Today, children access technology at younger ages, and they are more easily exposed to pornography, predators and other inappropriate content. In a survey conducted by the University of New Hampshire, 42% of children aged 10 to 17 had seen online pornography in a 12-month span, yet 66% percent of those surveyed did not seek out this content.
The good news? Your child isn’t necessarily looking for inappropriate content online. The bad news? Your child’s behavior doesn’t necessarily stop lewd images and websites from appearing on their screens.
Being able to protect your child from the dangers of the Internet is overwhelming, which is why your best tool for helping to prevent situations that could endanger their well-being is communication.
Starting a conversation about digital safety is about keeping an open dialogue with your child while setting clear boundaries. Talking about how to act appropriately online, how to avoid predators and/or how to deal with cyberbullying is crucial to your child’s safety and future.
As a parent, you cannot make the assumption that your child has the common sense to leave a chatroom when someone is soliciting personal information from them. Instead, approach the subject of digital safety as you would any other topic:
- Keep a calm tone; the purpose of these conversations is education, not preemptive discipline.
- Set boundaries for Internet usage: What websites is your child allowed to access? When is it too late at night to use the computer? What kinds of information should they provide online, if any?
- Have clear answers to these questions, and always make yourself available for clarification and discussion.
Once you feel that you have adequately set the standards for your child’s Internet usage, be sure to check in on them periodically; a conversation about digital safety is open-ended and ongoing. Ask what they like to do online, and see if they’ve made any new friends on social media sites or chat rooms.
While you should respect their privacy, use your best judgement on how to stay updated on their online activity. Although your child may not always be excited about your concern, forming lasting habits that promote digital safety is a priority that parents should instill in their children as early as possible.
Laura Jane Crocker