I was catching up on my now rather long Google Reader “unread” items when I came across an article on the excellent Online Mom blog. The article commented on the arrest of three men in the US accused of raping children they met through an online social network. It is a scary reminder that despite the safety measures put into place by the network concerned (Skout) or any other social network, online predators seem to be able to skirt around these. (Skout suspended their teen community network – see ongoing response here)
When presenting at schools on the issue of keeping our children safe online, I am often asked whether parents should insist on checking their children’s phones and other devices. Some parents seem to feel that this is an invasion of privacy. I completely disagree. Your child’s safety is paramount and trumps any feeling by your child that you are not trusting them. The following paragraph appeared in the article to which I alluded earlier and is an excellent representation on my feelings on this matter :
Kids still make mistakes and it’s important that there’s a parental safety net for when they do. So pick up your daughter’s cell phone once in a while and check a few of her texts; make sure you know what social networks your child is using; pull up the browser history on the family computer and see what everyone’s been up to. It’s not spying, it’s parenting, and in this fast-paced digital world our kids need it more than ever.
Let me hasten to add though, that I do believe it would be best to chat with your child about their phone before simply picking it up and going through it. Open and honest communication is the best way to handle your child’s use of technology. Ensuring that your child feels comfortable speaking to you about his/her online activities and that you make conversation about social networks and online behaviour open in your home, is an excellent way to assist your child in keeping safe online.