Being a parent can be tough, especially when you’re trying to protect your children from unforeseen risks. When your kids start using the internet, those dangers multiply exponentially. While the internet can be a useful resource for homework and entertainment, there’s also a safety concerns for anyone who’s unprepared. Here are some useful tips to make online literacy a number one priority in your household so that your kids can stay safe online.
Talk to your children about internet safety
When kids are online, they’re typically seeking instant gratification--learning something new, connecting with friends, randomly researching, etc. The last thing on their minds is privacy or safety. That’s why it’s so important to give them basic guidelines to follow, such as:
- Never provide their personal details without your permission, including their name, home address, email address, password, school, or photo.
- Never open or reply to emails that are sent from people they don’t know
- Never respond to bullying or hurtful messages anywhere, including emails, texts or social media
- Never “talk” to strangers online or agree to meet anyone in-person
The internet is constantly changing, and new apps appear every day. As a result, it’s essential to stay informed and make a point to have regular conversations with your kids. And when you do, try to avoid laying down the law. Your kids will be much more inclined to listen if you give them helpful explanations about why safety’s so important.
Empower your kids to protect themselves
Instead of simply telling your kids about the dangers online, make sure they also know to proactively shield themselves. Kids may not be aware about how much of their personal details and social media posts are available for public viewing. Apps like Tumblr, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Instagram all have their own unique risks. Make sure you engage in conversations with your kids about the safety considerations for each one.
Talk them through how to set the privacy controls on their social media accounts, or better yet, set them up together. It’s good practice to ingrain in them the importance of modifying their privacy settings before using any new app.
Set basic internet ground rules
Establish guidelines for appropriate online behavior and usage. This might include restricting internet usage to certain hours of the day, establishing which websites kids are allowed to visit, and putting a limit on how many texts kids can send per month. If you wish to limit internet access, many Wi-Fi routers let you set them to automatically disconnect from the internet after a certain time of day, like 9pm.
Providing your young kids with a list of safe search engines--such as Kidtopia, Kiddle, and Yahooligans--may also be helpful. This is just one way to protect your kids when they’re doing research online. Otherwise, they may stumble on websites they never imagined finding. (Another way is to set parental controls.)
Consider keeping devices in living areas
While it’s impossible to constantly supervise everything your kids do online, having computers and tablets where you can quickly glance at them makes it much more difficult for kids to hide the websites they’re visiting and their social media behavior. In general, many parents find kids are more likely to follow the rules when devices are kept in common areas. Plus, if something unsafe arises when they’re browsing, you’re easily available for advice and guidance.
“Friend” your kids on social media
When your kids get old enough to join social media, keeping an eye on them is easier if you insist that at least one parent is connected to them on that platform. According to one study, 83 percent of parents are friends with their teens on Facebook. Being connected doesn’t mean that you’re constantly posting comments and photos to your kid’s timeline. Rather, knowing you’re there tends to help kids police their own behavior.
Another benefit to being “friends” is that it helps you keep on top of any cyberbullying if it rears its ugly head. Kids may be hesitant to come to you for minor inappropriate online behavior. However bad behavior often escalates, so paying attention can help you keep things in-check.
Set up parental controls
While you want your kids to have the freedom to explore online, it’s surprisingly easy to stumble on inappropriate content. Parental controls are built-in to almost all internet browsers and devices, and they offer a good defense. Best of all, they not only work to prevent your kids from seeing unsafe content, they also control what they give out.
To find built-in controls on your internet browser or device, look for Settings, Internet Options, Parental Controls, and Safe Search.
- Internet connection controls will basically block all pornography and other objectionable content at the Internet Service Provider (ISP) level.
- Operating system controls enable parents to set up special user accounts for their kids on each device. These accounts can then be set to block access to particular websites and apps, or even disable webcam access.
To take internet safety one step further, you might also consider purchasing dedicated parental control software like Net Nanny. While this software can be quite complex to install, parents who take the time to learn how to use it will find they can do a lot to block unwanted content, control access to social media, and monitor all internet usage.
There’s no substitute for personal involvement
Controls and rules can only do so much, which is why parental attention is so crucial to keeping your kids safe online. While your household may be a safe place, not all parents will implement the same rules and controls. As soon as your kid visits a friend’s house or uses their smartphone, all of your efforts will be in vain—if you’re not aware and involved. Staying active and interested in your child’s life really goes a long way.