Like it or not, the means of communication available to our children have changed considerably over the last ten years. They don’t meet or call each other as often, but they’re constantly in touch over social networks.
At any age between 11 and 14, depending on the latest teenage trend and to some extent on local laws, your son or daughter will want to set up an account on Facebook or VKontakte for themselves, but a significant share of the responsibility for what they do online lies with their parents.
Saying No Is Useless
Some parents wait for some magical round figure, like turning sixteen or some other event, refusing to let them register on social networks until then. This is an effort in futility, because teenagers will do it when it becomes impossible for them not to in their class. And if you try to stop them, they’ll just do it behind your back, pure and simple. You don’t want that. Resistance is futile; you have to take the lead.
Lots of Screens
If you have a PC in your living room and you think that now you can monitor your children’s online activity, you’ve left out of the equation smart phones, tablets, school computers, televisions, video game consoles and, it would appear, refrigerators. They can contact their friends using any of these, and their instrument of choice will be none other than the smart phone. This fact can lead to all kinds of mischief, which both you and your child should be aware of.
A smart phone will be the home screen for your child. Remember this, and take it into consideration when you establish rules.
It’s easy to forget when you’re communicating via computer or smart phone that there are billions of people on the Internet, all of them just a couple of clicks away. And that’s how far they are from your child. They can attract the online interest of scammers of various types, trolling in varying degrees of venality and worst of all, people like pedophiles. To protect yourself best from such threats, you need to learn the rules of online security, which are every bit as important as driving rules. The rules are simple: never give anybody your name, where you go to school or where you live, tell your parents or other responsible adults about any conversations on worrisome topics and carefully monitor content publicly available on the Internet. Photos and videos are especially dangerous, since from images you can tell what is going on, and smart phones very obligingly supply geotags. This function should be fully disabled to avoid problems with your teenager’s smart phone.
The Most Important Rule
The most serious mistake that both adults and children make on the Internet is feeling as if the whole thing is a game. When you don’t have a person in front of you and don’t get normal feedback in the form of gestures, intonation and mimicry, it’s easy to feel that it’s all a game, and you end up saying too much. The second mistake is not understanding the extent to which the circle of people you know and don’t know, along with mindless robots, will see every word said on the Internet. This is precisely why one of the most important things that you need to explain to your teenager for the rest of his or her life is to never write on the Internet what you can’t say to somebody to their face, in front of their whole class and all their friends. Only people who have understood and internalized this rule are qualified to operate at large on social networks.
For ease of remembrance, you can divide this rule into two parts: write more carefully than you speak, and every word and action always has some consequence.
Don’t write on the Internet what you can’t say to somebody to their face, in front of friends.
Agree before you Embark
Even if you’re sure that your child understands all the rules, every now and then a parent’s heart wants to make sure that things are going smoothly. Don’t do this secretly; the best thing to do is to agree with your son or daughter on how monitoring will work. Is your child comfortable with sharing the password to their profile? Adding parents as friends? Or trusting to the tender mercies of a special parent control program? If properly used, the last of these options can be the least painful, since the better programs are designed to raise flags in specific situations (such as when certain key words appear in correspondence) without it being necessary to review all correspondence.
Possible anticipatory “administrative measures” such as blocking access to the Internet before homework is completed or surrendering personal smart phones for serious violations may be advisable. Of course, this means that it is necessary to observe measures and minimally limit the freedom of your children when they conduct themselves responsibly.
Fear of Bullying
One of the most dangerous things that happens with teenagers on social networks is online bullying by their peers (lately the English calque cyberbullying is often used). Researchers have shown that this is no laughing matter, and it has long-term consequences impacting the fate of victims. There are two major serious differences between online bullying and regular annoyances at school: online harassment goes on constantly and doesn’t end after school, and it takes on even uglier and more exaggerated forms due to the absence of personal contact, as mentioned above.
There are a wide variety of forms: getting the password of an enemy and writing things on social networks in his or her name, uploading photos showing the victim in embarrassing situations for classmates to see, disclosing to others something told in secret, and so on. These forms of bullying do not often come to the attention of grownups, but they seriously depress teenagers, so if there is any doubt or an unexplained bad mood or the like, serious efforts need to be exerted, from discussions to monitoring by parental control methods to discovering and putting a halt to the bullying. There are various organizations in different countries that help parents, but even where they don’t exist there is one good option: turn for help from the school that your children attend. The opposite is also possible: you discover that your child is bullying others. Your reaction should also be immediate and total; you need to understand how serious and dangerous this is and what consequences may ensue (there have even been cases of suicides of victims, with offenders facing criminal liability charges).
Know what your Children Are Interested in
Social networks are not the only things that interest children nowadays. Our colleagues regularly collect KSN (Kaspersky Security Network) statistics based on notifications to the “Parent Monitoring” module. These enable them to evaluate what categories of websites with undesirable content children most often fall into. These statistics are collected anonymously from computers with the “Parent Monitoring” module operating, regardless of whether the category is noted by the parents (whether it is blocked by “Parent Monitoring”). We excluded social networks from the analysis and created a site visit rating for ten categories we selected in Russia:
It should be noted that the percentage of visitors to sites in the categories “Weapons” and “Uncensored vocabulary” were greater in Russia than for other countries analyzed; only in Russia were these categories in the top third of the rating. You can find more details on the rating at the SecureList site.
Become a Fellow Traveler
The best way not to lose contact with your children as they embark in the world of the Internet is to do something together. Help then to start their FB account and to properly set up their level of confidentiality. Read the relevant notifications (for example, on our site and that of our friends, Threatpost) and tell your child that photographs in Snapchat never self-destruct, and that based on contextual advertising it is possible to guess what a child has been looking for in Google. Teenagers are seriously concerned about confidentiality issues, so by being of one mind with your child on this issue a parent can earn a few confidence points.