Knowing whether or not your child is having appropriate online activity or not is something that you will know best; although other family members, friends and teachers may also notice some signs that you don’t. While there are many potential signs to be aware of, I’ve tried to distill this down to 6 key signs that may help you identify Inappropriate Online Activity, and some ideas to prevent them.
- Your child spends a long time on-line, especially at night.
There’s really no reason for kids to be online for a long time or late at night. If a child is online doing their homework or chatting with their friends, it’s important to make sure that they’re online time has reasonable guidelines. Possible time includes after school to before dinner, and after dinner to bed time. This might be a lot of time for some kids, but, they shouldn’t be online for all of that time every day. Make sure they’re spending their time wisely.
- You find inappropriate images or emails on their computer (or Apps on their mobile devices).
Kids can get pretty smart about hiding images deep in the computer. Be aware of how to check the downloads and browser history and then you can scan your hard drive by sorting files by date or type and see what comes up. Also, look at internet filtering options like NetNanny or Action Alert. Software like these and others will help to prevent browsing inappropriate sites and downloading of inappropriate files. Also, be sure to check their phones and tablets for parental and privacy settings with them and to make sure they’re installing age-appropriate apps.
- Your child quickly turns the monitor off or changes the screen when you come into the room.
This one is definitely more obvious. If they’re hiding something from you, then they obviously know they’re doing something you wouldn’t like, or are embarrassed to have you find out for some reason. They could be browsing websites, social media channels, downloading pictures or videos, online chats, etc. This is not a time to get angry, but to try to help them understand what they’re looking at and how to handle it. Chances are that this could be very innocent and your kids need your guidance. Or maybe they’re talking to someone new in a chat room. Regardless, it’s a good time to talk to them and it’s also a good time to think about an internet filter for your home (but remember, the same filters won’t work on cell phones or at their friend’s house). Also, this is a good time to think about where your family computer is located. Ideally, it’s in a common location where the monitor is facing the room and you can see it from far away.
- Your child is using an on-line account belonging to someone else.
This is where it gets tricky – and important. There will come a time when it is impossible to completely protect your kids from the internet. It’s pretty easy to use someone else’s accounts, get online at a friends house, or use a cell phone. So, while I believe that internet filtering products are a good idea, the best idea is to educate your children on the right way to use the internet and how to handle what they might come across.
- Your child makes or receives phone calls, mail or gifts from strangers.
This is a good sign that there’s someone new in your child’s life. Chances are it’s completely innocent, but it’s worth becoming more involved in their life and finding out who this person is. Depending on your child’s age, this might be met with anger, embarrassment, denial or other emotions. Or maybe they’ll thank you for getting more involved in their life. Whatever the response, this is an opportunity to build your relationship and help your child grow and learn.
- Your child becomes withdrawn from the family or just acts differently.
No one knows your child better than you do. If you notice them acting differently, see if you can tell why and when it started. There’s probably something going on that’s causing them to become introverted and wonder or think about something more than usual. It’s most likely something innocent but you won’t know until you get involved and ask. By not getting involved, your essentially giving them permission to continue with whatever they’re doing.
You’ll notice that all of suggestions for these signs include getting more involved in your child’s life and providing more guidance to the internet. As a general parenting rule, it’s always good to be more involved in your child’s life anyway. When they’re young, they’ll love it and as they grow older, the hope is that they’ll know you’re always going to be there for them.