Protecting your children online is a more complex challenge than ever before. In past years, online predators were the main risk. While they can still pose a danger, Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society cites other risks including cybercrime, cyberbullying and online reputation. The digital devices themselves can also pose dangers to kids who don't take the necessary precautions. Here are three unique ways to keep kids safer in the digital age:
Having a family meeting in which you teach kids key internet safety considerations is an impactful way to communicate. Taking the time for a formal meeting will help to instill the seriousness of the matter and make more of a lasting impression than just a casual conversation. Some of the topics you should cover include:
Passwords. Remind kids to create account passwords that are complex enough to minimize the risk of being hacked. Passwords should also never be shared with friends or anyone other than you. You should also frequently change passwords.
Logout. Users should log out of accounts when not in use, especially on public computers. When kids are using computers at school, the library, or another domain, remind them to always log out and, if prompted by the computer, do not check the “remember me” box. Logging in and out every time, regardless of whether it is a personal or public connection, is also helpful for remembering passwords.
Selective clicking/downloading. Remind kids not to click on suspicious links and to avoid downloading suspect attachments. If they have any questions, they should know to ask you.
Online "friends." Warn your child about the dangers of getting too personal with a stranger online. If you become suspicious of someone, you can look up his or her name in a database like this criminal records resource from Instant Checkmate.
Cyberbullying. Teach your kids that if they are ever cyberbulllied, they should not respond to the bully and instead report it to you or a teacher immediately. Copies of abusive posts and messages should be saved. Find more about how to deal with cyberbullying at www.cyberbullying.us.
While "stranger danger" is still a possibility online, one of the biggest safety risks facing your kids today is, unfortunately, from people they already know. NoBullying.com says that 25% of teenagers and a staggering 52% of younger children report having been bullied online. To minimize the risk of short and long-term effects, monitor your child's internet usage and check in with them regularly. Pay particular attention if your child starts to become anxious, withdrawn or behaves differently at home or school; these could be signs they are being harassed online.
Reputation management is another online consideration; whatever is posted publicly starts to shape your child's reputation, so warn them against over-sharing on social media. If anyone is gossiping or slandering your child's name or reputation, this should be dealt with immediately and rapidly. Contact the school and/or the parents of the children who are engaging in this behavior.
Lastly, be aware of the potential physical risks that come with life in the digital age and how it applies specifically to your children. The medical community is still not sure about the potential long-term risks of cell phones to human health in terms of radiation and Wi-Fi frequencies. The younger the child, the higher the risk might be. Insist that your kids always use a hands-free device with their cell phones. Set limits as to how much they can use their phones, tablets and computers, and don't allow them to take the devices to bed with them.
Teenagers, texting and driving can be a lethal combination. Impress upon your teenage child the dangers of texting while driving and forbid them to do so, even at stoplights. As an added safety measure, you can also download a text-prevention app to the phones of your teens that drive. These apps are able to sense when they are in a car in motion and will lock out the user, effectively preventing them from texting while driving.
The digital age has added a whole new dimension to keeping kids safe, but with education and vigilance, your kids can stay secure both online and off.
Cover image courtesy of Flickr.