How to Keep Your Child Safe on the Internet
Did you know it’s illegal for children under the age of 13 to open a Facebook account?
It’s prohibited by federal law to allow children to open an account without the consent of their parents or legal guardians.
No big deal right? Everybody’s doing it. It’s sweet. Do you monitor your child’s account? You don’t like to snoop right? You trust her. You want to show you can trust her. What’s the worse that can happen?
A harmless act of telling a small lie about your daughter’s age on Facebook can have serious consequences.
Detective Neil Kitchen from Child Protection in New Zealand wants you to consider this ‘fictitious’ scenario.
“An eleven year old girl approaches her mum and asks for a Facebook account. Mum knows she should be 13 to be accepted to open one. Mum tells her to just make up a date of birth to make her 13, so she’ll be accepted. What harm is there? All her mates have done it. The girl adds three years to her age just to be sure, making her 14.
She builds up a large number of ‘friends’, including her mum. She’s eventually requested by a friend of a friend, when she actually is 14. This is an 18 year old guy. He charms her; she agrees to meet him offline; he’s the ‘man of her dreams’; soon afterwards they have consensual sexual intercourse. Mum finds out and reports the matter to the police, who investigate the allegation.
Police speak to the 18 year old male. He readily admits having sexual intercourse with the girl, but states he thought she was 17. The officer asks why he thought this, and he replies, “Because it says on her Facebook profile. Look, I have a screenshot to prove it.”
If he genuinely thought she was 17 years old, this could possibly offer him a defence in law.” — Source: John Parsons
A harmless little fib that has serious consequences further down the line.
What if this friend of a friend wasn’t an 18 year old man?
Your daughter discovers she has so much in common with Simon. They friended on Facebook. She accepted his request from her friend. Her friend had accepted his request from a friend of a friend. Simon shares the same dreams as your daughter. They both play the same instrument in band practice. They both want to go to Camp America. They’re both into the same music. She can share everything with him. He likes dogs too and owns a cute spaniel just like her.
Simon knows all about your daughter. He’s read her Facebook page. Her security settings are a joke. He can name all her trusted friends. He knows when she’s upset, she’s posted about her problems on Facebook. He knows when she’s had an argument with her mum. He’s easy to confide in.
Soon they’re exchanging messages. It’s like she’s known him all her life.
The messages escalate. Their relationship is getting serious.
One day he asks her to send a ‘naughty’ picture.
Your daughter isn’t 17. Remember that small fib that allowed her access to Facebook at 11 years old? How you encouraged her to lie?
It’s about setting values for your family. Showing respect to your children.
“My mum told me off for taking a picture of her in her jammas and putting it on Instagram without asking her first. She’s been doing that with pictures of me from the day I was born. I still love you mum.” — Eleven year old girl from Gisborne, NZ. Source — John Parsons
Ask permission. Show them the photo afterwards. If they don’t like it, delete it. The sooner we give children the right to control their own identity, the sooner we will ‘power them up’ to protect them.
Values. Respect. Permission.
“If that child has a strong set of family values to draw on, in addition to the skills and values the school will teach, then he/she is set up to be an effective citizen for the 21st century. Schools cannot do this work alone” — Rob Clarke, Educational Leadership Consultant, Learning Architects
It’s not the school’s job. They can’t regulate your home. You have to be an active participant in your child’s online life.
I’m not going to judge. It’s easy to fall to peer pressure. When your child comes home and tells you that she’s the only one in class without a mobile. When the school states that each child needs to bring in their own iPad. It’s impossible to control the internet. It’s also considered a vital requirement to modern learning.
The UN even states that every child should have the right to become digitally literate, and it is vital that governments provide for the development of digital literacy in schools from a very early age. Of course they also add Article 16 — the “Right to privacy, by sharing online sensitive personal information about their children without their consent.”
Know the age limits. They’re there for a reason. YouTube is restricted to anyone under the age of 13. You can’t open any social media accounts until the age of 13. That’s the law.
What can you do right now?
There are strategies you can use to keep your child safe. Here are a few tips but please do check out child protection online services such as Safeguarding Children or the Police website.
- Don’t let your child use their device in the bedroom when they’re young. If you establish a ‘not in the bedroom’ rule it’ll help to avoid conflict and issues when they’re older.
The bedroom is their private space. Their sanctuary. By keeping the device in an open space like the living room, it means your child can’t hide anything.
- Become your child’s ‘friend’ in any social network environment. This includes games where a high percentage of predators lurk ( 89 percent of all sexual advances toward our children take place in internet chat rooms). Their profile image NEEDS to contain a photo of you or an older relative / friend. It shows any predators that this child is loved, that they’re cared for and protected. It’s a strong message.
- Educate your child about the importance of protecting family and friends images. Teach them to seek permission before they send or upload images of anyone else to the internet.
- Teach them to respect any person that asks them to remove an image they’ve uploaded. Encourage your child to do this.
- Agree a time, together, when EVERYBODY stops using their devices. This builds stronger relationships within the family structure. Respect your child’s time, talk to them and listen. The most important relationship you have is one with your child, not the one with the computer or mobile.
- Check your child knows all the people in their social network. If not, ask that they delete them.
- If you don’t put your device down when they come to talk to you, why should they. Make eye contact. Be a good role model.
- Check applications they’ve downloaded from time to time. If they’re not consistent with your family values, ask them to delete them. Get your child to demonstrate the app.
- Is the game age appropriate? Paedophiles gravitate to areas where children play, communicate and congregate.
- Teach your child how to screenshot.
These are just a few online tips to keep your child safe. Reduce the effects of cyber-separation. It’s a dangerous world and these simple steps will make online a safer environment.
For more information, you can read ‘Keeping Your Children Safe Online’ by John Parsons.
Or read this insight from Sloane Ryan
I’m a 37-Year-Old Mom & I Spent Seven Days Online as an 11-Year-Old Girl. Here’s What I Learned.
Note: This piece contains sexual content and descriptions of child sex abuse that could be disturbing to some readers…