Ten Things Parents Need to Know about Keeping their Kids CyberSafe

By Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, MD, FAAP, author of CyberSafe

1. Privacy Settings “On” = You Are Cleared to Post! By having your privacy settings “on” for posts and pictures (you have to set the setting for each to “on”), your information is completely private and only accessible by people you allow as friends. However, if you fail to turn “on” your privacy settings and your teens don’t know how to, those walls posts and pictures can be seen by everyone on Facebook and the entire World Wide Web. People have lost jobs and college acceptance by having some off handed post seen by the wrong person. So, it’s important that we do a number of things. First, show our teens how to enable Facebook’s not to easy to find privacy settings. Second, talk to our kids about appropriate Friending so they are sure the people on their lists are true friends. Third, post with thought (see below to do it RITE).

2. If kids know how to be good digital citizens, they will know how to be safe. We teach our kids how to function as good citizens in the “real” or offline world from the time they are old enough to walk and talk. As they embark upon their digital lives, with any aspect of technology, we need to take the same approach and reinforce the same lessons of good citizenship. Called “digital citizenship, the goal is to teach our kids how to behave when using technology and how to be good people to each other when interacting with each other via technology. By learning these lessons as they learn the technology, they’ll understand the rules of etiquette that comes with the use of things like cell phones, game systems and computers and be able to handle the odd faceless communication that comes with these devices better than kids are today. By learning to be good digital citizens and treat each other well via technology, issues with technology use such as cyberbullying, sexting, cyber harassment and those sorts of issues will begin to become less frequent.

3. KeepThe Message RITE And You’ll Always Be On The Right Digital Path. This is the most important lesson our kids need to understand as they learn to become good digital citizens, and is not always easy when tempers are high and with kids who are still developing themselves and trying to understand the social dynamics of complicated teen years. However, by teaching kids how to post to digital venues appropriately, whether it be a text, email or Facebook wall post, kids will be able to send more thoughtful messages and avoid messages that come across as hurtful, whether intentional or unintentional.

So, help your kids send the RITE message: Read the message before you send it. Is it hurtful or misleading? Imagine if you received the message. Would you be hurt or upset or mislead? Think about sending the message later. Enter and send the message only after RITE have been done.

4. Dr. Gwenn’s Simple TECH Support For Your Family: Catch up for you...safety for all. Talk to your kids about their online activities. Educate yourself on online safety issues and programs you need to brush up on. Check your child’s computer and cell phone; follow through on violations of home rules. Have a family house rule plan for digital use that everyone follows - adults and kids.

5. Preventing cyberbullying truly takes a village. It involves parents, teachers and community leaders all reinforcing to kids the important lessons of what it means to be a good digital citizen so as they get older they understand what is and isn’t allowed when it comes to proper behavior with the many forms of technology available to them today. The more we can partner with our kids in their digital lives, the more we can help them understand the ins and outs of how to behave in those lives and avoid the mistakes that lead to issues like cyberbullying in the first place.

6. Monitoring Programs Best Use is For Family Discussion. There are many programs available to help monitor your kids’ computer and cell phone use. Some are free and some are via a fee. I review the most popular and trust worth programs in CyberSafe and all accomplish what they set out to do. If you feel you need some sort of program to keep tabs of what your kids are doing online, the biggest asset of all these programs is to monitor what your kids are doing and use what you learn to talk to your kids and help them improve their online behaviors.

7. Never say never when it comes to your kids. Even good kids make mistakes and do hurtful things to other kids at times. It doesn’t help our kids to blindly defend them if we learn they made a digital mistake and hurt another child or, worse, engaged in something more serious such as cyberbullying or sexting. If we discover our kids have engaged in one of these more serious digital activities, the best way to support our kids is to get them the help they need so the behavior will stop and they will learn from their mistakes.

8. What goes online stays online. While it is true we can delete a post or an image, by the time we’ve done that, it’s already been copied by that website’s back up system so it never truly goes away and we can’t guarantee it hasn’t already been passed on to someone else. The only way to guarantee something we don’t want others to see is not passed on is to not post it to begin with - to stop and think before we post and make sure the message we are posting is RITE (see above).

9. The Best Online Friends Are People We Know Offline. Our kids tend to collect online friends very quickly but in the end those lists become long lists of acquaintances and strangers. That opens them up to digital risk because the people on their friends list tend to be many people they do not personally know but only “meet” online through other friends. The best rule of thumb for our kids, and all of us, is to only “friend” people we know in the real world, people who add real value to our online lives. That will keep our information safe online and keep our kids safe from having someone on their lists who may not be who they claim to be.

10. You are your child’s best cyber safety net! Be involved with your kids online and show an interest. The digital world is a phenomenal and amazing place to co-exist with your kids. You can learn a great deal about them and they you. By being involved, you also keep them safe. So, start today.

About Gwenn: A pediatrician, health journalist, and CEO of Pediatrics Now (http://pediatricsnow.com), Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe, M.D., FAAP is also the author of the new book CyberSafe (American Academy of Pediatrics). In her blog “Dr. Gwenn Is In” (www.drgwennisin.com), which is regularly syndicated by Reuters, Livestrong.org, and USA Today, she addresses a range of issues, including social media, general health and health care.