Teaching kids to protect themselves is something most parents do without much thought. It starts with baby-proofing the house. Some parents enroll growing kids in self-defense classes.
The same sequence makes sense online. Because young children don’t yet have the judgment to protect themselves, parents should “baby-proof” their interactive environment.
Under age 6, children should have free computer playtime only with software carefully selected by a parent. A list of 100 best programs for children is available online from Children’s Technology Review.
Children under 13 should do social networking only on sites monitored by adults. Older elementary children also benefit from a filter. Even Google now has a SafeSearch setting. To find it, log into a Google account, click on settings, click on Safe Search and then select Lock SafeSearch.
Here are some martial arts principles that translate into cyberspace:
- Project power. A good martial artist exudes an aura of confidence and strength that makes fighting unnecessary. Help your child develop both a sense of worth and a community of genuine friends.
- Protect your core. In martial arts, the core includes the vital organs. Online, the core is private information that could be used to steal a child’s identity, harm her reputation or put him in physical danger. It’s worth reminding pre-teens especially to think carefully about posting information that could be used to embarrass them or that would help a potential stalker track their activities.
- Stay calm. One of the first rules of self-defense is that you can’t respond effectively to an attack if you’re angry or flustered. Talk to your child in advance about how they would handle online harassment or bullying. Ask “what-if” questions: What if someone posts something mean on your wall? What if someone sends a message pretending to be you? What if someone forwards a photo or message that was supposed to be private? What if someone puts nasty things about you (or a friend) on a Web site? Be sure your child knows how to de-friend someone who doesn’t deserve the label.
- Respond. Instead of retaliating online, kids should take their concerns about online conflict into the real world where they can get advice from trusted adults. Teach kids to copy, save or print problematic messages, photos or videos. Help them contact the customer service department for the Web site or the ISP where the messages were posted. Documentation is also likely to spur school officials and even the police to take action.