The Internet can be a blessing and a curse for children with type 1 diabetes. It can be a great place to find information about type 1 and connect with other kids who have it. But when and if you stumble upon an unreliable health site, it can be a frightening place full of misinformation that can fuel children's fears. By surfing together and closely supervising every step of the way, parents can help kids navigate the web safely and securely.
Ask for Help
"I always tell parents to teach younger kids the ABCs of Internet safety: ask for help, bring a grownup, and check first," says Internet safety expert Lori Getz. "That means they'll ask for help before going to the computer, will bring a grownup along when surfing the web, and will check with you first before going to new websites."
If you're not sure which sites are best, ask your healthcare providers for website recommendations, advises Amanda Fridlington, D.N.P., R.N., nurse practitioner supervisor of the diabetes team at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Mo. "That way, both you and your kids will be visiting sites that are known to have accurate and reliable information about type 1 diabetes," she says.
That worked for Jamie, whose 7-year-old son has type 1 diabetes. "We talked to my son's doctor about the resources that are available to him online, and she recommended a safe 'starter' site for kids that gives age-appropriate information," she says. "I felt way more confident knowing that it was recommended by someone we trust."
If you see any information online that scares you or is questionable, be sure to print it out and bring it to your next doctor's appointment. "Many of us rely on searching online for medical information," says Fridlington, "and some of the information can be a little intimidating and misleading." Before wasting time stressing over potentially inaccurate info, discuss it with your diabetes care team.
Set Age-Appropriate Boundaries
"One thing I was unsure about was how much freedom to give my 10-year-old online," recalls Robyn, whose son was diagnosed two years ago. "I know I can't keep him from the Internet -- but just letting him loose on there scared me. I'm still trying to figure this out."
To determine how much independence to give your child online, Getz recommends that you mirror the level of independence you give him or her in the physical world. "If my daughter is 5, I'm going to sit with her and watch what she's doing -- just as I would do at the park," she explains. "But if I have a 9-year-old, I might ask a lot of questions and supervise more from a distance."
Getz also recommends that parents retain all of their child's passwords for every site they visit. "This is part of a family safety plan, not a matter of trust. You need to be able to get into your kids' accounts in case of emergency. Let them know you're not going to be going in and reading everything -- but you certainly have the right to if you feel that something isn't right."
Jodi, 13, says her parents keep the computer in the dining room so they can see what she's doing online. "I'm the only person with type 1 diabetes in my middle school, so it's been fun to talk to other people online who know what I'm going through," she says. "I've met a lot of cool friends."
Keep a Watchful Eye
When connecting with other kids online, make sure your child's conversations don't raise any red flags. Bullies or even predators can infiltrate type 1 sites as easily as they can any social networking site. "Pay attention to the types of conversations they're having …they should relate to type 1 diabetes specifically." She says that if someone online is sending messages like "Do you hate your parents too" or "Your friends don't understand you like I do," that's a big warning sign, since predators often try to ostracize kids from their friends and parents. And remind your kids to NEVER give personal information such as their address or phone number without your permission under any circumstances.
Just because there are some dangers out there doesn't mean you need to keep your children offline altogether. "Parents should absolutely encourage their child to seek out information about type 1 diabetes," Fridlington concludes. "It's the responsibility of parents and healthcare providers to equip the child with resources to assist with his or her diabetes management throughout life. This comes back to parents having an open relationship with their child and talking with them about their diabetes management together to ensure safe and accurate information."
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the "typical" experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.
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