February 22, 2018

Are You Connected to Your Child’s Online World?

child's online worldBy Detective Rich Wistocki    

I am a detective. A large component of my job is to track down predators who use the internet and social media to lure children, then find them and prosecute. I find many parents who think their children are safe online because they have taught them right from wrong and “stranger danger.” I have also made it my job to alert parents that social media has many dangers and provide them with tips on how to keep their kids safe online.

We are faced with rapidly increasing numbers of internet crimes against children. A growing population of kids are at risk of online pitfalls and dangers as they grow up in an online world. The cases I see every day would shock you. What would surprise you even more is that many internet crimes could have been prevented. That’s because many children are victimized as a result of unmonitored internet use.

Most parents are completely unaware of what their kids are doing online. Parents, you are responsible for your children. Not only in their physical world, but their online world, too. A great number of parents still don’t know that they need to be on guard as their children engage in online activities. However, parents today face a big challenge. They can’t keep up with all of the new technologies available to their kids. As parents, we are generally behind in our knowledge of Facebook, chatting, texting and gaming. As a result, we tend to avoid it.

I, too, have teenaged boys. I have instituted everything I have learned in my position to make sure they are safe while at home and away from my home. I monitor their computer use as well as their phone use, using a monitoring service. Do I physically check those devices every day? No, only when they give me a reason to based on the alerts. If I see an “A” grade go to a “C” grade I will check it. If I see they are not talking at dinner, I will check it. If they appear more aggressive or more withdrawn, I will check it. That is how you become responsible for your child in their online world, too.

There are two primary risks: internet predators and cyber bullying. Here’s one scenario: Your child meets someone on a social media site and has a relationship with this person. No one knows about it. They text, they play video games together, and talk to each other on Facebook. This person is a stranger. And this is how internet predators find kids, then lure them to meet in a secret place, often posing as someone the same age as your child, a trusted friend.

When using social media, people can create fake identities. They can be whoever they want. Consequently, any video game, phone application game, or social networking site that utilizes an Internet connection poses a risk. Everyone has access to your child. The trouble comes when parents are disconnected from what’s going on in their child’s online world. They can’t protect them.

Cyber bullying can occur in much the same way. The kids are creating fake accounts to say mean things to each other. Children feeling they need to respond to protect themselves. Then, once posted online, it provides an opportunity for anyone associated with the accounts to get involved, whether they know the victim or not. Children who are cyber bullied have no peace. The bullying they may have once only endured in school now finds its way into their homes through the internet and telephone connections, i.e. texting.

BE ON GUARD: How to Stay Ahead of the Technology
The truth is that it will take time and effort to keep up with what your kids are doing online. But, it’s a valuable investment. To be ahead of the game, make it your mission to learn all you can. Case studies prove that parents serve as the first line of defense against internet predators and cyber bullying.

Here are 10 smart ways to connect with your child’s online world:

  1. Be nosy about what your child is doing online. Ask a lot of questions, like, “What did you do online today?” or “Did you make any new friends?” and “Did you play any new online games today?”
  2. Be “friends” with your children on social media sites to observe communication with their “friends.”
  3. Educate your child about online stranger danger, just as you would if they were going to the park.
  4. Establish household rules around internet and computer use.
  5. Ensure that privacy settings on all internet-based accounts are set to your standards.
  6. Check to ensure these privacy settings also are set on cell phones.
  7. Use a social media monitoring service that sends you alerts about your child’s online activities.
  8. If you need to learn about technologies, such as Facebook or Twitter, sit down with your kids and ask them to show you. Most kids love to demonstrate their knowledge.
  9. If you uncover something questionable, don’t discipline your child harshly. Learn more about the issue and get them to talk about it. Help steer them in a harmless direction.
  10. If you think your child is having trouble online with cyber bullying or a predator, don’tunderestimate your instincts. Look into it and escalate the issue to authorities if you think it is warranted.

Along with my partner, TrueCare.com, my goal is to help parents understand how to safeguard our children in their online world. Our job is to move needle in raising awareness and make “monitoring kids online” the next “buckle your seatbelt.” 

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