Remember when our parents talked to us about strangers when we were children? It probably went somewhere along the lines of not taking candy from people we don’t know, or inspecting closely what we got for Halloween after trick-or-treating.
Fast forward to 2017. A whopping 83% of middle school children have a mobile phone and/or social media accounts. So in addition to the questionable characters that they may be exposed to in the outside world, now we also have to worry about safety when they’re at home. Their safe haven is not as foolproof as ours was a few decades ago.
What’s a parent to do?
As with every other aspect of raising our children, it will depend on their age. The younger they are, the less likely it is they would be interacting online with someone they don’t know. But there are still guidelines they should follow in order to stay as safe as they can.
They need to trust their instincts:
If someone makes them feel uncomfortable, or asks them to keep a secret, or to lie, or suggests inappropriate touching, these are clear cut examples that someone is up to no good. Teach your children to trust themselves. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. If an adult is crossing a line, tell them it’s ok to yell “NO!” and to seek help from another adult, such as a police officer, a teacher, or even another stranger who may be close by. If they’re playing outside, they need to run inside and tell a family member, immediately.
Not taking gifts from strangers:
The good old candy advice still applies today. There is no reason for a person who doesn’t know our children to be offering anything to them. It is not rude to walk away. Our babies don’t owe an interaction to anyone. This includes not answering when someone asks for their name, or trying to engage them in conversation. It’s one thing when they’re grocery shopping with mom or dad and someone makes small talk at the cash register. It’s an entirely different story when someone approaches them while they’re on their own.
Monitoring Social Media:
If your child is a pre-teen or teenager, chances are they want their privacy; and taking into account that so many of them have their own cell phone, it’s harder to track their behavior. If they have a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, SnapChat, or any other type of social media account, regularly check their privacy settings and the type of pictures they post online. You can also install software on their cell phones, such as My Mobile Watchdog, to track their Internet usage from their mobile devices. Stay on top of new technologies, and make it clear to your kids that you monitoring their Internet use is non-negotiable.
Above everything else, stay involved in your child’s life. It’s the only way to notice any changes in moods or any indication that something might be bothering them. Be an involved parent from the time they’re small, so that if something does come up, they feel comfortable talking to you about it.
To their success, always,