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Our Kids Are Online Now More Than Ever. Here’s How to Keep Them Safe.

As the pandemic rages on, so many elements of our lives, and our childrens’ lives, continue to shift from in-person to online. As a result, a host of new questions and concerns regarding online safety are more important to consider now than ever before.

On last week’s episode of Camp Kveller, we were joined by an expert in the field of child safety: Rahel Bayar, managing director of sexual misconduct consulting and investigations at T&M Protection Resources. In our webinar — which you can watch here — Bayar brought loads of practical advice and guidance about how to speak to your children about staying safe online, how to take the necessary precautions, and how to ensure that your online camp or school are doing the same.

Too short on time to watch the episode? We’ve got you! Here are some key takeaways from our session:

What should parents be aware of? 

We probably don’t need to say this out loud, but here goes: No matter what screen time rules existed in your home prior to Covid-19, the situation has changed. Parents across the globe are allowing children to be on screens more — because we want them to have social interactions and have some type of outside engagement, and because we all need a break or have to do our jobs sometimes.

In these times, it’s important to be aware of what your children are doing online, including becoming more familiar with sites, apps, or whatever types of programs and technologies they may be using. Even when it comes to something as seemingly straightforward as texting with friends, keep in mind it’s become common practice for many to send nude pictures. (And this is true no matter how religious your community may be, Bayar points out.) Staying on top of trends, addressing them with your children, and teaching them boundaries to protect themselves is key.

How should parents talk to their children about this? 

Don’t be scared to broach these issues with your children! Just as you taught your children how to safely cross a street or what to do in case of a fire, you can teach your children appropriate ways to be online. And just like you wouldn’t use fear tactics to ensure your kids use crosswalks, you can calmly talk to your kids about what online interactions are and are not appropriate.

Unsure of what to say? Start with a few basic ground rules! In a straightforward, matter-of-fact tone, you can address the following:

1. Nudes are a no-no. Make sure your kids understand that they should never send — or even take — a nude photograph.

2. Secrets aren’t allowed. Teach your kids that keeping secrets — particularly those with adults who are strangers, even if they are “friends” with your child online — is not a safe scenario. There should be no secrets.

3. Never share identifying information with strangers online. Information like your child’s last name or hometown should not be shared with people they do not know. Another cardinal rule is never to move the conversation from the original platform — if your kid is interacting with someone on Fortnite, for example, keep interaction on Fortnite. Never move the conversation to text, email, or another social media platform.

But… my kid would never do that!

Congratulations! You are raising a human who is clearly superior to all others! OK, we’re kidding. Here’s the reality: Even if you firmly believe your child would never engage in risky online behaviors, there’s a good chance they will, or will be tempted to do so — or at some point, they will interact with someone who engages in inappropriate online activities or has in the past. You can open the conversation with your child about how to set boundaries and address the situation generally, and not necessarily make it about your own children.

Set some ground rules.

It is crucial that children understand that anything that happens online — even if the platform promises that the picture or message will be erased — is forever permanent. Additionally, you may want to consider house rules about online devices that are applicable to your entire family: For example, Bayar suggests not allowing phones in bedrooms as a preventative measure.

Now that camp — and likely school — is online, how do we know the program is safe?

Ask your school or camp about their online safety protocols — you can tell a lot by how administrators respond to your query. If they have answers and can explain what training and protocols have been instituted, and why, that is a good sign! If they are open to further suggestions, that’s another good sign. But if they seem defensive or apprehensive abouteng aging in this conversation, you are facing a situation where the institution may not be taking these issues as seriously as they should be. In this case, you may need to speak to other stakeholders and advocate for your children, and, if necessary, consider a different program.

Kvellers, take note: We have two more episodes of Camp Kveller this summer! This week, we will be discussing what makes camp Jewish — and how you can incorporate those good vibes into your home. We will be joined by Shawna Goodman Sone, founder of summer camps Israel, and Jodi Sperling, camp consultant and Jewish Camp @ Home project director for Mosaic United and Foundation for Jewish Camp. See you on Thursday at noon Eastern!

Original Image by Dmitrii Musku/Getty Images 

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