6 Tips to Keep Children Safe in Digital World

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August 8, 2018 by HCDE-Texas

With the increase in cyberbullying, parents worry about the safety of their children in the digital world. Technology and digital devices are ingrained in our children’s daily lives from an early age. David McGeary, curriculum director for Digital Education and Innovation at Harris County Department of Education, provides safety tips to help keep children from harm and be good digital citizens.

1. Talk to kids about digital safety at a young age and do it often.
Have parents talk to kids about what to do if something happens online.  If students are at school, tell a trusted teacher.  If something happens at home, tell a parent or other trusted adult.

Talk to children about their district’s code of conduct and safety plans.  If the district has an anonymous tip line, how do you access it? What kind of information should be shared?  If the district maintains an account for routine safety updates or communications during an event, where is that social media channel located? How can parents engage that channel to stay informed or share information?

The Department of Homeland Security publicizes its “See Something, Say Something” initiative. Not only is it a good practice to follow this advice for personal safety, a student’s report could save lives of others through conscientious sharing of information.

2. Be a part of your children’s online experiences. Know the sites they visit and games they play.

Research shows that kids ages 12-17 are increasingly aware of the disparity between the “perfect life” that they see others share online and the “real life” they experience every day.  Parents should work to remind their kids that social media is often a reflection of a person’s best experiences, but it does not represent the whole person.  Kids should learn to cherish themselves, flaws and all. All this while also keeping an open mind about what is happening on social media.

3. Don’t allow young children to spend unsupervised time online. Keep the family computer in a common area in the home. Keep charging devices out of private areas like bedrooms.

4. Enforce this rule: If you won’t do something face-to-face, don’t do it online. (Discuss social interactions.)

Research shows that victims of cyberbullying have often bullied someone online themselves. By humanizing the online space and developing empathy for others, parents can help their children break the cycle of victim-and-victimization.

5. Humanize online social interactions. Remind them that behind every pixelated avatar is a human being.

When kids begin to get more active on social media, help them to use social media in a healthy way. Encourage them to share snaps of things that they are interested in or Instagram posts of cool experiences they have.  Social media is becoming increasingly important in the world after high school. Help kids to share the best versions of themselves online so they may be better positioned for a life outside of school once they graduate.

6. Parents and students: Be fierce guardians of your personal information. 
If a student is being asked to use a third-party tool that requires the student to give out personal information, it’s okay to ask if the district has a policy in place to protect the information that is being given away.  Parents can further help their kids by reading the “terms of service and privacy policy.” (This policy is usually found at the very bottom of a web page or in the settings of an application on any website that a student uses outside of their district’s network.)

McGeary suggests that while children may be getting information about safe online behavior from their school, students who have regular discussions with their parents about digital safety are more likely to be vigilant, self-advocates when something goes wrong online. He also suggests parents become partners in their child’s online experiences.

“Take interest in the sites your children visit and the games they play,” said McGeary. “If kids are engaged in constant discussion about the digital realm, they are much more likely to approach a parent or guardian if something out of the ordinary occurs.”

For more resources on cyberbullying and digital safety, visit http://www.cyberwise.org/digital-citizenship-resources.

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