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Top Questions From Parents Answered by Dr. Gwenn

Is Facebook really that dangerous?

Dr. Gwenn: Facebook itself isn’t dangerous, but how we use Facebook can put us in some types of danger if we are not cybersavvy. The biggest danger we face on Facebook is risk of harming our own reputations and digital footprints. We can protect ourselves and teach our teens to protect themselves by always following three steps: keep privacy settings set to “Friends Only;” post smartly and cleanly; and “Friend” wisely.

How can I protect my kids from online predators?

Dr. Gwenn: The risk of contact from online predators is not very high at all! To keep it as low as possible, a two-step approach helps. First, participate online with your kids so you know what they are doing online and they know you are there to answer questions. Second, teach your kids the importance of three simple steps to online safety: set (and keep) privacy settings turned “on;” post smartly and cleanly; and only friend people you know offline.

Can my child’s online activities hurt their chances of getting into a good college?

Dr. Gwenn: In today’s culture, “what goes online, stays online.” So if an inappropriate picture of your child or wall post from your child ends up online, that could hurt your child’s reputation and ability for college admission and ability to get even a summer job. For this reason, it’s very important to discuss privacy setting as well as appropriate posts of messages and pictures. Parents should also reinforce the need to “friend wisely” online—and also offline.

Are there warning signs that my kid has been cyberbullied?

Dr. Gwenn: The only sure sign is if you child tells you directly or if you learn of an instance of cyberbullying from another source. Other warning signs may imply that trouble is brewing, including if your kid is avoiding afterschool activities or not wanting to ride the bus or walk home. A change in school performance, anxiety, depression or the development of physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach aches can also be tell-tale signs.

What do I need to teach my children about viruses, spamming and other malware?

Dr. Gwenn: First, make sure you understand it yourself. Second, if your child is old enough to be online, start explaining these important concepts in age-appropriate language and review it a few times a year.

As a parent, what other cyber-situations should I teach my children about?

Dr. Gwenn: It’s very important to emphasize to your kids, at all ages, to never give out personal information online—name, email address, home address, school name, town name. It’s also important to not “friend” people or chat with people you don’t know online. Following these rules minimizes stranger contact online.

How do I address “sexting” with my teen?

Dr. Gwenn: It’s essential that every child old enough to be online and every child with a cell phone understand what “sexting” is and that there are significant legal consequences for taking part in this activity. For suggestions of ways to start this delicate conversation with your tween or teen, I suggest checking out the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Talking to Kids about Social Media and Sexting Tips.

At what age is it appropriate to get my child a cell phone?

Dr. Gwenn: For elementary school kids, the only time to consider a phone is for medical conditions that require a child to reach you or 9-1-1. Older elementary school or younger middle school who walk home should have a cell phone for safety. For older middle school and high school students, the cell phone is one of their social lifelines and is often the “best” time to consider a first phone for most kids.

How young is too young to be going online?

Dr. Gwenn: The best way for children to become digital citizens are to become digitally savvy—and for that to occur they need to learn digital skills young as they do reading, writing and other important life and educationally skills. As children become verbal and develop the manual dexterity to use a mouse or keypad, it’s the optimal time to introduce kids to educational venues online. This will be different for different kids but generally falls in the preschool years: 3-5 years old.

Are online games safe?

Dr. Gwenn: Online games are safe when the games picked are age-appropriate to the user. For kids, the biggest risks posed by online gaming are exposure to inappropriate content and inappropriate contact with other gamers outside their peer group. Parents should partner with their kids to help them make smart game choices.

How can I best monitor my child’s online activities?

Dr. Gwenn: True monitoring of a child’s online activities is hardly ever needed if a family evolves to have a solid family digital home use plan and if parents participate with their kids online.  For kids who push the limits, monitoring programs can help facilitate discussion to help teach kids to be more digitally savvy and smart. In addition, parents can check online logs and cell phone text logs with their children to discuss safe online practices.

How can I keep my child away from inappropriate material on the Internet?

Dr. Gwenn: It’s important to remember two things—kids will not be harmed by stumbling upon inappropriate material online and it’s very important to foster a home atmosphere so your child will inform you if they find something they don’t understand. Usually there is an innocent story behind that type of event—i.e. your kid is searching for a science or biology assignment or searching for information about their favorite celebrity and stumbled upon other content.