12 House Rules for Online Safety, Signed FBI

Last Sunday evening, Special Agent Steve Shepherd of the FBI gave a presentation on how parents and grandparents could better protect their kids online. The statistical problems cited by the FBI were flooring: of the 77 million children who get on the internet, 1 in 7 of these children will receive an online sexual solicitation. 70% of these incidents occur in the home. Let that sink in for a moment.

Really let that sink in.

Fear, surprise, anger, desperation and a thousand other emotions probably flood your mind at these numbers. Let's break it down: 11 million children will receive an online sexual solicitation. 7.7 million of these will be at home. At home. A lot of these people probably had security systems both physical and digital, a guard dog, and a myriad of other countermeasures. But an intruder still got into their home.

You need to protect your family online from the evil that lurks on and behind the screens. To help you get started, here are 12 house rules for online Special Agent Shepherd gave on Sunday evening:

Rule 1: Do not make the mistake of using the computer as a babysitter

Its easy to give your kid an iPad or the laptop so you can remember what it is like to be a normally functioning adult again if only for a moment. But remember that the shiny little device they hold in their hands can take them to places that will put them on a disastrous trajectory that can change their lives forever. Alone with a device connected to the internet, the odds of your child seeing something they should never see sky-rocket. Which leads directly to Rule 2...

Rule 2: Never allow children or teenagers to have unsupervised Internet access

Practical steps to initiate this rule in your house is keeping the computer, whether its a laptop or desktop, in a public area of the home like the kitchen or living room. Foot traffic near a computer lowers the chances of a child accessing inappropriate material online. Also, make it a habit to observe them periodically and without warning, so they have no expectation of privacy.

Rule 3: Make use of the Internet a group or family activity in which all members of the household can participate

In the first Connected 3D sermon, Pastor Dave explained how technological innovation inevitably leads to isolation from other people. He noted that one author said, β€œThe history of our use of technology is a history of isolation desired and achieved.” We can see this in the development of movies and music technology beginning with community cinema or a community symphony culminating years later in the individual smartphone. While there is a lot of good that comes from an individual smartphone, tablet or computer, a lot of evil can of course come from it as a result of our isolation. In the wild, predators typically go after prey that has been isolated from the herd because they are easier targets. It is the same in your house!

Rule 4: Learn the services provided by your Internet Service Provider or Online Service Provider so that you know how it works

Determine whether the system allows you to block your child from accessing certain areas such as chatrooms and newsgroups, but don't rely on these services solely. You being personally present and knowledgeable about your child's Internet use is still the first and greatest line of defense.

Covenant Eyes Software is a great tool that gives you an accountability report of all the questionable websites or search items that the software flags. If you want to try out Covenant Eyes in your home, use the promo code "Connected" and get a 30 day free trial.

Rule 5: Instruct Children that whenever they communicate online they should NEVER give out identifying information

This would include pictures, phone numbers, addresses, last names, social security numbers, or the names of the schools they attend.

Rule 6: Remind children that whatever they are told online may not be true

As we all know this could apply to something as common as the news media or as sinister as a child predator. A person who states that she is a 14 year old girl, may in fact be a 50 year old man. Predators will impersonate anyone and are master manipulators. Check out the graphic below for internet abbreviations to educate yourself on how to spot conversations that are innappropriate.

 
 

Rule 7: Never respond to messages or bulletin board postings that are suggestive, obscene, belliegerent, or harrazzing

This rule addresses how to respond to online sexual solicitation but also cyberbullying. Cyberbullying entails spreading rumors and gossip, posting pictures without consent,  and the use of harassing and threatening language. According to the FBI, 50% of teens report being harassed or bullied online with 80% of incidents occurring via cell phone.

If your child is being cyberbullied, they should:

  • Tell their parent, grandparent, or guardian
  • Never respond to harassing messages
  • Save the evidence. Don't delete it.
  • Set up new accounts
  • Report it to www.cybertipline.com

Rule 8: Children should never send upload pictues of themselves to people that they do not personally know

They very well could be sending pictures to a predator and the picture could be "recycled" or posted on the web.

Rule 9: Instruct your child never to arrange a face to face meeting with someone they have met on the Internet

Rule 10: Children should never download pictures from an unknown source because there is a real chance that it could be pornography

According to a recent study by the Journal of Adolescent Health, 25% of teens are unwillingly exposed to nudity online when they aren't looking for it.

Rule 11: Monitor the times of day that a child accesses the Internet and the duration of his or her online session

Excessive time online, especially during the evening or late night hours, may be indicative of a problem. A simple practice to prevent problems is to have a "phone bed" where all phones, tablets or laptops have a central location to "sleep" at night. This is a good practice for adults as well as checking our phones can be the greatest thief of devotional time with God in the morning. 

Rule 12: If you become suspicious that your child is misusing the computer, discuss your concerns with the child

If you feel the need to, examine the cache, cookies or history of the computer or device. Special Agent Shepherd noted the policy of another FBI agent that acknowledged the severity of what could happen online. The man told his kids that they could be connected to the internet, but if the history was ever found to be deleted for any reason whatsoever, all the technology would be taken away indefinitely. How far would you be willing to go to protect your family online?

The man told his kids that they could be connected to the internet, but if the history was ever found to be deleted for any reason whatsoever, all the technology would be taken away indefinitely.
 

A special thanks is in order to Special Agent Steve Shepherd and everyone at the Behavioral Analysis Unit of the FBI not only for this information but also for daily holding back evil from getting to children. God is using them to defend the most vulnerable and we urge you to join them in the fight to keep your family safe online by applying these 12 practices in your home. If you would like more information on keeping your child or grandchild safe online, take a look at the FBI Resource "Parent's Guide to Internet Safety"

David Barrett