From the time children begin using technology, whether computers or cellphones, there are a few basic rules that need to be discussed and enforced. These rules not only help to protect children from exploitation, they lay the groundwork for prevention of bullying. They establish a basis for communication about what happens on the Internet and for asking for help if they are being bullied or harassed electronically. The rules also provide a context for talking about bullying behaviours and why they are unkind, unacceptable, and often illegal.
1 Keep equipment accessible to the entire family. Kids don't need computers in their rooms or in the basement where you can't readily see what is going on. Walk by often and take a look at what they are doing. Ask questions. If they have a home page on one of the social sites such as MySpace, ask them to show it to you. This is the single most important thing you can do to protect your young children and teenagers from online problems.
2 Discuss all aspects of the technology with your children. This includes what types of sites are appropriate and are not. Be very clear that they are not to open e-mails from people they do not know and that they should not click through to unknown sites just because they show up in an e-mail or a pop-up. The balance between curiosity and following the rules is really hard for kids with computers, and parental diligence is important.
3 Never allow your children to have passwords on their computers that you do not know.
4 Set rules regarding forms, inquiries, and questionnaires. Children should never provide personal information online. If they want to order something or respond to an inquiry, they need to ask for your approval and assistance every time.
5 Discuss who gets your child's cellphone number and the circumstances under which it can be given out. Set guidelines for text messaging and let them know that all text messages and Internet messages leave a record that is readily available. Let them know that you expect them to be respectful in their electronic communications, that harassing others is not permitted.
6 Be clear with them that they should come to you immediately with upsetting messages or invitations to get together with someone they have met online. Let them know that they will not be in trouble and that they should not erase these messages before you see them. Remind them that it isn't possible to know the age, sex, or intentions of people on the other side of electronic communication. It is better to ask an adult for help than to take a risk.
7 Be open with teens about what’s out there, and encourage them to come to you if they encounter an uncomfortable situation. Family discussions about Internet safety will pay off as the technology continues to enable anonymous communication.
8 Show an interest in your teen's blog or website. Run a search periodically of your child's name, phone number, and address. You may find social networking postings that give you an opportunity to have further discussions.
9 It has been my experience that, as they get older, young people often want to meet in person with friends they have met on local chat sites. Since they are quite capable of doing this on their own, my rule is that they go with you to meet the new person at that person's home, or another location with the other person's parent present.
Trying to get your child used to technology? Learn about phone and Internet manners for kids.
Excerpted from 10 Days to a Bully-Proof Child: The Proven Program to Build Confidence and Stop Bullies for Good by Sherryll Kraizer, PhD. Copyright 2007 by Sherryll Kraizer, PhD. Excerpted with permission of Marlowe and Company, an imprint of Avalon Publishing Group Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced except with permission in writing from the publisher.
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