Kids’ toys in the last 15 years have changed dramatically from the toys we grew up with. Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s we listened to music on a Walkman, had Cabbage Patch dolls, Furbys, and Easy Bake Ovens. The closest thing to an electronic device of today was a Gameboy. We didn’t have cell phones, Xbox’s, or Playstations like many kids have today. The devices of today have the ability to access the internet and with that a whole world of possibilities.
Today children innately know how to pick up a device, connect it to the internet and search, play, or converse with others near or far. Cell phones and gaming systems both connect kids to a world much larger than what we knew growing up. The Internet is a great resource for kids to use for school research activities, communicating with teachers through online classroom platforms, and playing interactive games.
Today, talking with friends over Snapchat, Kik, or Facebook is how some children socialize with their “friends.” But the Internet also comes with many risks, like inappropriate content, cyberbullying, and online predators. Using any of the apps that kids often use, predators can become anyone that they choose, and your child would not really know if the stranger they were communicating with online is really who they claim to be, and most of the time target kids that are looking for new friends. Online predators are very knowledgeable about the apps that kids use and about how to communicate with them online to gather information.
Parents need to be aware of how their kids are interacting with others online. It is important to talk with your children about never sharing personal information to strangers. For example: their phone numbers, school, or home address. Talk with your children while they are interacting in their games or phones and become aware of who they are having conversations with and what they are sharing. It is important to spend time with your children while they are online and learn about the apps and games they are using on a daily basis. Keeping an eye on their online activities and using online tools, such as parental controls, can help keep you informed of the online activity and limit the accessibility to adult material and protect them from online predators.
Even more important than tracking or blocking online content is having conversations with your kids about responsible and safe online behavior. Monitoring usage and having family rules like no phones after bedtime, no game systems in the bedrooms, will help but here are some other basic safety rules to follow:
Never share personal information online.
Never send pictures or ask for pictures.
Do not share passwords online.
If you receive information that you did not ask for alert an adult (pictures, wanting to meet up).
If you feel like you are or have been threatened by email, text, or message, alert an adult.
Always tell a parent if you are feeling uncomfortable with interactions online.
Talk to your children! Keeping open lines of communication and make sure they come to you or a trusted adult when they have problems online. Taking an active role in your kids online activities will ensure that they are safe and can benefit from all the great things on the internet. If there ever is a concern about interactions online you can always contact your local law enforcement agency.
Christina McCaw is the Mexico School District 59 director of social emotional learning and behavior.