The rise of cyber bullying has taken the place of face-to-face abuse. And with the anonymity of the web anything can be published, shared, and accessed leading to socially devastating and life altering consequences.  Sexting has replaced truth-or-dare, except the dares are forever and the wordy truths can be saved. Reputations can be destroyed in the instant that the user hits send.

In the digital realm, nothing is ever displaced. Information is stored, tracked, analyzed and reviewed by eyes that might not be the intended recipient. Cyber life is filled with danger, in forms that kids and teens cannot truly grasp. Yet, young users are the most adept at using the technology.

Parents are often left in the dark. Unlike the proactive rules that most parents follow to keep their kids safe, many parents feel helpless in navigating and protecting their children in the online world. And this lack of understanding is what the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph reports keeps kids at risk for online predation, bullying and victimization.

Digital citizenship is a privilege that requires a firm set of rules, regulations and consequences for misuse.  And parents must act as a minor’s cyber guardian. However, for a parent to remain vigilant in their role, they must understand what masks beneath the veil of the web.

Terms of Services & Privacy Policies: What they Mean for Kids

When kids and teens access popular social sites like Twitter and Facebook, they are required to accept terms and conditions before establishing an account. Parents should never let a child accept the terms of a privacy policy without reviewing those terms first. Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, told the Daily Telegraph in an interview that kids may unknowingly give sites access to personal information.

Many children and teens sign over their rights to privacy once they click that they “I agree.” Pictures may be used or saved and shared. Information may be stored and a child’s location could be tracked. Apps and sites are stealthy, and many sites and online realms aim to use data as a tool for marketing purposes. For kids, this could lead to greater dangers. Parents must remain in control of all terms.

Anonymous Apps

Technology constantly changes. Parents need to follow these changes by familiarizing with the latest apps that their children ask to download and those that they already use. Research apps before hitting download for a child. Use apps to explore any dangers and feel out formats.

Many apps allow for users to remain anonymous or to immediately delete pictures or posts. SnapChat has gone from a fun picture-taking app to one being used to send and share inappropriate photos. Kids as young as age 13 may sign up for an account (with parents’ permission). And, while the lure of the site is the ability for photos to be sent and then disappear, the site Familyshare emphasizes that photos may still be saved as screenshots. A picture can exist forever…and, in cyberspace, the reality is that nothing ever really disappears.

The app Yik Yak has been banned in some schools for its ability to be used as a tool in cyberbullying. Users of the app remain anonymous and can seemingly post anything without being identified. This allows rumors, vicious and malicious insults and other posts to be displayed without identification of the poster.

Parents can and should know what their child is downloading and using. Explore the app and then decide if a child can be trusted with the tool.

Education is Priceless

Kids are often taught at an early age about stranger danger and abduction. These rules are similar for online safety. Teach children not to ever share personal information online. Don’t allow them to ‘chat’ or friend someone that they don’t know…even if that individual claims to be a peer.

Sit down with kids and teens and make clear what images are acceptable to share and send and which ones should never be snapped. Teach them that online information exists forever. And people aren’t always what they seem. Talk to them about why digital monitoring is important and necessary for you as a parent to protect your child.

Today’s kids must be both street smart and Web smart. Education and parental vigilance is vital to helping children safely navigate and thrive within the digital universe.

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