Lauren Book for the Sun Sentinel: Online learning also means practicing digital safety

online learning and digital safety

In a time when schools are closed, social distancing is required, and online presence has skyrocketed, digital safety is of the utmost importance.

The FBI recently announced that during this time of school closures, threats to children are at an all-time high. Children and teens are turning to digital devices for entertainment and education – without taking proper digital safety precautions, your child could be at risk.

A shocking 1 in 5 children who touch a digital device will be sexually solicited online. Digital devices open the door for millions of people to insert themselves into your child’s life. Those who seek to abuse and exploit children online frequent the very same apps, games and social media sites as their intended victims – first gaining access and trust, then exploiting it.

Our job as parents and caregivers is to protect the children in our lives, and when it comes to digital safety, it is critical for parents to be educated about common dangers and ways to reduce risk. And with April designated National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month, the topic is timely.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • What are the rules for the use of internet devices in your home?
  • Have you discussed with your child what they should do if they find an inappropriate website, see an image, or receive a message that is upsetting?
  • Do you know who is photographing your child, where those photos are being posted, and what privacy settings the person posting is using?
  • Does your child understand that once something is posted on the internet, texted, tweeted, etc. there is a permanent record of it…even if it is deleted?
  • Does your child understand that someone can take a photo of anything they post online or send in a message and share that photo with others – even strangers online?
  • Does your child know not to post any personal information about themselves? Pictures, address, email address, phone number…online?
  • Does your child understand that posting any personal information about others is inappropriate?
  • Does your child understand that they should not take photos of the private parts of their body?
  • Does your child understand that communicating with someone they don’t know online is very dangerous because they never know with whom they are actually communicating?
  • Does your child understand that chat rooms are dangerous? Have you turned off the chat feature of all apps and games?

These simple questions should empower you to have critical safety discussions with your child in a way that is approachable, conversational, and not scary or intimidating. But they should be the beginning – not the end – of your digital safety strategy.

To combat this epidemic of exploitation, families need access to information and resources to help keep technology secure and promote digital safety for children and teens. The Lauren’s Kids foundation – a nonprofit organization I founded in 2007 to protect children from sexual abuse – is making resources available to families at no cost during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Click here to see this op ed as it appears in the South Florida Sun Sentinel.