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Moving at Light Speed in 2019: Managing Internet Safety for Your Children

By Dr. Jay Greenfeld

Well here we go charging into 2019 as we slowly wrap up the second decade of this new millennium. Yes- that is correct, the second decade of the century. Things are moving fast and I am sure as a parent you see that every single day with your children. We slowly move through each moment as it can take our children a good 60-90 minutes to accomplish their basic morning routine and leave the house without forgetting their boots, books, or even jackets! However, as delayed as some of these processes are in the morning, a day can sometime feel like a week and a week can feel like a day. More importantly though, a year can feel like a month and regardless of how much we try to hold to some of the moments with our children, these months and years move quick. One thing that appears to moving at light speed in 2019 is the use of the internet and the reliance on social media. A significant concern that continues to emerge among parents is internet safety, appropriate use of social media, and setting healthy boundaries for what is safe. One book that highlights the impact of internet use is Jean Twenge's iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us

We all want to trust our children and give them the benefit of the doubt that what they are doing online is safe, appropriate, and will not create any detriment for themselves and others. Unfortunately, too many things are often happening at home to monitor our children as closely as we would like to. Regardless of age, the internet works at warp speed and allows us to access anything we want, whenever we want it. However, it becomes a blessing and a curse at the same time because it can also track our history, what we have been searching, and therefore will send suggestions about sites, games, apps, and social networking that is connected to our main interests. All of this can be very enticing for any child or teenager vulnerable to these outlets. I learned last week when I saw a two-year old search YouTube for videos that he wanted to see and he was able to do it! Knowing how quickly our children are accessing sites online, we need to be more diligent about the monitoring system. We can trust our children, however, as parents it starts with establishing rules.

Start the conversations with your children early; teaching them about internet safety, warning them of the ramifications of sending content that not only may get them in trouble, but can have lasting effects on their interpersonal connections. Finally, it is crucial to help them understand why it is important to know the importance of online safety. Help your children understand that anything they search or send on the internet is traceable and accessible for anyone. Of course, we do not want to instill fear in our children and add another item on the list of worries and anxieties they already hold. However, we want them to know the reality of what they are doing. As a primary rule, you may want to suggest that they do not send any photos to anyone, regardless of the nature of the pictures. If they have this undying need to send a picture to someone, you can send it to their parents for them. If your child does not feel comfortable sending something to another friend's parents, that is a warning sign that they would be best not sending it.

Teach your children about parameters to being safe online. Set up internet use in a common area where you can see what they are doing. Help them understand the importance of this from an early age because otherwise, you will miss that small window. If your child is older and needs privacy, have them work with the door open so you see what they are doing and remind them that you have access to all their passwords and will be checking their history periodically. Let them have the chance to establish that trust with you, it is up to them to lose it. Reward them for maintaining that trust, do not take it for granted, and celebrate it to ensure it becomes a pattern. Explore with your children what they feel is safe to share online so that you are all on the same page. Help them understand that everything they do on social media can be traced back to them and thus it will be crucial they are not sending any slandering messages or posting that type of content directed at others.

It is easy to say anything you want while behind a computer screen without thinking, caring, or even considering the implications it may have on others (short term and long term). The degree of Anxiety, Depression, and self-defeating thoughts that emerge from others receiving messages online has been astronomical and we are often unaware of how much is shared between peers until it becomes a major problem. It will be important to stop the content before it is even an option for children to think they can post these messages. Help your children understand that what they type is the same as what they say -- they are accountable. If they would not say certain things to someone face-to-face, then it is not safe to share online. Rehearse it with them verbally, have them say what they would type so they can hear what that would sound like. Helping them work through appropriate dialogue verbally will likely help them control some of the tendencies to be impulsive when it comes to online behaviour.

Finally, ensure that your children and teenagers know meeting anyone online is not always the safest. Make sure they know and you know who they are talking to. Yes, there is an entire online world that can lend itself to many friendships and some can be safe and long lasting. However, we want to encourage our children to not rely on these connections as their only means of social interactions. The key is to be mindful of the decisions they are making BEFORE they make the decision when engaging with anyone or anything online. Help your children along with yourselves, slow down, take time to think things through, and be mindful of each choice they are making when involved in their time spent online. Engaging in healthy internet use is intended to complement various aspects of their lives, not dominate life.

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Moving at Light Speed in 2019: Managing Internet Safety for Your Children

Tech Tails: Digital Resources for Parenting in 2019

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