Just like adults have been faced with new worries since the outbreak of COVID-19 reached the United States, students across the country have all been introduced to a temporary “normal” that has them spending a lot more time at home. With schools closed for the year and learning taking place through remote means, young people are finding themselves with a lot more time on their hands and a need to increase their use of digital devices.
That increase in screen time brings with it a critical need to revisit the conversation of Internet safety. Scammers and online predators are always looking for ways to capitalize on the vulnerabilities of their victims, whether it’s boredom, financial troubles or too much time spent with the same people, day in and day out. Stay ahead of them with a few of the following tips:
Keep the conversations going. Never stop reinforcing the importance of using caution on the Internet and through social media. Check in once in a while and ask to see the “friends” list. Remind your youth that there are people out there who are looking for victims every day and he or she could be next. Encourage them to only accept requests and engage in messaging from people they know. Discuss risky behavior and the dangers of chat rooms with unfamiliar people.
Set restrictions. It’s an argument that’s as old as time: “But everyone else has it!” And it may be true. The majority of young people from 12 on up (and even younger) now have some sort of smart device. It’s OK to set parental restrictions that allow you to block certain sites and content, limit time spent on devices and alert you when something is questionable. Those alerts serve as an opportunity to open the above conversations.
Keep busy. With more time spent outdoors or helping around the house, there’s less time spent on devices. Helping your child experience a sense of accomplishment can make them less vulnerable to predators seeking to make someone “feel better.”Put them to the task of making dinner a few nights a week, mowing the grass, helping with the cleaning and doing the laundry. Rewarding them with a weekly allowance can be a great way for them to earn money and feel accomplished. And encourage the young person to finish up school work, then shut down the device and head outside for a hike, exercise, swimming, etc. There’s nothing better than staying active for overall health and wellness.
Be there. Keeping your child safe is your number one priority. But if (and when) a rule is broken or a boundary is crossed, it can be very easy for a young person to withdraw out of fear of punishment. Let your child know that he or she can be honest with you. Whatever has happened, you can address it together. The key to any healthy relationship is to keep the lines of communication open – good or bad. Being there for your young person allows you to teach lessons today that will be remembered for years to come.