Technology has improved life in so many ways, from workplace efficiency to better communication between loved ones across the globe. Kids growing up today will never know what it means to wait for photographs from family in the mail or plan a summer vacation using an atlas.
The Internet is a valuable tool that helps us find recipes, research history projects, and stay in touch. But it’s also rife with risk, and when your children are in your home, it’s more important than ever to protect them from the dangers of the Internet.
Here are some tips to help:
1. Work with them. When your child needs to get online for schoolwork or just wants to learn about something, sit alongside him or her. How much you need to be involved depends on your child, but at least check in every so often.
2. Discuss red flags. Explain the dangers and realities of online predators to your kids in an age-appropriate way and make sure they know to come to you immediately when a stranger asks something that is out of line. You should also discuss cyber bullying and let your kids know that even if they know the person, harassment online is not acceptable and is a reason to come tell you about it.
3. Create technology time restrictions. Set time limits and create windows of time that are technology-free for the whole family. If your child has a smartphone, it may be difficult to limit the amount of time he or she spends on it, but create some boundaries. Make dinner and homework time, for example, off limits for phones and do the same for first thing in the morning when getting ready for school. The mandated time away from technology will give your kids the chance to disconnect and have some individual time.
4. Keep electronics in open areas. When it comes to home computers, position them in a common area. Even if you are not standing in the same room, it will prevent your kids from participating in activities that they know would get them in trouble. Laptops can be set up on a kitchen counter while you prepare dinner, or in the living room while you relax in the evening. Again, this is more difficult when it comes to smartphones, but implement it when you can. If your kids try to hide their electronics or minimize the screen when you are nearby, ask them what it is that they are hiding.
5. Set parental controls. Your computer may have options to control the types of sites your kids visit. You can also purchase software programs that serve the same function. This is especially smart when you have elementary-age children that could accidentally wind up on an inappropriate website or one that puts their privacy in danger. Never rely totally on your control though. Make sure you are checking in on what your kids are doing online and check your browser histories regularly.
6. Visit their social media pages. While your kids may be mortified at the idea of you “friending” them on Facebook or following them on Twitter, they should still agree to letting you see what they are doing on their pages. You do not need to know their login information, but at least have them pull up their feeds for you once per week to review or ask them if a friend of yours or family member can join their page. That person does not need to “spy” for you, but his or her presence will hopefully encourage your child to act appropriately on social media. Remind your child that you can and will revoke social media privileges if you discover they are acting irresponsibly or recklessly online.
7. Explain how to keep private information private. When your kids create usernames for sites, ask them to leave out their real names, locations, ages, and birthdates. Instead, encourage them to use generic screen names and avatars instead of real photos. As they get older, restricting the photos they post becomes more difficult, but by the teen years, your kids will be smart enough to know when a stranger is acting suspiciously and let you know about it or block the person.
Unfortunately, the anonymity of the Internet has made it so that predators and bullies can hide behind their screens. With some advice and monitoring from you, your kids can enjoy Internet technology safely.
What are some ways you keep your kids safe online?