Cyber-safety is important throughout the year, but what happens when students are on break and have more time on their hands — and on their devices?
Summer vacation means more leisure time for kids, even those who attend camp or most other activities. “We’ve found that for parents who track and review their kids screen time report, it can sometimes be a real eye-opener,” shares Richard Guerry, founder and executive director of the Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communication (IROC2). According to the Pew Research Center, throughout the year, “the biggest chunk of teens’ daily leisure time is spent on screens: 3 hours and 4 minutes on average.” This may include “time spent gaming, surfing the web, watching videos and watching TV . . . On weekends, screen time increases to almost four hours a day.” When teens are on break, that number increases.
The cyber-world can be a great way to connect and engage children of all ages, but it also presents risks that must be addressed. Open communication with youth about online dangers and digital citizenship are critical to keep them safe. When they begin to independently use the internet, have their first cell phone, or even before summer vacation, it’s time to discuss positive online behavior, and share your expectations and online safety best practices.
While many of us are familiar with the alarming statistics on cyberbullying, some targets so tormented, they consider suicide, many parents are unaware of other serious threats their children face online. Today, youth are exposed to many dangers, from cyberbullying to phishing scams, from seeing unwanted pornographic material to exposure to sexual predators and even luring by human traffickers.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, one in seven youth internet users received unwanted sexual solicitations, and one in 25 received an online sexual solicitation in which the solicitor tried to make offline contact — with the most common first encounter of an online predator taking place in a chat room. In addition, one in five youth saw unwanted sexual material online, and one in nine received requests for sexual material from their peers or adults, according to a recent study shared in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Parents should not shy away from discussing these serious threats with their children.
One of the most helpful ways to discuss cyber-safety with youth is to use a Digital Citizen Pledge to guide your conversation. Cyber-safety and cyberbullying prevention experts weigh in on what else can help your child stay safe online this summer:
According to Sue Scheff, cyber-safety advocate and author of Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate, it’s important to “learn more about your child’s online life through offline chats, and be sure they know you are always there for them — all-year-long — if they are ever feeling uncomfortable online or off.”
It’s also critical to teach them about the permanency of one’s electronic footprint and potential pitfalls of poster’s remorse, since there’s “little room for a ‘what was I thinking’ moment, before it could become attached to them forever and for all to see,” shares Catherine Bosley, online advocate and award-winning journalist. “With every pic and post, they need to take inventory of everything it might say about them. No matter what age, no one is immune from their pics or posts being misinterpreted or misrepresented in the moment.”
Advise your kids to “avoid engaging with anyone who is aggressive, angry, or threatening,” shares J.J. Cannon, author of @Sophie Takes a #Selfie — Rules & Etiquette for Taking Good Care Before You Share. “Many times, bored, unhappy kids are just looking (trolling) for a fight. Another important reminder, not just for kids, is that everything we see online almost always is out of context. We’re all looking from our own point of view.” Cannon also suggests encouraging kids to enjoy tech-free days.
“Get them involved in activities where they are helping, doing things for others who are in need can shift their perspective from me to we,” advises Linnea McFadden, author of It’s Cool to Be Kind.
Matthew Morgan, vice president of Career Training Concepts, Inc., publisher of the HEAR – Helping Everyone Achieve Respect bullying prevention programs, encourages parents to “Be a good role model! Despite their seeming indifference, kids do pay attention to how the adults in their lives behave, online and offline.”
Summer vacation is a time for children to recharge and enjoy themselves. When it comes to tech this summer, Phyllis Fagell, LCPC, author of Middle School Matters, encourages kids to “get outside, offline and take a break from the drama.”
Before the summer break begins, discuss digital citizenship, screen time expectations, and cyber-safety best practices with your children. Ask them to let you know if they see anything that makes them feel uncomfortable, and encourage them to be kind online and share with care.