Winter break is upon us. What are you going to do with that time? While the holidays are a great opportunity to bond with family and friends over fun winter activities, there is still a lot of down time for kids and teens. These days, down time often means a lot of screen time. But this can pose a risk for kids’ health and safety. When teenagers are online without your knowledge or supervision, they can get into trouble with online predators and bullies. If you have not taken the time to talk to your kids about how they can protect themselves, this time off from school and work is a perfect occasion to do so.
Revisit Safety Measures
If your kids are teenagers, then chances are you grew up as the Internet developed. But young people have not. They are bombarded with countless possibilities to connect with other people, and it is all they have ever known. They may believe the Internet to be safe, but it is not. In a website dedicated to stopping cyber bullying, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that you take the following steps:
- Be a friend: follow your children’s activities on social media. “Friend” them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, or ask a trusted adult to do the same.
- Be a parent: Monitor their communications regularly, by phone, computer and tablet.
- Be aware: Do not assume that because you are friends with them on social media, you can see everything they are posting. Ask to see their accounts as well, as they see them.
- Teach them to fight bullying: remind your teenagers that cyber bullying relies largely on people to watch silently while victims are attacks by bullies. Encourage your kids to tell you if they see that they or anyone else is suffering from bullying.
- Teach your kids to protect themselves: Make sure that they understand how online predators and bullies work. Show them, if you can, how quickly a simple picture can reach thousands or even millions of people. Remind them that everything posted to the Internet will be there forever.
Enjoy Unplugged Time
One of the easiest ways to help your kids avoid trouble on the Internet is to get off the Internet. People are so connected that it is often difficult to put down your phone or tablet to have a real conversation with your family. Enjoy outdoor activities as a family, such as a walk to see holiday lights, or acts of service for those less fortunate. The time you spend disconnected from your devices will support true connection among your whole family.
One of the best gifts you can give your teenagers this year is a sense that they can protect themselves while they are online but that you are also there to help. For a better understanding of the potential dangers and risks out there, feel free to reach out to a friend or colleague who has an online public safety degree. That way, they can start the new year with hope and renewal, as they should.