The "experts" on the subject of keeping kids safe Online instruct parents to protect their kids by ensuring no one can access their kids. Sounds simple enough right, well I disagree with this method because you can't ensure that no one will ever access your children's information or them. It is safer to start young and educate them in baby steps about information, the Internet, and email instead of doing it for them.
Many parents have been to courses that instruct them to keep their contact information close and not to hand it out to anyone. They shouldn't let their kids have email addresses or have their name on any contact list. They should make sure their computers have parental blocks that keep kids from going to unapproved sites. They should manage their children's information for them and make decisions about what websites to visit.
The question is, are parents really protecting their kids by hiding from the world?
I don't subscribe to the whole hide away in order to protect. I allow my kids to have their own email addresses and phone numbers, does this mean I'm putting my kids at risk? I don't think so. My kids are still young enough that I have control over what they do. I use these tools to talk about what is appropriate and what is not, we talk about what information to put out into virtual world and what information to alter or hide. I allow them to practice these skills in the open (no computer in their room) and help them make safe decisions.
I ask them questions to ascertain what they think, what they know and problem solve for the best decisions. Instead of just making rules, I bring them into the decision making process to help them understand why they need to do certain things.
Before they could read, approved websites were saved in their favorites and they could click to get to them easily. As the grew older and began using search engines like Google we discussed what keywords to use and how to protect their information. My kids know not to use their real birthdays, addresses, or names. They have chosen safe birthdays, addresses, and names to use instead. They know why they can't use this information and what could happen if they do.
You tube is a big issue in our house because my son thinks its the best site and his friends send him links. There are some things on You Tube that are not appropriate for him to watch. We have talked to him about what he thinks is appropriate, what key words does he think he should avoid and a few others we deem inappropriate. We tell him why we don't want him looking at videos that are violent, have fighting, or are hateful. I use stories that I've heard about and ask him what he thinks about the story and how it effects what he does online.
We have some rules that are not up for discussion. Before he presses play he needs to read the title, the comments, and based on certain words determine if its is appropriate. The big rule when it comes to You Tube - he has to crank the volume so we can hear what he's watching. The computer is in the main living area so he can't sneak so easily, if he sneaks then he looses privileges. If his emails are inappropriate then he looses the email. He is learning what is appropriate by doing not being told or hidden away.
We also are made aware what friends are passing on links and information that is not appropriate and we can then act accordingly with that child. Once again our son is made apart of the decision process so he can learn how to choose friends.
They are still too young for facebook, myspace, and other social networking sites. But as they grow they will have the basics on how to protect themselves online and will have been practicing certain behaviors long before they are teenagers and I have little control over what they do.
I don't know, maybe protecting yourself by hiding your contact information and living in a bubble will keep kids safe. I doubt it because at some point they will want to have an email, have friends call them, and go out into the world. If they haven't made decisions or learned by baby steps over time how to protect themselves how can we expect them to know at 16, 18, 20?