REALITY CHECK: Did you know that a recent survey found that almost 70 percent of adolescents say the best way for them to be safe online is through education? Are you educating your child how to be safe online?
Let’s face it: it is a different world, and one big crucial parenting task is to make sure that our kids learn how to be safe online.
While there are dozens of talks we can have with our kids and even dozens more rules and tips we can teach, unfortunately kids say most of our glorious lessons are not remembered.
But when it comes to safety, it’s critical to find a way for those life lessons to stick. One way is to teach kids “rules” via acronyms. In fact, many of my students and clients tell me that acronyms helped them remember a crucial tip not only in the “here and now” but also when they are away from the book, chart or someone reminding them. That process is called “learning transfer,” and it’s the key to helping kids acquire new habits.
After all, it’s when our kids can apply those crucial life lessons when we’re not around that we can breathe a bit easier, knowing they will be safer. The real test of parenting is when our kids can act right without us. Here are four rules every child – and parent – should know.
S.A.F.E.: Four Online Safety Rules
I teach kids the acronym S.A.F.E. to help them learn online safety. The strategy is from my latest book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. Each letter in S.A.F.E. stands for one of the four simple rules that helps kids know what to do to ward off cyber-bullying.
Review each rule over and over with your son or daughter until S.A.F.E. becomes second nature. Here are the four rules. You might want to write them on a chart and tape them to that computer until your child has these glued to memory!
S – Stop and Don’t Click!
Never ever respond to a cyber-bully. Responding can only intensify things. Remember, bullies want a reaction and power. They generally lack empathy so they will enjoy knowing you’re upset. Of course that vicious e-mail or those untrue comments make you upset (you should be!), but don’t give a bully the pleasure of knowing that you are upset. Doing so gives bullies the rise they want – power over someone else’s feelings.
Don’t let them win! Don’t click!
In fact, never respond to any comment on or offline when you are upset or angry.
The trick is to learn to put the “pause” button on your hand and brain. Once you send or say that message, there are no take-backs.
Instead teach yourself a strategy to help you put yourself on pause and calm down. Just pausing for a few seconds can be enough to help you fight that urge to hit the send button. In those few seconds you could do one of these instead to help you fight that urge to click:
- Post a reminder note on your monitor or cell: “Don’t click! Pause!”
- Do “five” (five push-ups, jumping-jacks, deep breaths, or anything!)
- Count to 10 slowly while standing with your back turned away.
- Put your monitor in sleep mode or turn your cell phone off.
- Walk away.
- Call a friend.
- Plug yourself into your MP3 player and listen to music.
- Do anything but don’t click! Yell inside your head: “Don’t click!”
A –Tell a Trusted Adult
Don’t keep bullying to yourself! It will only boost your stress. Besides, cyber-bullying is generally repeated so it doesn’t go away. That’s why you do not want to respond to the first attack (or second or third) and you do want to tell a trusted adult.
Report any threat or vicious, untrue or cruel message about you (or a friend) immediately to a parent, teacher or an adult you trust. Show the message as evidence. If that adult does not help you (and it may be because they don’t know what to do,) then go to another and another and another until you get the help you need.
Meanwhile, your parent should get you a new account and password immediately.
You should always change your password periodically anyway.
F – Filter out Personal Information
Privacy online is critical.
Some things must be kept secret.
Never ever give out personal information such as your name (or your parent’s name), address, phone number, birthdate, social security number or credit card number online.
Never ever exchange passwords with even your closest friend or let someone take your place at the computer and pretend to be you.
Never ever meet anyone offline that you meet only online without telling your parents. Who you meet online can be very different from the person you meet face-to-face (including their age, occupation, location, and gender.)
But do give your password and account information to your parent of every social network you are on, so they can help you.
E – Save Evidence
I know you want to trash any message about you that is vicious or untrue, but don’t! You may need that evidence to track the source and as proof to stop a future assault. Do not turn off the computer if a vicious message has been received. Chances are you will lose evidence (the e-mail, IM, text, etc.), which you may need to prove online cyber-bullying. Instead:
- Print it off (Print off two! You can rip one into shreds to reduce your anger!)
- Wait until your parent is there and ask them to print it off for you.
- Do not delete the text or phone message.
- Save the e-mail, blog, photo, or web page.
- Print out copies, and show the electronic evidence to an adult.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Be wise, responsible, safe and respectful when using technology.
A Word to Parents about Harsh Punishments
A study at Clemson University found that kids often did not tell their parents about cyber-bullying for fear of losing online privileges. One study found that almost 60 percent of kids did not tell their parents when someone was abusive to them online.
So do not overreact or ban your child from using the Internet altogether if you suspect your child was harassed online. Doing so may curtail your child from telling you she was victimized.
After all, you want your child to feel comfortable coming to you and telling you about any safety concern both on or offline. Keep the doors of communication open! Meanwhile, keep reviewing S.A.F.E. with your child and monitor that technology!
Resources for This Article
Clemson University study by Patricia Agatston and colleagues at Clemson University in South Carolina interviewing 148 teens: M. Fox, “Teens Take Bullying to the Internet, Study Finds,” Reuters, Nov. 27, 2007