If you, like many parents (and grandparents), have given your child the gift of online access this Christmas whether it be a new gaming system like XBOX or PlayStation, a smartphone, an iPad or other digital toy, please know that they will need your guidance in the virtual world just as much, if not more, then the real one.  Here are 5 QUICK TIPS to keep them safer online.

  1. TEACH:  We teach our children to not talk to strangers IRL (in real life) and then give strangers from all over the world complete access to our children online.  Children need to know that there are “bad guys” online too so don’t accept friend requests or enter any chats with people they don’t know.  And NEVER click on a link or open a file without checking with a grown-up.
  2. MONITOR:  Kids will be kids, online and off and unsupervised kids are more likely to get into trouble.  This is why we have playground monitors and babysitters.  If you wouldn’t let your child explore a big city (Vegas?) alone, why would you let them explore virtual ones?  There are dark alleys, criminals, and people with values very different than your own.  A child’s screen should ALWAYS be visible by a responsible adult: a. so you can quickly intervene and b. so they know you’re watching.
  3. PREVENT:  There are many disorders, what I call SIMI: Screen Induced Mental Illness, being documented and anyone who uses screens is at risk.  Just like other addictions, the best way to avoid negative consequences is to avoid getting “hooked” in the first place.  Limit use and be sure you are enjoying real life activities together as a family.  If you start noticing that someone has crossed from “wanting” to use their device to “needing” to, it’s time to intervene.  A digital detox and cyber sabbaths are great ways to get your loved one back.
  4. PROTECT:  Trying to figure out how to block or filter what type of content gets to your child’s mind can seem overwhelming but, it is critical.  There are multi-billion-dollar industries hoping you will give up because they make money off of every click your child makes.  And when online, a child is always one click away from images and activities that can change their future. Contact your wi-fi and cellphone service providers and tell them you want parental controls and porn blocking.  It won’t stop the flood, but it will make it harder to flow through.
  5. LISTEN:  If your child tries to have a conversation with you about ANYTHING, put down what you’re doing and listen.  Many children, as well as adults, are turning to the virtual world to find someone to talk to because everyone is “too busy” for them in the real one.  And when you listen, try to keep your opinions to yourself unless asked for them.  Often people aren’t seeking judgement or guidance, just acknowledgement that they are worth your time.

To learn more, get online yourself.  There are many, many websites discussing the dangers of the internet and what concerned people can do about it.  Here’s one to get you started:  https://www.netsmartz.org/Parents

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