It’s safe to say that the internet is as exciting and scary for kids as it is for parents realizing their kids are now…online. The internet provides a world away from home that kids can access from anywhere, anytime, and we can’t always be there to make sure they’re being safe.
Cyber bullies, identity theft, online predators and inappropriate content are just a click away.
We don’t want to become helicopter parents that suffocate our children by controlling every decision they make (and like we’d even have the time to do that, anyways!).
But, there are precautions we can take to drastically reduce the chances of our children running into trouble online. Check out the following three tips to help keep your little ones safe on the internet.
1. Cyberbullies: Maintain Open Communication
Your children won’t tell you everything, but by talking to them regularly about their online habits and responding to online mistakes respectfully, you’ll maintain the trusting relationship your child needs if cyberbullying arises.
The US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) advises parents to watch for cyberbullying warning signs, like a child’s change in behavior. If a cyberbully problem arises, US-CERT also cautions parents to avoid escalating the situation by confronting the bully because, often, the bully loves the reaction.
Instead, document the activity (save and print emails and chat messages), and report cyberbullying to the proper authorities, including your child’s school and local law enforcement.
2. Identity Theft: Keep Everything Private
The internet is saturated with identity theft crimes, which is part of the reason every new social media profile your child creates needs to be set to private. With this setting, only their friends and you can see what they’re posting.
Social media posts (especially selfies) should never detail home addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, or school names. Middle and high schoolers are also notorious for posting pictures of their IDs—for example, they may post “Got my new driver’s license today!” or “Officially in junior high, my ID badge pic is lit.” These details should never be posted on the internet so your child’s identity stays safe and secure.
Another key safety tip: turn off location services on your child’s phone so when they post a picture it won’t reveal their location in the photo’s code and file data.
3. Online Predators: Set Surfing Restrictions
Make a family rule on where and how long your kids can be online each day and what sites they can visit. Spouses or co-parents should work as a team and both enforce the rule.
Allow your children to surf the internet only in a common area of the house, like the living room or kitchen. Keep the computers and tablets in this central location, and set internet-browsing time to the hours a parent is home and awake. This setup offers a safe space where you can answer your kids’ questions or watch for predatory behavior from an anonymous stranger.
If your kids still need the computer for homework after free time, let them know which sites they can and can’t use. For example, you probably don’t want your kids sending instant messages when they should be researching a history assignment.
Parents of older children should also prohibit their kids’ phone use at night unmonitored in their bedrooms. Instead, build a charging station in your room or a common area to store all family phones for the evening.
You don’t need to be a helicopter parent to raise kids who use the internet in a safe, healthy manner. Teach your kids the above-listed and these additional proper online guidelines in a loving way.
Remember that young kids don’t always understand how dangerous the internet is unless you talk with them about it. Let your child know it’s normal to be curious, but it’s dangerous to cross boundaries.