Many parents speak to their children about protecting themselves from unwanted physical contact. However, it is important to consider unsafe, uncomfortable, or unwanted interactions online as well. These interactions may take the form of sexual harassment, cyberbullying, or a person asking for too much personal information or pretending to be someone that they are not. In honor of International Internet Day, here are some tips for talking to your children about internet safety.
- Talk to your child about internet privacy. Advise your child not to share their personal information – such as full names, parents’ names, phone numbers, addresses, schools, locations, passwords, or even pictures – with anyone online or through social media sites. Remind your child that nothing they share on the internet is ever completely private.
- Caution your child that while it is okay to have online friends, people are not always who they say they are. If an online friend asks to meet in person, wants to keep the friendship a secret, or asks a lot of personal questions, these are generally warning signs. Ask your child to tell you if their online friend wants to meet them in person.
- Encourage your child to tell you if something that is said to them or something that they see online makes them uncomfortable. Ask your child to print a picture of anything that makes them uncomfortable and show it to you in case comments or pictures are later deleted. Remind your child that if someone online says something that makes them feel uncomfortable, upset, or scared, it is not their fault and that you will support them.
- Talk to your child about cyberbullying. Discuss the different forms that cyberbullying can take, such as spreading rumors and posting mean comments or embarrassing photos. Advise your child to print the comments, not respond, and get offline if they are being bullied. Remind your child that it is not okay to post photos of other people online without their consent, and that if they are considering posting a comment online, they should consider whether their comment is unkind or harmful. Generally, a good rule is that if you wouldn’t say something to someone’s face, you shouldn’t post it online.
The bottom line: It’s important to remember that parents play a major role in keeping children safe. Talking to your kids about online safety is the number one thing that can do to prevent abuse or stop it quickly when it happens. So start conversations, and be a good role model for your child with your own online behavior.
Ellie McWilliam-Grench is our Administrative & Outreach Intern. She is a sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill.