting comments, photos, or anything else online. Teach your kids not to post anything that they would not say in person, or that they wouldn't want their parents or a college admissions counselor to find later on. Finally, teach kids to respect others' privacy by not posting information or photos of somebody else without permission.
- Teach them how to interact with others: Just as in real life, children should be taught to recognize inappropriate behavior online and to respond by telling a trusted adult. Kids should learn to look for these red flags: strangers who ask to meet in person; messages that contain offensive or lewd material or that simply make them uncomfortable; or anyone who asks them for pictures or personal information. Teach them to never give out their address or phone number, and to always ask before purchasing anything online.
- Teach them that online activity is not anonymous: Kids should learn that just because they are physically alone doesn't mean that their online activity is anonymous, even if they are not using personal information. Most web browsers, email services, social media, and ecommerce sites track online activity and collect data on users constantly. Same as with posting, teach kids to avoid online activities that they wouldn't want their parents or teachers to know about.
- Teach them to communicate: Cyber safety advocates agree that an ongoing dialogue with young people about their online activity is the best way to promote responsible use and prevent potentially dangerous situations from happening. As a parent, you should know what your kids are doing online, including who they're talking to, sites they visit, and what types of material they are putting out there. In addition to these tips, keep the discussion going to ensure that your children acquire the skills necessary to navigate the always changing cyber-universe.
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