As a mum, I worry. I worry that I may not be feeding my children the absolute best diet. I worry that they aren’t getting enough exercise. I worry that I am not teaching them enough home-making skills to survive in the big bad world by themselves. But one of the things I worry about most is if they are safe online. I hear so many horror stories about what can happen to kids, and I hope that I have made my kids safe enough that they won’t end up a statistic. Here are some of the things I have done.
This is the big one, “everyone” is on Facebook. Facebook has rules that say that only people over the age of 15 can register, but it isn’t hard to change the year of birth and get an account. I actually have done this over the years for all three of my kids, but I have some pretty big rules. Firstly, until they were 15 (the age they can set up their own account) I know their password. That way if anything comes up that concerns me, I can log into their account and see everything that is set to private. Secondly, they are not allowed to add adult friends that I am not also friends with on Facebook, that way any interactions will show up on my newsfeed. They also know that I have complete veto power, and can remove any friends or posts that I find inappropriate. Thirdly, I have them set to “Close Friends”, and have a notification every time they post. Fourthly, I make sure all their privacy settings are up extremely high. Their name will not show up in a search, all of their posts are set to friends only, and I go onto their wall and check that it stays that way. Obviously these are all only small things, but I have found that they have helped, both in the kids knowing they are accountable, and in nipping things in the bud before they escalate.
We have our own domain, so under that domain we have created an email address for each of the kids. Same deal as Facebook, I have the password (I set it up), but I take it a step further. I have my email program set to download a copy of each of their emails (leaving a copy on the server so that they still get it). I do not read MOST of their emails. I think it is important for the kids to have their privacy, but if something looks suspicious then I ask them about it. This is also a great way to know if they are signing up for lots of dodgy sites, because they’re the ones that sell their email addresses off for spammers to use.
3. Web History
I will sit down randomly at the kids’ computers and check, as much as possible, where they have been. This doesn’t just mean I look at their history, I also type each letter of the alphabet into the address bar of their web browser and look at what comes up. If their history is suspiciously clear, I talk to them about it.
These absolutely terrify me. I do not let them in my house, except where they are attached to laptops, and then I get Michael to disable them. We don’t have long distance relatives that we would Skype, so it’s pretty easy to ban them, but if we did, the webcam would only ever be on my computer, and I would disable it after use. These can be used for bad so much more than for good, and hearing stories about kids that have been cajoled into doing things that they wouldn’t have done otherwise makes me stand firm in my ban.
5. Chat Sites
You hear countless stories of paedophiles posing as kids talking to our children, getting them into a false sense of security, then using that trust to get what they want. Now this doesn’t mean that every kid your child talks to online is bad, but they need to be aware. Tell them explicitly to never give out personal information such as full name, address, suburb, school, or favourite places to hang out. Make sure their user name doesn’t identify them either. And never share photos.
I talk to my kids. I ask them what they’re looking at online. I show interest in the things that interest them and enjoy spending time watching internet sensations like Rhett & Link [ http://rhettandlink.com/ ] or Tobuscus [ http://www.youtube.com/user/Tobuscus ]
I also talk to them and ask direct questions. Have you found yourself on sites that you think you shouldn’t have been? Have you been on pages where you would shut the computer if you heard me coming?
As I said, I worry for our kids, but as you put their seat belts on when they get in the car, or you teach them road rules so they can use the road safely, I think that setting them up with clear rules & guidelines from the start will make them less likely to end up in situations out of their control.