Virtual “friends”: How to keep your children safe while online

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO)– Since the start of the pandemic, both kids and adults are online even more, often unsupervised.

In order to keep children safe while using these digital platforms, it is important that parents stay involved. The United States Department of Justice says that parents should know the apps their children use, use parental controls when possible and block and report people who make them feel uncomfortable.

“One of the greatest things that we have is this resource of technology,” Josh Smith, Freshman Academy Coordinator at Lincoln High School, said. “But the greatest challenge is how do we use it for good?”

Smith says as a parent, it is important to educate yourself about the good and bad aspects of social media first, and then have those conversations with kids. It is good to know what apps are out there and what the kids are accessing.

When it comes to educating kids about social media use, Smith says to set guidelines. Time spent should be discussed or regulated with the child.

He also recommends checking the safety settings to see if all the settings are on private, and if they aren’t, find out why.

It is important to educate kids on how they portray themselves online and the long-term effects that can have, Smith says.

Officer Robert Draeger, School Resource Officer at Lincoln High School, says it is up to parents to monitor what their students are doing on social media and it is ok to be in their child’s business.

If you have a computer, Draeger recommends setting up the screen so that it is visible and keep track of the kid’s mobile devices.

“It is not out of line for you to have your children leave their phones somewhere at night so they don’t have them in bed at night,” Draeger said. “We find that that’s a common place where they feel safe, they can get online and do things they really aren’t supposed to be doing.”

A big concern with social media is that strangers can form relationships with people, Smith says. Those strangers can track and find out more about the person. In those situations, he says parents need to be very involved and active in explaining that to their kids.

Draeger says that people can lie on social media and an issue he sees is kids talking to people who they don’t really know on the internet.

“Just because that person says they are a 15-year-old or a 14-year-old or something like that doesn’t mean it,” Draeger said.

Draeger recommends sitting down with kids and showing them news stories to show them that this is happening and it’s happening in their area, not far away.

A lot of the issues that Smith sees with teens on social media comes from the interaction among peers.

“One of our greatest concerns is just that students have been giving this powerful communication tool…and not all students have developed socially and emotionally to be adapted to using that tool,” Smith said.

When it comes to online bullying, Draeger says it is important for students to report concerning posts, tell a parent about it and don’t respond if they see someone posting something harmful.

“Don’t throw the fuel on the fire,” Draeger said.

Smith says both parents and educators want to help students understand where they are developmentally and make sure they understand the content on social media and, if they need to respond, how they should go about that.

“You don’t always have to respond. Sometimes you can block things. Sometimes you can just put it aside and if it’s really harmful, you can report it,” Smith said.

A red flag for parents to watch for is if their children keep their social media private from them, Smith says. There are some parents who require that they know their children’s login information for their social media platforms, as well as different apps that allow parents to monitor their kids social media.

As students get older, Smith says it is important to help them grow and become responsible in understanding how to properly use social media.

“Does what you’re doing online match up with who you are as a person and what your family represents and what your school represents?” Smith said.

Parents need to be involved in kids’ activities, Draeger says, but kids also need to take some responsibility and not go places they shouldn’t be.


The Department of Justice’s tips to keeping children safe online

The Department of Justice provided a list of tips parents, guardians, caregivers and teachers can implement to protect their children from becoming victims of online child predators.

These tips include:

  • Discussing internet safety and developing an online safety plan
  • Supervising young children’s use of the internet
  • Reviewing games, apps and social media sites before they are downloaded or used by children
  • Adjusting privacy settings and using parental controls
  • Telling children about body safety and boundaries
  • Being alert to potential signs of abuse
  • Encouraging children to tell a parent, guardian or other trusted adult if anyone asks them to engage in sexual activity or other inappropriate behavior
  • Immediately reporting suspected online enticement or sexual exploitation of a child by calling 911, contacting the FBI or filling a report with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children online or at 1-800-843-5678

How is Lincoln High School protecting kids online?

At Lincoln High School, they value access to the internet, Smith says, and they utilize it through school Chromebooks.

One resource the school has is the ability to block all the sites and social media sites that are a concern, he says. However, they do not have that ability through the students’ phones, and Smith says he is concerned about how the access on phones is being utilized when the student is unsupervised.

“We ultimately have to teach, teach people how to use the resources responsibly,” Smith said.

The school relies on word-of-mouth to educate students on social media safety, he says. When they find a situation where there is online conflict between students, there may be disciplinary consequences, but there is always a discussion that happens about using technology appropriately.

They also talk to students about how to properly use phones in a school setting, Smith says. It depends on the teacher and some students may see that as an option to use phones in a way they shouldn’t during class.

“In specific situations, we really have great conversations with students and try to help them see the way forward,” Smith said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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