Teaching our children to stay safe online

The internet is a fantastic way to connect and communicate with people across the world. Whether you’re talking to your friend from high school or a family member who has moved thousands of kilometres away, the world wide web is a great way to stay in touch. Unfortunately, there’s also a darker side to the internet, opening up a whole new world to bullies, sexual predators and other criminals. And it’s our children who are falling victim to them. So how can we teach them to stay safe online?

The most important thing is to accept that, even though you may not know much about computers and the internet, as a parent is it your responsibility to ensure your child’s safety. It’s impossible to keep kids away from online technology, so you need to familiarise yourself with this new world.

Start by teaching your children that not everyone online is who they appear to be. Just because someone says they are your age and like playing your favourite video games too, doesn’t mean it’s true. Paedophiles are grooming minors over the internet with simple lies and stories, and it’s important for children to understand that they should never trust strangers online.

Secondly, remind your children that they shouldn’t share private information online. This has become a lot harder in today’s world of social media, which is all about sharing personal data and talking about your “offline” life. But your children should know that it’s never okay to provide their address, phone number or name of their school.

As a parent, talk to your children about their online friends. Don’t interrogate them, but show that you are interested. Familiarise yourself with Facebook and other popular websites so you understand what your child is talking about.

Some parents choose to monitor their children’s online behaviour. Others believe this is an invasion of privacy. It’s a personal decision, but regardless of what you decide to do, make sure you talk to your children about it. The key to keeping your children safe is open, honest dialogue, and without trust this is impossible.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, make sure your children understand that it’s never okay to meet someone they’ve met online in person. The ultimate goal of the internet predator is to arrange a meeting in person, alone, where they easily take advantage of the situation.

It’s not easy to think or talk about your child falling victim to an online predator, but the reality is that this is happening increasingly often. The only way to keep your child safe is to teach them what not to do, and create an ongoing dialogue so that you are aware of what is going on in their online life.