By: Andrea Dillon
We live in a time of technology, and it has embedded itself into our everyday lives. With no surprise, our children are quickly becoming masters of these devices and often understand them more than we ever could begin to. That is good because they will need to understand and use technology in the future. However, this also has downfalls as technology can lead to e unsafe aspects for our children.
Homeschool parents are not new to the online world. Many of us have been using the internet for a while. We use it to find resources, reach out to others, and learn ourselves, but how do we transfer what we have learned over the years to our children? How can we help our children safely use the internet to socialize online?
What is virtual socialization?
Virtual socialization is a conversation that happens over devices instead of face-to-face. While we are more aware of this idea now, it has been going on for many years. We have been communicating remotely since the 1800s via telegraph then followed by telephones, two-way radios, cell phones, and now the internet through various apps, gaming systems, and video chatting programs.
For homeschooling, many families use virtual socialization to connect to other homeschooling families near and far. This can be in the form of homeschool groups online, private servers set up for chatting and playing games, video conferencing for fun, or classes online. While most of these are relatively safe to start with, it is essential to discuss the internet and internet safety before opening this world up for your child to use.
How do I talk to my child about the internet?
The internet is a wild, weird world. There are recipes, news articles, cat videos, shopping, games, chat rooms…so much stuff that it can be overwhelming for adults, let alone children. One of the biggest challenges of a parent today is to explain the internet to children.
What is the internet? Webster defines it as “an electronic communications network that connects computer networks and organizational computer facilities around the world,” but that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, so I know it won’t make sense to my children. I explain the internet as an electronic world. Ralph Breaks the Internet is a good overview to share with your kids. There is a lot of good on the internet. But just like the real world, there is a lot to be wary of as well. So we have to be cautious about where we go, what we do, and who we trust.
What are some of the dangers my kids might find online?
Like it or not there are dangers everywhere for our children. The internet isn’t any different. What are some dangers your children might come across while online?
- Bully is one of the biggest dangers online. As humans, we tend to forget that we are communicating with a real person with thoughts and feelings while we are online, which makes it easier to say and do things that one wouldn’t do face-to-face.
- Cyber predators are another big concern when our children are online. Many sexual and other types of predators will follow and try to gain the trust of children on the internet because of their lack of supervision and innocence.
- Phishers looking to gain access to private information is another concern. These people will target children and teens for their impulse on clicking links and attachments without thinking about the consequences beforehand.
How can I explain internet safety to my child?
A lot of the same real-life guidelines you may have already taught your children can also be applied to internet socialization safety.
- Don’t give out personal information. You tell your children not to tell strangers at the park their address, and so tell them to not tell strangers online your address either.
- Trust your gut! Encourage your children to trust their feelings. If they don’t feel comfortable talking to someone, that is okay. Our gut feelings are there for a reason, and it is perfectly okay to shut down and walk away (log out) if they don’t feel comfortable.
- Be careful what you share. Talk to your children about oversharing. Explain that we don’t go and tell everyone we meet everything in real life, so they don’t want to do that online either. Stress that being online also has the downfall of everything being saved. Make sure they understand that all of those pictures and chats can be spread to more than their intended recipient. Remind them that if it isn’t something you would want to say or show to everyone in the world, then don’t say or show it online.
- Don’t follow strangers. I am sure you have talked to your children about not getting into the van for candy or follow the stranger looking for their lost dog in the real world, so relate that to online as well. Tell them not to follow the stranger online no matter what funny video or free Minecraft skin is promised. Explain that they shouldn’t download things or follow links to other places that strangers send without your permission.
- Never share your passwords. Tell your children to think of their passwords as the key to their house. Passwords are special and are only to be used by specific trusted people that have your permission.
- Manners count! I’m not necessarily talking about please and thank you, though those are always good. Remind your children that just because they aren’t physically with the person on the other end of the screen doesn’t give them permission to say hurtful things.
- Keep Communication Open. Make sure you children know that if they ever feel unsure about anything online they can come and talk to you or another trusted adult for help.
Other ways to protect your child online:
Talking to your children and knowing what they are doing online is always the best way to protect them; however, you do have tools available out there to help.
- Google offers Google Family Link that can help you set rules and protections which let them navigate the internet world safely. This program can help with Chromebooks, cell phones, and computers using the Chrome browser.
- Microsoft offers Microsoft Family that can help protect and guide your children on windows powered devices as well as the gaming system Xbox.
- Apple offers built-in tools to help you monitor and protect your children while they are using any Apple devices.
The above tools are free to use with those specific devices. However, there are a multitude of free and paid options for parental control and technology guidance for you to pick from to help protect your children as they navigate the online world.
The internet can be a fantastic tool for adults and children alike to learn, socialize, and play. Knowing how to help your children use it safely is vital. Talk to your children about these internet socialization guidelines and set up some tools to help them navigate the internet safely, and you will be ready to go!