Latest Guidance for Keeping Kids Safe Online

Where to find the most recent info about safe online behavior for children: Internet Scambusters #456

Safe online behavior may come naturally to adults, but young people are much more vulnerable to scams and other unacceptable activities.

More than 70% of kids now have their own computer, mostly using them out of sight of parents, which only makes it more important you have a dialog with them about their Internet activities.

In this issue, we identify the organizations that provide information about the Internet for kids, and show you where you can read and download useful guides.

Latest Guidance for Keeping Kids Safe Online

Staying safe online should be at the top of everyone’s “must do” list when it comes to web surfing.

But although most adults are fully aware of the dangers and do what they can to avoid the obvious dangers of scammers, ID thieves and online predators, the same can’t be said about children.

We discussed the issue of kids’ safety online and parental controls software in a couple of earlier Scambusters issues.

Teach Your Children To Recognize and Avoid Internet Scams

Internet Safety: How to Protect Your Child from Cyber Bullying

In that first report, we identified a few organizations that provide information on how to safeguard your kids.

Since then, a number of new organizations have been established and further guidance published on how to help youngsters to stay safe online.

Furthermore, the proportion of children with their own PCs, usually located in their bedrooms and out of direct parental oversight, has leapt to 70%.

Introducing FOSI

Of particular note is the Family Online Safety Institute, which is a non-profit, international group that is both a lobbying and an educational organization dedicated to what they call good digital citizenship.

Among many initiatives, FOSI has produced a Blueprint for Safe and Responsible Online Use, which warns of the dangers of inappropriate online behaviors and advises parents they “should be aware of what their children are doing online and have a basic understanding of the different modes of socialization online, including social networking sites, texting, video games, cell phones, etc.

“Parents should have a continuous conversation with their kids about what they are doing online and should establish household rules for the Internet.”

Schools also have a responsibility for kids’ safety online, says FOSI, with media lessons incorporated into the curriculum at every grade level.

“Teaching online safety and digital literacy skills should be a daily component of the school experience, integrated appropriately throughout lessons instead of being relegated to an occasional class,” they say.

The blueprint document also has list tools provided by its members (who include Microsoft, Google and Facebook) for safe online use, plus an outline of federal and state laws and links to other independent organizations offering help.

These include the Internet Keep Safe Coalition and, for younger children, Hector’s World.

Microsoft’s own security resources are also worth checking out, with a special section devoted to kids’ safety online.

In addition, the US Government is much more proactive than a few years ago, with its OnGuard Online service.

Get to Know Net Cetera

In particular its Net Cetera campaign and guide, actually produced by the Federal Trade Commission, highlights the best way for parents to talk to and guide their children about online safety.

An important point they stress is that many parents don’t realize that children don’t really distinguish between face-to-face socializing and meeting up online. They’re equally trusting and open in either case.

It’s important for you to point out the key differences — that people may not be who they say they are and that, just because sending inappropriate messages is easier when you can’t see someone, doesn’t make it acceptable.

The other key messages to parents in the campaign are:

  • The importance of talking to children about being safe online at the earliest possible age — in effect, as soon as they’re old enough to use a device, even a cell phone. When they’re really young, you should always supervise them when they’re online.
  • If your children are already using the Internet, encourage them to be open and honest about what they’re doing. Where feasible, especially if you haven’t gone down the route of letting them have a PC in their own room, locate it in the family room or somewhere open.
  • And don’t wait for kids to raise an issue or problem with you. Take the initiative. For example, when news about dangerous or abusive behavior breaks in the media, use it as a lever to open a discussion.
  • Discuss your personal values and standards about what’s acceptable and about having a sense of responsibility.
  • Deliver the following specific points: Just because something is said or shown online doesn’t mean it’s true; it’s difficult or more usually impossible to take back or undo something they’ve posted online; even though people use screen names, avatars and other “disguises,” they’re real people.
  • Repeat and reinforce. Yes, it’s true that kids already think their parents nag them about behavior and morality, but sometimes they forget or overlook guidance unless it’s regularly refreshed.

Net Cetera also provides guidance on a whole range of computer and Internet-related issues for young people, including social networking, cyberbullying, so-called “sexting” (sending inappropriate images and text messages), social mapping (GPS software on mobile devices that lets people know where they are), and computer security.

Read Chatting with Kids About Being Online. It is downloadable as a PDF file.

It helps young people understand the implications of posting and sharing, the importance of getting permission before posting other people’s stuff, the value of being polite, the need to take action against bullying, and, crucially, how to use privacy settings on social networks.

It’s amazing when we look back at what we wrote just a few years ago, to realize just how much has changed about the Internet for kids.

It’s often the first place they now turn to for information and friendships. For better or worse, it’s become central to their lives.

But one piece of advice from those previous reports has never changed — the importance of parental involvement and controlling both site access and usage time.

Making sure your kids are safe online is every bit as important as all the things you do in the real world to protect them.

That’s all for today — we’ll see you next week.