Don’t Take Candy From Strangers: Teaching Kids About The Internet

Kids should be and shouldn’t be online is an argument that has gone back and forth for a while.  We have all read the reports where this or that bad thing happened.  I personally feel that kids should learn about the internet and have exposure to it.  This is not because I think the internet is a cool tech thing.  It’s because the internet is going to be a part of their future careers and lives.  Just like anything else, we need to insure they are properly prepared to use these tools proficiently.  So how do you teach your kids about the internet?  Here’s 5 steps to take that relate to the same real world things you teach:

  1. The internet is the real world, and there are real people on the other end. The false perception that the internet is “something else” is by far the biggest contributing factor as to why kids and adults get “in trouble” online.  There was a time when people could “mask” who they were through usernames.  Today as the social web expands (and will continue to), we see those “curtains” pulled back.  Therefore, all those acceptable behavior things we teach (i.e. how to behave in public) and staying safe apply online as well.  When you grasp this fully, you begin to ask yourself would I do or say that standing in the middle of a public place.  If you wouldn’t, it’s best not to do that online either.  For example, a young man posted drug use references on his MySpace account as a “joke”.  His profile settings were public.  The private school officials “caught wind” of this and suspended him according to their acceptable behavior policies.  The parents defended him with the claim that “it’s just the internet”.  Now that debate can go back and forth, but the bottom line is that the student stated all over his profile his attendance at this school and was portraying himself in a manner that reflected negatively upon the entire school publicly.
  2. Don’t give a stranger your phone number and address. If you are not familiar with privacy settings, get familiar with them.  You also do not have to put all of your personal information (i.e. phone number, address, etc.)  on every service.  Just put what you want others to see and change the settings to who and what you want others to see.  For example, I don’t mind people finding me on Facebook, but I do not want anyone who I have not accepted a “connection” request to see my personal information.
  3. Don’t take “candy” from strangers. I’ve dealt with viruses on my daughter’s computer on a few occasions.  Each time I had dealt with this the bottom line was going to sites for “freebies”.  I asked her, “If a stranger comes up and offers you a free movie as long as you let them in the house, would  you let them in?”  Her answer was obviously, “No”.  Well, the truth is that by going to these sites and clicking these types of “baiting” links; it’s the exact same thing as letting that stranger in.  The “free offer” that seems too good to be true is the “candy” and it is often just “bait”.
  4. Play in safe places. There are great Catholic sites for kids and teens as well as age appropriate social networking websites.  Add these to your favorites in your web browser and share them with your kids.
    1. Catholic websites for kids and teens
      1. LifeTeen
      2. Disciples Now
      3. Youth Apostles Online
      4. Faith Teen Online eMagazine
      6. EWTN Kids
      7. Kids 4 Jesus
    2. Click here to read a great article on about great fun social sites for kids under 13.
  5. Call me when you get there, and don’t play in my room. Knowing where your kids are online is important.  Use the security settings in the operating system to block sites which may be inappropriate and set up a custom profile for your child if you share a computer in the house.  You don’t want your kids having access to all the same information you do.  The ability to set up multiple user profiles is perfect for families.  Password protect yours and don’t let the kids know the password.  This way you can customize what they can do on the computer and have access to versus what you can see and do online.  Consult your operating system help files to set this up.

Teaching your kids about the internet doesn’t have to be all that difficult if you approach it from the same life lessons you teach them everyday.   The internet and technologies are tools for us to do things better.  But like anything, they can be “dangerous” if we use the tool incorrectly.  A nail gun is a great tool, but if we use it inappropriately it can be very harmful.

What are your thoughts?

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Author:Brad West

I live in Palm Coast, FL with my family and have assisted my local parish with our website and communications. Our parishes today can benefit a great deal from technology. Whether it's improving communications, community building, evangelizing, business operations, and much more; we have the tools today. To help provide some direction and advice to parishes and parishioners, I wrote and published an eBook titled "The Connected Church" which is available through Barnes and Noble (Nooks and Nook apps) as well as Amazon (Kindle and Kindle apps).
  • Craig

    Great stuff here. I’d like to add something for parents: Never – I repeat NEVER – let your children have a computer in their room. Draconian? Yes. Smart? Absolutely.

    During my years in IT, I saw a few presentations by the FBI and other child protection agencies discuss how sexual predators use the Internet to find victims, and in almost all cases…these vulnerable children had private use of a computer. 

    Be diligent in knowing what your children are doing on the Internet. Not just computers either…many devices nowadays have access to the Internet and ‘chat rooms’. Cell phones, mp3 players, etc. 

    And don’t worry for a second about your kids thinking you’re being ‘old-fashioned’ or spoiling all of their fun. It’s OK to allow them limited access, as long as YOU are in control of it.

    If you’d seen what I’ve seen from those presentations on how these predators operate, you’d be tempted to pull the plug on everything. Just use common sense and don’t be afraid of what your children or others think of you. It’s your duty as a parent to protect your children.

  • Brad

    Craig, that’s a great point you bring up about not having the computer in the bedroom.  We actually experienced an issue with this with our daughter at one point and had to remove it.  Not because of the “predator” issue thank goodness.  Our issue was dismissing school work in lieu of playing on things like MySpace.  Even after doing that we would find her sneaking into our office and crouching down in the office chair to get on the site on my father-in-law’s computer.  Pretty frustrating time and was the beginning of really opening my eyes to the importance of teaching appropriate and safe uses.  

    The “predator” issue has always been something we were concerned with in terms of those sites.  MySpace was the big one at that time and my daughter has since graduated high school, but I had set up a MySpace account and “friended” my kids (as I have 3 more in another state) to stay in touch.  It’s an eye-opener as to what can go on.  It’s also interesting as to how quickly your kids will learn to get around things online.  I had come to find out that many kids were creating two accounts.  One Mom and Dad saw and . . . the other one Mom and Dad didn’t see.  Even to the point of creating secondary email accounts to mask things.  It can be a challenge and teaching and monitoring is important.  

    I’ve been thinking about suggesting a seminar at our parish to help teach parents and kids.  Any one doing this at their parish?