We live in a world of rapidly changing media and technology; a world where children are more tech-savvy than their parents and where social media can be equally harmful as it is beneficial. With sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, plus escalating ownership of mobile phones, it has become even harder for parents to keep up with the children’s online activities.

To help children be cyber and mobile safe involves parents, teachers and community leaders reinforcing the important lessons of what it means to be a good digital citizen, what is and isn’t allowed when it comes to proper behavior and how Internet safety is mostly about behavior in the blended world where children live on and offline.


As a longtime advocate on child safety, Yahoo! has made it a company priority to protect children online by creating tools for people to safeguard themselves and by supporting efforts to educate children, parents, adults, and communities about safer online experiences.


Earlier this year, Yahoo! forged a partnership with Sonnie Santos, one of the country’s top web safety advocates and founder of Business Values 2.0 and Web Safety Philippines, to help spread awareness throughout the Philippines, especially among the youth.


Sonnie is a regular columnist at Yahoo! titled Safety Net and also the Expert Advisor for Yahoo! Safely; the online resource which informs parents and educators about important topics such as managing your “digital reputation” and learning how to minimize risks on mobile devices, as well as provides guidance on how to use specific Yahoo! products safely.


Where do your children go when they go online?

In the past, when children were at home, they were ‘safe’ but now when they go on the Internet, surfing online is not always a safe experience. Stories about cyber bullying are becoming common.  The Internet is a perfect environment that allows a bully to do the things they can’t do when face-to-face. In addition, mobile is changing the way children access information today. Children use the mobile for SMS-ing, downloading online games, videos and music without being fully aware of the nature of content. Beyond that the Internet is an open ground for stalkers and location-based social networking is a real concern and a potential threat that cannot be neglected.


Befriending your child on the Internet


To know where our children are going online and what they are doing, Yahoo! Safely advises parents to abandon the digital divide, embrace their world and enjoy the possibilities together. Good parenting means that adults know what sites their children visit or the songs they download, and find ways to become a part of their activities. This is particularly important as young people don’t differentiate between their online and offline worlds and the skills they learn to keep themselves safe at home, school or in their community directly translate across into the virtual world. Remember, it is not hard to learn how to text, set up a Facebook page, download and send photos or updates using a mobile phone or even upload video on You Tube. It’s important for parents to skill themselves up around technology use they you can realistically assess what young people are doing online and offer good guidance.


Inculcating good old-fashioned values


Values of right or wrong are also extended to online and mobile life and parents play an important role in guiding their children’s behavior online. Remind your children that anyone – potential employers or college admissions persons can easily surf the sites and see what is on their pages. Let your children know that once they post something on their pages, it is out of their hand and can be taken out of context, cut, altered, pasted and sent around without their consent. While it is true we can delete a post or an image, by the time we’ve done that, it’s already been copied by that website’s back-up system so it never truly goes away and we can’t guarantee it hasn’t already been passed on to someone else. The only way to guarantee something we don’t want others to see is not passed on is to not post it to begin with. Stop and think before you post as what you do today can be abused by someone tomorrow.


Family time


Phone and online activities are real time eaters. Parents can set the boundaries for the time spent on the Internet or set up “no Internet evenings” where family members can talk about an interesting site or article they have read online.


Impart family values by setting a good example. For instance, if parents are on their Blackberry or iPhone at a dinner table how can you expect children to turn off their phones when asked?


Involvement on behalf of educators


Educators can become more involved in helping teens to manage their digital reputation. For instance, it is becoming increasingly common in the US for sports coaches to ask new joiners to befriend them on Facebook before joining the team. This immediately sets the rule for sports enthusiasts about what is appropriate to communicate or post online. Photos of drug taking, drinking or sexual posing or anything students wouldn’t want to put on the wall in the school, shouldn’t be put it on their pages.


Cyber bullying is increasingly becoming an online threat and causes emotional duress to students. Fearing that a parent will only make things worse, children don’t want them to get involved. School authorities on the other hand regard cyber bullying as an off-campus matter and are not willing address it. While there are no state laws governing off-campus cyberspeech issues, there are general guidelines that schools can follow. As a general rule, if the speech was created and distributed using school equipment, during school hours and/or on campus, schools may choose to discipline students for inappropriate expression if it interferes with the rights of others.


There are a number of tools and guidance on digital parenting, topics on cyber wellness and settings that can ensure a safe and pleasurable Internet experience.


Today as a part of our greater responsibility towards the community, we must all take an active role in creating a safer online environment not just for our families, friends and the entire society to stay connected, safely!


After all, the Internet is a fantastic journey to explore alongside your kids and learn new things with them so play safe, be smart and have fun.


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