Hardly a day goes by without a news story about online safety and children. I myself have been dealing with a girl who has been bullying my daughter for six years. It started at camp; we took her out of the camp. The girl then moved from New Jersey and ended up at the same NYC school as my daughter; so we ended up changing her school. I consider myself an “involved parent” but much to my surprise, after thinking it was all over, I found a JPEG on my laptop from a Facebook conversation between my daughter and this same child. Needless to say, it was disturbing, but I now have a plan to end this after a conversation with a professional.
For all its positive force, social media still has a dark element. Parents need to know their “denial” is a predator’s best friend. And not to scare you, but just look at these three statistics:
* Nine out of 10 parents will never know there was any inappropriate contact made on the Internet. We’re clueless.
* 20% of children age 10-17 have been solicited sexually online. That’s one out of every five kids.
* 76% of parents don’t have rules about what their kids can do on the computer, according to Netlingo.
So as a part of my on-going series of interviewing Moms, I reached out to the KidSafeMoms, who have been following me on Twitter. Sally Berenzweig, MEd, MA and her co-founder, Cherie Benjoseph, LCSW, started the Kid Safe Foundation about six years ago. Both have incredible expert credentials in many areas. In addition, they blog for ModernMom, BocaParent and MomsMiami. They published their first children’s book Jack Teaches His Friends To Be KidSafe, in 2008. They have appeared on ABC News and just recently appeared on NBC News for their segment “People making a difference in their communities.” And if they weren’t busy enough, they have a children’s book coming out in September 2010 called My Body is Special and Belongs To ME!
“The internet is the new playground for kids,” Berenzweig tells us. “Parents that talk to their children are not the ones the predators go after. Predators are looking for a vulnerable child that is looking for attention and has never received any personal safety education. To a predator that is an easy ‘target.’ So what do we learn from predators? That we as parents need to take preventive measures with our children. By teaching our children that they have rights – the right to say no – parents are there for them and they can come to you with anything – you have now empowered your child and have made them a hard target for a predator. We need to be preventive, not reactive. In fact, 95% of all abuse and exploitation can be prevented through education. Don’t we owe it to children to give them the skills they need to stay safe?”
The KidSafe Foundation has developed a specific curriculum that is taught throughout many schools in Florida. Sally and Cherie, along with teachers they’ve trained, take children through an eight-week course based on scaffolding learning. Because the curriculum has passed certain state approvals (Department of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, Department of Prevention, and meets Sunshine State Standards), the courses are held during the school day. Their long-term goal is to get Prevention Education mandated in all elementary schools. “Teaching prevention education life skills so children can be safe is just as important as reading, math or science,” said Sally.
A big part of their program is also the accompanying parent seminars, family events, and teacher trainings. “We believe if we can have children, parents and teachers all on the same page – sharing the same language of safety, our children will make safer and smarter choices,” says Berenzweig. “We educate parents, children and teachers with our ‘KidSafe Language of Safety’. Every child, parent and teacher knows stop – drop and roll as language for fire safety. KidSafe has its own language, the first thing they teach all children is how to use their ‘inner safety voice’. To use that little voice inside of their head that questions whether something is safe or unsafe and use that as a stop sign. Children need to learn that they do not always have to react right away, they have choices and children are taught to think through consequences of different safety scenarios in their lessons. This is all done through role-playing.”
When it comes to cyberbullying, KidSafe teaches the children to “Stop. Block. Tell.”’ It teaches the difference between “reporting” and “tattling.” Tattling is getting someone in trouble. Reporting is about the safety of yourself or the safety of others and we teach children they must always report to an adult they trust when it comes to safety. Another important tenet is the idea of “Check first” with a trusted adult before you go or do anything. KidSafe’s philosophy is that if kids get used to “checking first” with their grown-ups it will become a habit. If your child is the child that is so used to checking first with you in Elementary School – they will be the children who calls you when they are 16 and their friend is to drunk too drive. Why? Because they know they can.
KidSafe believes that the Internet is great – however our children need to learn how to use it responsibly. How can they do that? Parents need to sit down with their children, create an Internet safety contract – give your child boundaries. They need it – whether they know it or not. The end result for parents is your children are going to be online – lets teach them how to make the safest and smartest choices while there. At KidSafeFoundation.org, you can get access to many tips for parents to rules for home alone, internet safety contracts, acronyms kids are using, and more.