The internet provides a wealth of information and opportunities, both good and bad, for kids, but how do you ensure that they understand what the internet is, and the risks associated with using it? Some parents will simply let their child dive in and hope that they learn what the internet is about themselves, others, especially those that are not particularly technologically savvy, will not really understand the internet themselves and so won’t even know how to explain it to their kids. Both of these are a recipe for disaster as it leaves children exceedingly vulnerable to falling foul of the many pitfalls that the internet contains and that can trip up the unwary.
So, in order to prepare your child for life in the modern world, you need to sit down and have what I call ‘the internet conversation’ with them and you need to make sure that you have it with them before they start using the internet (and you would be surprised how early children start using some elements of the internet these days). The exact nature of this talk will vary from child to child, and will depend on their age, but as a starting point, I’ve put together a set of ten rules for using the internet which can be used as the basis for having this talk with your child. Discussing these rules with your kids won’t guarantee their safety, but it will hopefully mean that they will be much better prepared for a life lived online, and so will be less likely to become an accidental victim of our increasingly interconnected world. So what are these ten rules? Well, read on to find out.
Rule One: The Internet Is Both Very Good And Very Bad.
The internet contains an incredible amount of information. Much of it is good, but some of it is very, very bad. Make sure you stick to the good bits, and don’t get drawn into the bad bits. If you want to know whether something is a good bit or a bad bit, simply ask yourself one simple question: ‘Would I be happy with someone looking over my shoulder and seeing what I’m reading or looking at?’ If The answer is no, then you probably should not be reading it or looking at it in the first place.
Rule Two: No Matter How Private It Seems, The Internet Is Never Private.
Never assume that anything on the internet is private. It’s not. It might not always seem like it, but the internet (every single part of it) is a very public place, just like a town centre, and you should not do anything on it that you would not be happy for everyone else to see or to know about. As a general rule, if you would not do it in your local town centre, then do not do it on the internet.
Rule Three: Most Things On The Internet Are Not True.
A very large amount of the stuff that is on the internet is untrue (or, at least, it is the opinion of other people rather than being facts – no matter how strongly they claim that they are facts). This means that you always need to use your commonsense to filter what you read, hear or see in photographs and videos. Remember that photos and videos can be edited to show very different things from what they originally contained. As a result, do not uncritically believe anything you come across, and always look to back it up with additional information from a truly independent data source. This is true of life off the internet too.
Rule Four: If Something Seems To Good To Be True – It Probably Is.
Just as in real life, if something seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is, so do not click on links which are offering things that seem to be too good to be true. Nothing is free, even on the internet, and you end up paying one way or another.
Rule Five: Be Very Careful What You Look At.
Don’t watch videos unless you are very sure that you want to see their content. You cannot unwatch videos once you have watched them, no matter how much you would want to. The same goes for looking at pictures, you cannot unsee them once you have looked at them, and they can stay in your head for a very long time.
Rule Six: Never Give Out Personal Information.
Never give out your home address, name, age or phone number to anyone you have only met on the internet, and never arrange to meet anyone who you, and your parents, do not already know in real life. This is because people on the internet are not always who they seem or pretend to be. Similarly, never give out your personal details to people who are offering you money. This is always a scam of some description or another, and it can get you into a lot of trouble.
Rule Seven: Be Careful What You Click On.
Never click on a link in an email which asks you to put in your username or password, no matter what. These are always spam, or attempts to steal your identity. Instead, if you have an account with a specific company, always visit the site directly. As a general rule, if you are in any way in doubt about the validity of an email, do not click on a link in it. Instead, ask someone else for a second opinion.
Rule Eight: Never Share A Photo Or Video You Would Not Want Everyone To See.
Never send or post someone a photograph or video of yourself that you would not be happy with everyone in the world being able to see – forever. It might seem like a bit of harmless fun at the time, but once you post something on the internet, you no longer have control over it and it is almost impossible to get it back or get it taken down. As a result, always think twice about what you post. The same goes for sending people photos or videos as private phone messages or in emails. As a general rule, if you think, ‘My parents would kill me if they ever saw this …’, then don’t post it on the internet or share it with anyone else. Better still, do not take the picture or the video in the first place!
Rule Nine: Once Something Is Posted On The Internet, It Is Impossible To Unpost.
Always think twice before posting, messaging or emailing anything to anyone, and never send or post anything in the spur of the moment, especially if you are angry. Once something is sent or posted, you cannot get it back. Similarly, never post anything on the internet that you would not want everyone else to read or to know about you (now or in the future), and never post anything about someone that you would not say to their face. The same goes for sending people private phone messages or emails.
Rule Ten: If You Think You’ve Screwed Up, Tell Someone – They Won’t Be As Mad As You Think They’ll Be.
You are allowed to have a ‘get out of jail’ free card. This means that you can go to an adult you trust and say ‘I think I’ve screwed up …’. As long as you are honest about it, they will be able to help you sort it out, and no one else necessarily needs to know about it. The important thing is that if you get into an awkward situation, that you feel you have a way out of it.
So these are my ten rules for using the internet. As I said at the start, I’m not suggesting that you simply print them out and hand them to your child. Instead, you should use them as a useful starting point for discussing what the internet is and how a child (or indeed anyone) should use it. Depending on the age of your child, you may want to start by discussing one or two of these rules (and rules one, two and eight are probably the ones I would start with), and then later build up to discussing the others as they grow older and want to use more and more of the resources that are out there. In addition, discussing the internet should not be a one-off talk, instead it should be an ongoing conversation that evolves as your child grows up and their knowledge of the internet evolves.
However, even if you have discussed these rules with them, they should never be given a completely free rein to explore the internet on their own, and you need to ensure that every device your child will use has been set up to offer them the appropriate level of protection for their age, but we will return to that subject in a later post. After all, you wouldn’t send a young child out into the real world without ensuring that they had the appropriate supervision, and you shouldn’t do this in the virtual world either!
About The Author: This post was written by Colin Drysdale, the creator of How To Raise A Happy Genius.