Ross Ellis, founder and chief executive officer, Love Our Children, USA, a non-profit leader in breaking the cycle of violence against children, says parental involvement and open communication are significant ways to protect your child in an online environment. "Kids are very, very naïve and they don't quite understand there are dangers out there."
First and foremost, she says their computer must be monitored. Of course kids will say, "Oh, you don't trust me" and the key is for parents to instill trust yet also be aware of what their kids are doing. For instance, Ellis strongly encourages parents and kids under the age of ten to sign an internet safety agreement. This agreement essentially serves as a vehicle for kids to go to their parents if they sense something is wrong, and also serves to remind them not to give out personal information.
Another way to effectively get involved is to establish rules such as sites that are approved to be visited along with a time frame. "Kids shouldn't be online more than two to three hours each day."
It's also important to get out of adult mode and understand their language. "POS is 'parent over shoulder,'" she says as children will talk in computerspeak. For instance, P911 is "parent alert," HB is "hurry back," F2F is "face to face," GTR is "got to run," A/S/L means "age, sex, location," and DIKU is "do I know you?"
Not only is it important to know what kids are typing, it's also important to know what chat rooms they're entering. In fact, there are chat features embedded within games for kids over the age of 12 so it's not a traditional chat room that we're familiar with, but a chat room nonetheless.
When it comes to privacy, Ellis emphasizes the importance that children never reveal their real name, school, birthdays, address or post pictures of themselves. Some parents will simply tell their kids, "Because I said so." Instead of this insufficient answer, Ellis advises explaining why it's good to set these rules and regulations and indicating there are people out there who can't be trusted.
Once rules are established it's important to keep your guard up at all times. According to Michael Broukhim of TotSpot.com, a safe haven for parents to publish a page about their kids and share with family and friends, parents can actually build pages for their kids with their kids. Essentially they're working in a safe and secure environment together.
"When their kids are particularly young, it makes sense to participate directly in your child's web usage. In that respect, we often encourage parents to try out TotSpot as a 'shared experience' with their kids. As kids get older, there's a growing number of technologies that can help parents take on the challenge of providing a safe web-browsing experience, for instance, the Kidzui web browser."
Above all, he notes, "At some level, all relationships are built on trust. We hope parents take the initiative to communicate -- both in words and actions -- with their kids about online safety in order to forge that trust."
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