Naturally, everyone wants to make these unsettling incidents as rare as possible, and ideally eliminate them entirely. This is why the Australian Federal Police have come out with some advice for parents on keeping their kids safe online. This is sound advice that every parent should listen to and follow, because it works.
Here is what you should be doing to keep your child safe and protected online.
Know Who Your Child is Talking to Online
This is important, because so many parents have no idea who their child is talking to online, or even that their child is talking to anyone. Children today use a lot of apps on their devices, such as on cell phones and tablets, and take these apps with them when they leave the house. The apps connect directly to the Internet, but a lot of parents do not know that. Because the apps connect to the Internet, they are able to have in-app chat features that allow kids to talk online to anyone else who may be using that app.
Parents need to ask who their children are talking to, and even ask to see a list of their contacts in each app. If there is someone who is a stranger to the child and the parent that the child is talking to, this is a big red flag. It is the same kind of “stranger danger” of the past, where parents wanted their children to not talk to strangers in person without parents there. This time, the big “no” is for children to talk to strangers online without their parents being aware of the identity of those people.
If your child is talking to someone you do not know, you need to instruct your child to not talk to that person anymore. If the child will not comply, or if the stranger continues to contact your child, you must block that person on the app.
Know How to Block and Report
If you do not know how to block someone on an app, or report suspicious behavior to the owners of the app, now is the time to learn, because your child’s online safety may depend on it. Your child probably knows how to do these things, but you as a parent still need to learn, because it will usually be up to you to do the blocking and reporting. Have your child show you how, use an online tutorial to learn, or learn with your child if your child does not already know how to do these things.
Then, block any strangers with whom your child is communicating, and report any suspicious or inappropriate conversations to the owners of the app. Most of the time, the owners will look into it and remove access to the app from anyone they believe has been using it inappropriately. If they do not, the blocking feature can still keep your child safe. If all else fails, such as your child unblocks the person and continues talking to them on the app, you will have to delete the app from the child’s devices and block them from re-downloading it.
Let Your Child Know They Can Come to You if Something Suspicious is Going on Online
Most children have a very excellent sense of when someone is acting suspiciously or inappropriately with them online. Naturally, there are some children who are not aware of this, but most will know if something online is not as it should be. However, they may not know how to handle it on their own, or they may think that you will be angry with them for letting it happen if they come to you with the information. You must let them know that you will never be angry with them for someone being inappropriate with them online, because it is not their fault.
Let them know, and make sure they understand, that they can always come to you if there is an online situation they do not know how to handle, or if something suspicious is going on with someone they are talking to online. Let them know you will handle it, that you will be understanding and supportive of them, that you will protect them, and that they will not be in trouble. Children will be much more likely to come to you when they need you for these online situations if you make them feel absolutely safe and in the right in doing so. A child who comes to you when they need you is a child who is much more likely to be and remain safe online.
Make a Contract with Your Child
A Family Online Safety Contract is an excellent way to always be on the same page as your child when it comes to them being online. The contract, which you and your child sign together, clearly lays out the rules of them being online on any device, and what is expected of them while they are online. You can find a pre-printed Family Online Safety Contract, as well as a blank template for one (if you prefer to write your own rules for being online) at ThinkUKnow.org.au. These contracts can be printed off your computer and signed together with your child. There are also plenty of other resources available there for parents for keeping their children safe online, including information about parental controls for online devices and how to use them to control where your child can go (and can’t go) online and what they can (and cannot) do while they are there.
When you know your child is safe online, you will feel much more secure about letting them go there without your supervision. You will be confident that your child knows good internet safety habits, and also knows what to do if they encounter problems with anyone online. The contract gives you the secure knowledge that your child knows what you expect of them while they are online. When these steps are followed, children are much safer and happier, and parents are more secure in knowing their child is a protected and well-informed one when it comes to the world of the Internet.