More often than not, the last thing a child hears as they leave the safety of their parent’s home, watchful gaze or holding hand is a piece of advice – watch for cars when crossing the road, don’t be late, remember your manners, good luck on that test today!
When our children embark on a new activity, we give them guidance, direction and information. The need for advice with online activities is no different, and the Cybersmart T.H.I.N.K principles outline the five basic concepts that your children need to understand before going online.
Tell Mum or Dad if you see something online that upsets you or if someone makes you feel uncomfortable.
As a parent, you are your child’s 24/7 helpline—you’re there for your kids whenever they need you. Children learn about trust at an early age so it’s important that they know they can come to you if something goes wrong online. It might be incorrect information, a scary image, an unkind comment, a form requesting personal details or an invitation from a stranger. You can help guide your children by letting them know that they should always feel safe and that they can talk to you or another trusted adult if they feel uncomfortable about something that they have seen or heard online.
It can help to have conversations with your child about what they are doing online. This gives them the opportunity to share their online experiences, and gives you a chance to assess anything that might have left your child feeling upset, uncomfortable or confused.
Understanding what your young kids are doing online and who they are interacting with is every parent’s responsibility.
Hide your password; only share it with your parents—never with your friends. Someone could pretend to be you online and do something to get you into trouble.
Young children want to have friends, be liked and belong. In their eagerness to be liked and fit in they may try to please and put too much trust in their friends. Some children will share private information (including really embarrassing information) and online passwords.
We can help young children balance the need to be liked with the need to protect information. For example, if friends are asking your child to share their passwords, talk to them about it and come up with a plausible face-saving story. One story that could work is: ‘my mum checks my account and said if I share my password she won’t let me online—ever!’
Blaming their ‘evil’ parents can be a useful strategy for children and teens to deal with peer pressure that they struggle to handle on their own.
Interesting websites can be fun to visit. Your mum and dad can help you to set up a list of safe sites.
When young kids are online they may come across websites or content that are inappropriate or upsetting. Talk with them about the sites that you’re comfortable for them to use and work with them to put together a list of bookmarked sites.
Name calling or being mean is not cool and could be cyberbullying. Be nice when talking online or over the phone. Look out for yourself and for others.
For young children, the concept of a digital reputation is probably too complex to grasp. As a starting point, it can be useful to help them understand that they should behave the same way online as they do offline. Sometimes, children may use the opportunity of being anonymous online to make unkind comments, post embarrassing photos or send a mean text message. Things that might be funny for a group of kids can embarrass or hurt the feelings of the person being targeted.
Children need to learn that they are not always invisible and that other people can see what they are doing online. This means that things they post now could reflect badly on them in the future. It’s useful for children to learn, both online and offline, to think before they act and to take care of what they say and do.
Keep your personal information private. Use a nickname when in chat rooms or playing games. Never give your real name, personal details such as your address or phone number to anyone you don’t know in the real world.
Stranger danger is one of the fundamentals that children are taught from an early age. This concept is even more important when operating in the online environment. You never know who may be on the other end of a chat session.
Young children need to understand that details such as their full name, birthday, address, school details and phone number are all direct links to finding them in the offline environment. So, it’s best to be on guard.
Keeping personal information private is also about protecting your digital identity. Everything that a child posts and shares online may also be viewed by people they (and you) don’t know. And once it’s online, it could be there forever.
You can help your kids to keep their personal information private by reminding them to think before they post.
As parents, it’s our responsibility to make sure that our children are fully aware of the benefits and risks of being online. To help, Cybersmart has recently launched Zippep’s Astro Circus, a game for young children that is based on the T.H.I.N.K. principles. The game is a fun way to introduce important topics and was designed to be played by children, with their parents. To play, visit the Cybersmart website or can download it free on iTunes or on Google play.