We find ourselves in 2023 with more access to information, entertainment and social connections than ever before. If we look back over the last year, the need for electronic communication was essential for day to day life, as we found ourselves in the middle of a world-wide pandemic. Those of us who could transition to remote work or work from home, relied on the internet to continue working. Those of us who are social creatures, and need that community of friends to survive, found ways to communicate through Zoom, FaceTime, Messenger and the list goes on.
Our children, on the other hand, who were about halfway through the school year were faced with daunting task, remote learning. Even as I type those words, I involuntarily cringe, remembering scores of friends in the education world, and parents of young children navigating this new way of learning, often with frustrating results.
This gets us to the point of internet safety. As parents, guardians and trusted adults, we all know the importance of limiting screen time for our young people. During 2020 and into 2021 our young people had no choice but to be online for large portions of the day. When you then factor in the entire country being shutdown to limit the spread of COVID-19, the internet became the escape. Whether it was streaming entertainment, posting on social media, or searching for toilet paper and other essentials, we all relied on the internet.
But the question remains; “How do I stay safe while surfing the internet?” There are several strategies that can be used, and I will use the remainder of this blog to outline some of these measures.
One of the simplest things that can be done, is to not allow our young people to use devices where we can’t monitor what they are doing. Back in the day of personal computers being the main connection to the internet, they would generally be in a fixed location. Now, with smart phones, gaming systems and other devices that have access via Wi-Fi or cellular data, it is easier for our young people to come across potentially dangerous content without any adult being aware. The chances of being randomly contacted by a stranger have increased tremendously in recent years.
As parents or guardians, we must educate our young people about the reality that a person that contacts us through social media or other internet connections, may not be who they say they are. This is a typical method of those who seek out children and youth to exploit them, a grooming process to build trust.
We all remember that bully that would torment us or others. Imagine that same bully being able to continue that torment twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week? That is what our young people are facing with cyberbullying. It has been so prevalent in recent years, that there are laws that impose strict punishment for any person proven to be actively cyberbullying peers. Our young people need to feel safe to tell us adults when they are feeling threatened.
One final thought is to be sure we all understand that if it is on the internet, it is there forever! An innocent photo, uploaded to social media can be copied, a screen shot taken or downloaded and manipulated with free software, easily available through iTunes and Google Playstore.
We have the responsibility as adults to not only be involved in the physical portion of our young persons lives, we have an equally important role in the virtual realm. It is perfectly fine, and within your right as a parent or guardian to have access to all electronic devices and occasionally ask for that device to look at the apps that are installed, and photos that are stored.
Before my children were able to get on any social media platform, the understanding was that I would be among the first to be added as a “friend”. No discussion! No arguing! We don’t trust others to teach other basic fundamentals of life, why let their friends and peers be the ones to teach them to be responsible social media participants?
Now, let’s all go surf safely!