Experts give advice on how to keep kids safe online this school year

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Protecting kids online can be difficult, but there are some things that parents and guardians can do.

Kelli Hatzenbuehler, a victim assistance specialist of Homeland Security Investigations, says that traffickers and abusers are relying more on having an online presence and that the danger can be larger as kids go back to school and use the internet more often.

She says one way to combat the risk of kids meeting someone dangerous online is to provide open spaces where kids can work with others at home or at school.

She explains this is to keep kids from being behind closed doors so adults can check in on them.

Hatzenbuehler also says parents and teachers should be open with their children and act as a trusting adult, so kids feel comfortable sharing when something is wrong.

“The poor conversation looks like, ‘Oh, this would never happen to my child, my child’s too smart for this,” Hatzenbuehler said. “I think that does them a very big disservice. I think we just need to have an open dialogue and ongoing conversation of what this looks like.”

She emphasized that once a photo or video is on the internet, it’s out there forever, so kids should be careful about what they send online.

Kelli also says parents should not punish their children if they are ever a victim of abuse or manipulation. Instead, they can support the child through whatever has happened and show them how they can learn.

She says kids should be allowed to take a break from the internet if they’ve gone through something traumatic or scary online.

Chris Haeffner, director of library services for Lincoln Public Schools, says the school district teaches kids about being safe online as early as kindergarten and continues through high school.

She says when it comes to teaching kids online safety, it’s important to remember your online footprint, which is the content that every individual posts online.

Haeffner also says it’s good to again have open, age-appropriate conversations with kids multiple times rather than just once, in order to keep up with what they’re doing online.

“With phones and the perpetual access to social media these days, that is our students’ lives,” she said. “It really impacts the way they interact with others and the decisions they make about their own lives, and that’s difficult for parents to navigate because it’s not how we grew up.”

She said parents can help their kids be safe online by modeling good behavior with how they act online.

She also said parents need to be able to strike a balance between monitoring their kids’ online presence and giving them some privacy.

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