Teens should know that there are consequences to their actions.

Teens should know that there are consequences to their actions.

A new booklet released by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other government agencies helps parents and teachers steer kids safely through the online and mobile-phone worlds.

The booklet, titled “Net Cetera: Chatting with Kids About Being Online” was unveiled Dec. 15 at Jefferson Middle School in Washington, D.C., by FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski. At the middle school, which is known for its emphasis on science and technology, the officials met with students and teachers to discuss online safety.

“The conversations that make kids good digital citizens aren’t about the technology; they’re about communicating your values as a parent,” said Leibowitz. “Teaching kids to treat others as they’d like to be treated online is key. Net Cetera tells you how to start those conversations—even if you think your kids are more tech-savvy than you are.”

The booklet tells parents and teachers what they need to know to talk to kids about issues such as cyber bullying, sexting, mobile phone safety, and protecting the family computer.

According to the FTC and U.S. Department of Education, talking to kids about these topics can help them avoid rude online behavior; steer clear of inappropriate content such as pornography, violence, or hate speech; and protect themselves from contact with bullies, predators, hackers, and scammers.

What’s inside

The booklet begins by telling parents and adults why cyber safety is an important subject, and it notes that most kids are now participating in some sort of social network.

It also gives advice on how to start talking to children about the issues surrounding cyber safety. For example, the booklet tells parents that they should start talking to their child as soon as their child begins to use a computer or mobile phone. Parents also should try to create an open, honest environment, initiate conversations, communicate their values, and try to be patient.

The booklet then covers how to talk about cyber safety with young children, tweens, and teens.

It suggests that talking to teens comes at a critical time, because this is when they will begin forming their own values in life, not just mimic those of their parents.

“When you talk to your teen, set reasonable expectations. Anticipate how you will react if you find out that he or she has done something online you don’t approve of. If your teen confides in you about something scary or inappropriate they’ve encountered online, try to work together to prevent it from happening again. Since your teen is closing in on being an adult, he or she needs to learn how to behave and how to exercise judgment about using the net safely, securely, and in accordance with your family ethic,” states the booklet.

Moving forward, the resource explains what kinds of guidelines and advice parents and educators should give to teens about socializing online.

For example, parents should remind their kids that their actions can reverberate online, and therefore they should only post information they are comfortable with other people seeing—especially because once they post it online, they can’t take it back.

Parents, specifically, should use privacy settings to restrict who can access and post on their child’s profile, review their child’s friends list, talk to their teens about avoiding sex talk online, and monitor what sites their child is visiting online.

One big theme in the booklet is making sure children and teens know that there are consequences to their actions, and that just because something is online doesn’t mean it’s not in the real world.

“Sending or forwarding sexually explicit photos, videos, or messages from a mobile phone is known as ‘sexting,'” explains the booklet. “Tell your kids not to do it. In addition to risking their reputation and their friendships, they could be breaking the law if they create, forward, or even save this kind of message. Teens may be less likely to make a bad choice if they know the consequences.”

Besides sexting, the booklet also goes into great detail about cyber bullying, describing what it is, how to spot it early on, and how to guide children’s actions when they are confronted by a cyber bully.

“If your child is targeted by a cyber bully, tell them not to respond,” cautions the booklet. “Bullies usually are looking for a reaction from their target. Instead, encourage your child to work with you to save the evidence and talk to you about it. If the bullying persists, share the record with school officials or local law enforcement.”

Phishing is also covered in the booklet, which includes safety recommendations for online communication, texting, and peer-to-peer file sharing in addition to social networking.

There’s also a section just for parents, which discusses parental controls and what parents can do in terms of internet filtering, blocking outgoing content, monitoring computer use, limiting time spent online via software controls, and steering their children toward kid-friendly browsers and search engines.

However, the booklet does stress that the “best way to protect your kids online is to talk to them. When children want important information, most rely on their parents. Children value the opinions of their peers, but [they] tend to rely on their parents for help on the issues that matter most.”

The booklet finishes by giving parents and adults a list of online-savvy vocabulary and a list of resources for more information about cyber safety and laws.

A PDF version of the booklet is available at OnGuardOnline.gov, the federal government’s online safety web site. Like all the consumer education resources at the site, the booklet is available free of charge for public use. At OnGuardOnline, parents and educators can download sections of the booklet, link to it, or post it on their own web site. Printed versions of the booklet can be ordered in bulk at bulkorder.ftc.gov.

Links:

“Net Cetera: Chatting with Kids About Being Online” (PDF)

Department of Education

Federal Trade Commission

Federal Communications Commission