Raising kids was never easy, but in the digital age, it’s harder than ever. In a simpler time, before the internet and smartphones, parenting was about teaching kids not to talk to strangers and making sure they didn’t play outside too late on school nights, looked both ways before crossing the street (still timely advice), and didn’t watch too much TV. These days, keeping kids safe online has become one of parents’ most important priorities.
A Downside to the Internet Revolution: Kids and Online Safety
To be sure, the internet has revolutionized how we live. Hardly anyone can imagine living without it; in fact, anyone without internet access in the modern world is considered disadvantaged. Still, for all its benefits, modern connectivity has made parenting more complex than anyone could’ve imagined 20 or 30 years ago. The challenge of keeping kids safe online is a major part of that complexity.
Are Your Kids Ready for Life Online?
At what age should you allow children to begin using the internet? When should you give them a tablet? A smartphone? A desktop computer or laptop? Social media, chat rooms, online video, Xbox, PlayStation, Roblox, Fortnite—all these and more can pull kids in with addictive power, giving parents a lot to manage and even more to worry about in regards to their kids and online safety.
Tips for Keeping Your Children Safe on the Internet
There are steps parents can take to minimize the dangers and to better manage anxieties over their kids and online safety. Below, we’ve compiled a list. Readers should keep in mind that, when it comes to online safety, every child is different: What works for one may not work for another, while other measures might require adjustments or different degrees of enforcement for different children.
Limited Online Time
This might seem like commonsense advice to some. For busy parents, though, with something to do or somewhere to be every minute of every waking hour, convenience can undermine commonsense—even when it comes to kids and online safety. When you’re busy, it’s easy to hand children tablets or other devices to keep them occupied; just let them keep playing until you’re done with business. There are many reasons this is a bad idea, including stunted social development, poor health and underdeveloped imaginations.
For this article, though, the important thing to remember is that the more time kids spend online, the greater the danger and the harder it is to track what they’re doing. Are they visiting chat rooms? Who are they talking to? What social media sites do they use and what are they posting? What videos are they watching? Limited online usage is a great place to start in keeping your children safe on the internet!
Keeping Kids Safe Online Requires Clear Guidelines
Kids need boundaries. No matter the era or generation, this bit of wisdom stands the test of time; it’s true regarding kids and online safety, too. If limiting a child’s online time is boundary number 1, setting clear guidelines for when, how and how long kids can use the internet is number 2. Start by creating a schedule. For example, maybe give a child 30 minutes of “connected time” Monday through Friday and perhaps a little more on Saturday, with no connectivity on Sunday. Keeping to such a schedule will be easier during the week, when kids spend most of the day in school and doing homework afterward. Sticking to a schedule on the weekend may prove trickier and require parents to limit their own connectivity time. Kids need something to do in place of online time, so parents will need to help them stay occupied.
Setting boundaries for keeping kids safe online also includes making clear what websites, social media platforms, videos, apps and games are acceptable and which are not. Knowing this information may require some parental research, but you’ll learn to “speak your child’s language,” demonstrating your commitment to your kids and online safety.
Don’t put a Connected Device in Children’s Rooms
Ok, you’ve gotten serious about keeping your children safe on the internet. You’ve set an online schedule and made clear your intention to stick to it. A good enforcement strategy is to disallow a desktop or laptop computer in a child’s rooms. Put that computer in a centralized spot instead—a place where you can keep an eye on what your kids do online. It’s probably a good idea to add tablets, smartphones and gaming consoles to the list of connected devices kids shouldn’t have in their rooms, either.
Keeping Kids Safe Online Requires Quality Time
There was a time when the humble television stood at the center of family entertainment. A few nights a week, parents would join their kids before the tube—generally in the living room—to watch something together; this habit encouraged family bonding. These days, many kids have little or no interest in TV. They’d rather watch YouTube videos, play online games, surf the web or do something else—anything else—online. What are parents to do when that mainstay of American culture—the television—holds no appeal for youngsters? The old phrase “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” comes to mind.
Instead of holding family time around the TV, hold it in front of the family computer. Want to know what your kids do online? What better way than to watch YouTube videos, play online games, post on social media or surf the web together? Doing so can serve not only as a bonding experience, but could also help you gain insight into what interests your children. Use that understanding to help make family computer time at least partly educational, with videos and sites that reinforce a child’s particular interest in, say, science, history or animals.
Keeping Kids Safe Online Requires Discussing the Dangers
Someone once said, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” In that spirit, this tip for keeping your children safe on the internet starts with advice that might be as old as parenting itself: “Don’t talk to strangers.” On the internet, there are many, many strangers to be wary of. Keeping kids safe online means making sure they know not to talk to or engage with those strangers. Online strangers present such potential danger because not everyone online is who they claim to be.
By some estimates, one in five children has been sexually solicited online. Talk to your kids about the dangers of talking to people they don’t know online and, especially, about how the 10-year-old boy they meet could really be a 40-year-old man trying to lure in unsuspecting kids.
Teach them about the dangers of online chat rooms, where nobody knows who anybody is, and make sure they stay out of them. Make sure your kids understand they must never, ever reveal personal info online, including full name, address, birthdate, phone number and more. Kids shouldn’t upload or download photos without your permission, either. And above all, they must NEVER, EVER, NEVER arrange to meet someone they meet on the internet in real life—this may be the most important rule of all for keeping your children safe on the internet!
When you talk to your child, don’t be critical, distrustful or use punishment to motivate them. Encourage them to talk to you immediately if they encounter anything objectionable or offensive, or if they have an unpleasant online interaction.
Check What They’re Doing Online
Make clear to your children you will regularly review their messaging apps, browser histories, social media pages and any other stuff they do online. For some, this might seem too invasive, but remember: No matter how much you talk to them about online dangers, it can be difficult for some kids and teens to fully grasp the extent and seriousness of the risk; keeping kids safe online means giving them guidance—and lots of it. For many children, knowing you’re watching will make them more cautious in what they do and say online and with whom.
Parental Controls, Kids and Online Safety
From MacOS to Windows 10 and Android, Google Play, Google Chrome, iTunes and YouTube; from gaming consoles to smart TVs, Netflix and more, today’s devices and software come with a host of features to help you with keeping your children safe on the internet. Use these features to help prevent kids’ exposure to objectionable content, to control usage time and more. Whatever apps, games and devices your kids use, familiarize yourself with these parental controls and use them.
Keeping Kids Safe Online Means Trusting Them
This tip will be more difficult for some parents than for others. It partly depends on the child and partly on the parent-child relationship. If you’ve discussed online safety with them, have set guidelines and followed other pieces of advice offered here, there must come a point when you trust your child. If they have the necessary knowledge about online safety, you’ve at least established a solid foundation. If he/she feels comfortable talking to you about objectionable or offensive content or any unpleasant interaction, you’re definitely on the right path towards keeping your children safe on the internet.
Keeping Kids Safe Online Means Practicing What You Preach
For better or worse, kids tend to emulate their parents, and if you approach kids and online safety with a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude, you’re setting yourself up for difficulty. An important aspect of keeping your children safe on the internet is practicing the habits you want to instill in them. If you don’t want them to be on a tablet or other device at the table, for example, don’t use one yourself while having a meal. If you don’t want your kids to have a connected device in their bedrooms, try keeping yours out of the bedroom, too. Try putting limits on your own, personal online time, too. If you need to work on a connected device, do it while kids aren’t around. If you must be online when your children are around, explain to them you’re working, not playing.