OUR VIEW: Talk to your children about dangers of the internet

Published 9:30 am Wednesday, February 9, 2022

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It came and went without much fanfare, but Tuesday was Safer Internet Day around the world. But that’s OK, because there’s never a bad time to talk to your children about staying safe when using the internet.

Much like telling you love someone on a day other than Valentines Day, there’s never a bad time to talk about the dangers lurking on the world wide web.

Our children are starting to use the internet at younger and younger ages. Elementary school kids can probably surf the web faster than their parents and grandparents in some ways. Every week it feels like there’s a new popular messaging app or a new creative way to share videos online.

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The internet is like a living being, constantly changing. We use it to keep up with friends and family, research topics we care about, play games and prevent boredom.

But it’s also a dangerous place for our children (and can be for adults too). As parents, you need to know which apps your children are using. You need to know what webpages they are visiting. And you need to know who they’re talking to on messaging apps.

Children need to know that anything they put online could become public. Even apps that say that they make messages or photos disappear can be tricked, via the use of another app or another phone. They should think about how they might feel about that post in one year, five years or ten years. Could it impact them down the road? What about that photo they just sent a friend or posted online? Think hard before posting.

Much in the way we tell our kids not to talk to strangers or not to believe everything they hear, we need children to understand that they need to be suspicious of links and emails on the internet. If it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is. This is a lesson that children typically develop as they age, but it needs to remain as a concrete rule on the internet as well.

Lastly — and we know this is hard — but we encourage healthy relationships with your children. Make them feel comfortable asking you about things they might run into on the internet. Sometimes when driving, we all turn down a street we probably wish we hadn’t. Our curious children are eventually going to go down a road on the internet that probably is better not viewed by young eyes.

Be prepared for that and let your children know the pitfalls they might encounter online. Don’t let them use the internet completely unsupervised with no oversight.

We know talking to a teenager can be like talking to a brick wall at times, but this is really important. The internet is becoming more and more a part of our lives, and it’s not going anywhere. Our children and their children are going to using the internet, probably in ways we can’t even imagine today.

The world has changed a lot in 20-30 years, mostly thanks to technology and the internet. With that, criminal activity has changed. Policing has changed. And we have to change.

Research how to use the internet safely and talk to your children about it too.