Tuesday, Feb. 9 marks “Safer Internet Day,” a worldwide effort to make the internet a safe and productive place for everyone. Locally, the Megan Meier Foundation offers a wealth of resources and guest speakers for students, parents, educators and the community to tackle tough but relevant issues, including cyberbullying and suicide.
To keep teens safe on the internet, Alex King, program director with the Megan Meier Foundation, encourages parents to educate themselves and understand what is available in terms of social media, and to familiarize themselves with social media platforms beyond Facebook. Another key component for protecting teens is to establish rules and consequences from the beginning.
“Be upfront and clear,” said King. “This helps create an atmosphere where they can approach you if needed. It can be scary to tell an adult for fear it will make things worse, but having the rules set up in advance helps with an open line of communication.”
With younger children having access to electronic devices, it’s important to start talking about safe social media use early. King advises talking with kids about what should be kept private. Addresses and phone numbers, for example, should never be shared online.
King suggests starting children with an alternative social media to help develop necessary skills. The Megan Meier Foundation has worked with the founder of Frienedy to establish it as a safe site for younger users.
“It’s a great platform to learn how to communicate in an approved manner in smaller networks,” King said.
Children also need to be aware and understand with whom they are interacting, and that people are not always who they claim to be online.
The Child Center, Inc. provides programming for local school districts. They encourage parents to communicate expectations with their children and to be aware of new apps, which will help to maintain an open dialogue and encourage children to report cyberbulling.