Children must understand that that once something is posted on the Internet, it will be available forever. They need to be conscious that it helps to think not just twice, but THREE times before transmitting or posting information that could affect their own reputation or that of others. Anything that is posted by, or about, the child could forever follow them in this life, and could be used against them when they are older and attempt to engage in real-life social situations, including applying for internships and positions.
Sometimes children come across foul language, inappropriate visual material or cyberbullying in their online activities. They need to know how to report users or profiles within each social networking account they operate. An important question to ask is, will they be able to address and/or report bad material? What if it’s from a friend?
A beautiful aspect of the Internet, and also a detrimental one, is the fact that there is a vast and oft-invisible audience ready to be amused and entertained 24 hours a day. Unfortunately, what starts out as seemingly “harmless” fun can quickly deteriorate into something dangerous, with public shaming, cyberbullying and even death threats. The Internet is wildly popular for laughing at others at their expense and posting the information for the world to see without realizing the devastating impact on real lives. This can cause people to act differently online than in person, putting others at risk if they don’t treat people respectfully—including a risk of suicide. Does your child know the difference between a friendly joke and actual bullying—and that when there’s an image of someone online, that person has real feelings?
Have you talked to the child about his/her private parts and the importance of respecting others? The Internet (and social media, depending on the app and ads) is inundated with pornography, and the largest consumer of online porn are children between the ages of 12-17. Online porn also contributes to the sexual trafficking of minors, as victims become part of the multitude of videos and images that are circulated. Did you know that children very likely can see these types of images outside of your sight and hearing? Do they already know how to clear their cache (research says yes, they do!)? Could they already have an addiction by age 12? If you automatically answered “no” to any of these questions, then we’re already in trouble. It’s when we think “it couldn’t’ happen here” that we’re already behind the curve.
As a caring adult, it’s imperative that you perform your own research about the pros and cons of the specific social media applications, and what the benefits and potential dangers are. Are you ready to create your own account on the same social media site(s) to better hold your child accountable? While 90% of children “believe their parents trust them to do what is right online,” almost half of them would still change their online behavior if they knew their parents were aware and watching. Do you have the discipline and courage to consistently set limits on their screen time, regularly confiscate their devices to review their posts, settings, and friend lists as ‘par for the course’ of using social media? Most parents do feel uncomfortable doing this.
Have an ongoing, open discussion with your child, and make sure you know what they’re doing online. If you can’t confidently say that you know exactly what they’re watching, seeing and doing on the Internet, you may be putting your child at risk as even websites for kids are sometimes hacked or even created with malicious intent. Caring adults will seek to protect the online identity of the child until the child can successfully navigate the Internet on his/her own. Children must also learn how to assist in guarding their own content. Helping any child to protect his/her online presence, and also guarding the information yourself, will only serve to help them in the future as we become increasingly engaged with the Internet and social networking. Hopefully, also, you’re modeling the appropriate behavior to your child in your role as a caring parent. Yet, it isn’t just the job of a parent; it’s the duty of every Christian: to help one another in life—and that means all of us!