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Maintaining Communication with Your Child About Safe Internet Usage

June 27, 2022

Each year, National Internet Safety Month falls in the month of June and reminds parents, caregivers and community members the importance of age-appropriate conversations about internet usage and continual check-ins.

Internet platforms today are our children’s way of socialization. While they can be positive and encourage better communication skills, there is risk. The reality is that adults can use social media, online gaming and messaging apps to distribute and collect Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM). CSAM is defined by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) as sexual abuse and exploitation of children through any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (a person less than 18 years old). Not only do these images and videos show exploitation and abuse, but the child victims also suffer re-victimization each time the image is shared and viewed. The lack of boundaries on the internet creates risks for children to become exploited online. The Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center has also seen a recent rise in youth exploiting one another. This can have detrimental impacts to the child whose content is being shared publicly—to include bullying and feelings of shame.

“It is important to treat a child’s online environment the same way you would treat a child’s physical environment. As a parent or caregiver, you should know ‘where they are going, how they are getting there and who they are spending time with,” says Beverly Hutchison, Executive Director of the Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center. “You may not have total control over what your children do online, but you can set the rules and expectations of their internet use and talk about the potential risks when rules are broken.”

The Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center has compiled guidance for parents and caregivers to ensure children are engaging in safe internet practices. Even more, how to respond when they engage in unsafe internet usage.

  • Discuss rules, expectations and consequences before giving your child internet access. Teach children the importance of not sharing personal information online. Require your approval before creating any online profiles. Talk to your children about the pictures they are taking of themselves and that their friends are taking of them. Emphasize that they should never share a compromising picture with another individual—no matter the circumstance. Remind them technology use is a privilege that comes with maturity and trust, and their devices can be taken away from them if that trust is broken.
  • Communicate openly about the risks and dangers of technology. If you decide a website or app is not age-appropriate, or is not being used appropriately, explain why beyond “because I told you so.” Be transparent and clear on your concerns. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, exploitation happens to both boys and girls. On average, boys depicted in CSAM are younger than girls and more likely to have not yet reached puberty. Seventy-eight percent of reports regarding online enticement involved girls. Reinforce if they tell you something is wrong, or if they feel unsafe and tell you, they will not get in trouble.
  • Make online privacy a family value. With location-tracking social media, children can reveal their physical locations to their contacts—and to those they don’t know personally. By creating strict privacy settings (not letting apps share data, turning off location services, using secure Wi-Fi and passwords) on accounts your child creates, you can protect their information, data and physical wellbeing.
  • Remain calm when your child comes to you for help or information. Children and teens are curious. If they get into a site or app and come to you with a concern, thank them for sharing with you. It is not uncommon for youth to be asked to share photos of themselves with their significant others. Remind them that just because they are in a relationship does not mean they should send compromising photos to anyone. Let them know you are here to protect them. A calm response can determine whether they come to you about their safety in the future. Should a concern arise, contact Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center, your local law enforcement or NCMEC.

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