Alison Rhodes, national child safety expert, corporate spokesperson, media personality and founder of TheSafetyMom.com, says, "As parents, we need to become involved on a daily basis with our children's online relationships and recognize when they are being bullied." Relying on the government or websites to monitor safety and verify identities and information isn't enough; being a cyber-savvy mom is a definite requirement. She adds, "Becoming your child's advocate and teaching him appropriate 'cyber etiquette' will help ensure their experience online is both enjoyable and safe."
Lydie Thomas, blogger at Travelismorefunwithkids.com and mother of two daughters ages 8 and 11, knows this firsthand. Her family doesn't use software to block websites since they realized they were blocking almost every site. Instead, they use Log Me In to make sure their kids are on the right path. She explains, "It is a software support, but we use it to spy on their computers. We log in and we can see what they are doing. The other day, I saw that my daughter was answering questions on Yahoo Answers."
The result? Lydia asked her to stop answering questions because this is not smart. She informed her that if she goes on there again, her computer will be taken away for one month.
Lydie realizes that kids are kids, and they are going to stray. She asks to have the passwords to the computer, email account and visited websites. "Some may find it intrusive, but I believe that as a parent, I am here to protect her, and this is part of my duty," she says.
Alison reminds us that social networking sites and the Internet in general have become "cyber playgrounds," and the bully is out there waiting to beat kids up. She recommends installing monitoring software as well as Googling your child's name to see what comes up. She advises, "If you find personal information about her and she is under 13, contact the site. By law, it needs to be removed."
Another idea is to visit MySpace and Facebook to see if your child has a page and who is in his groups. Alison also recommends keeping the family computer where you can monitor it closely. "Computers should not be allowed in your child's room," she says.
Lastly, she reminds us that monitoring kids on the Web takes a village. Cyberbullying doesn't occur only in the home, and it's on the rise. She recommends asking your child's school administrators if they have specific guidelines regarding cyberbullying in place -- not just a passing reference to it in their official policies. "Be sure they have Internet monitoring and blocking software on their computers," says Alison.
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