How to Keep Children Safe

Last week I raised the topic of talking to the children we care about to assure their safety.

This week I want to provide some guidance and resources to do that.

If you are a parent, talk with your kids. If you are a grandparent, talk with your grandchildren and also encourage your children to talk with their kids. If there are other kids you care about, see that someone talks with them, so they stay safe.

There are resources to help with this. But, first, let me suggest some ideas on what to talk about.

What Should I Talk About?

The actual topics will vary depending upon age and individual situation, but here are some ideas:

* Cyberbullying (Approximately one in five teens are victims of bullying)

* Sexting

* Sending revealing pictures, or even any personal pictures

* The kinds of sites to avoid and what is safe. Think age-appropriate. (e.g., chat rooms are one way that predators approach their victims)

* Virtual worlds

* Social networking sites (what sites are safe and what to avoid; what should and shouldn’t be said and done, even on age-appropriate sites)

* Not letting others talk you into doing something you’re not comfortable with

* Realizing people online might not be telling the truth

* Paying attention to how people online behave, not just how they look or what they say. (For example, they might sound friendly, then start getting inappropriate.)

* Appropriate and inappropriate content (including hate, violence, criminal activity, and sexual content–sexual talk can encourage predator contact)

* Being careful about giving out personal information. Besides just giving a warning:
– It would be good to explain why giving out this information would be a problem. (It could be used against you, to manipulate you, to find your physical location and approach you in person for possibly-malicious purposes, etc.)
– It is important to discuss what personal information is (phone number, address, school, names of family and pets and friends, e-mail addresses, birthday and age are just some of the pieces of information that a child may not realize could be used against them)

Then, it would be good to discuss the things that we all need to know about:

* Being careful about opening attachments

* Not telling anyone your password

* Using strong passwords

* Knowing that people will try to trick you into clicking on links and into giving them information (phishing)

* Being careful of what you download

* Being careful about what you install on your phone or computer

* Knowing that Wi-Fi is not safe for sensitive information; you might even be connecting to a hacker’s Wi-Fi without knowing it

This is just the beginning of the things that are worth talking about. You can add any that you think of. And, there are resources that can be helpful in those discussions, and they will give you some more ideas on topics.

Resources

One of the best resources I have seen is from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

DON’T be fooled into thinking this site doesn’t apply to you or to the kids you care about. It’s not just about kids that have gone missing. They have put together a wealth of resources and material that is helpful for keeping kids safe online and off. There is a lot of educational material designed for different age groups. There are even suggested questions that adults can use to open up discussion about safety.

Don’t underestimate this resource.

Head on over to http://www.missingkids.org/Safety and begin browsing through their material.This page is a good starting point for keeping your kids safe.

In particular, I recommend starting at their resource called NetSmartz.
http://www.missingkids.org/NetSmartz.

There are tabs for parents and guardians, educators, teens, etc. Don’t just limit yourself to the parents and guardians tab. The other tabs provide additional resources that you will find useful.

Some of the things you will discover here:

* Questions adults can use to begin a discussion with their kids. Examples are:
What would you do if anyone online asked to meet you face-to-face?
Do you know everyone you have as a contact in your phone and on different apps?
What would you do if someone sent you a text or picture that was inappropriate?

* The signs that indicate something is wrong (e.g, how to recognize if your child is a victim of cyberbullying)

* How to address the different situations and problems

* Presentations that kids can watch that they will find interesting and that will get them thinking about the issues.

There is so much on this site that it will take some time to see all that is available. That means there is a lot of valuable information and other resources.

There are sections that are tailored for different age groups. Under the Educators tab, Lesson Plans, you can choose the age level of the child and find videos, games, and more. This is appropriate for a parent or grandparent to use as well.

Another site that has some good information is a part of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) site. The relevant section can be found at:
https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0002-parents

The top couple links on that page point to another page, but you might miss them if you focus on the main topics highlighted. Here’s that additional page, so you don’t miss it:
https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/protecting-kids-online.

You should look at both those pages.

In addition to information and resources, they offer ideas on things to ask your kids about and some things to pay attention to.

There are certainly numerous other resources available. The ones I listed above are a couple of the better ones I have seen, in that they have good information that is easy to understand, with specific ideas that you can apply. They are also more than enough to get you started and well on the way, as you help the kids you care about stay safe.

The essential thing is to begin to communicate. Don’t just give them rules, although rules can be important. Engage them in discussion. Of course, you should consider your child’s age and personality; those can make a difference on the nature of that discussion.

The important thing is: Open up a discussion. Listen to what they say. Find out what they are seeing and experiencing. Challenge them to think about situations and how they would handle them. Offer your insight on things they might not have considered. Listen some more. Keep them safe. These resources will help.