We use the internet for everything; shopping, researching, socializing, learning, navigating. The same is true for our kids. They use the internet to play games, talk to their friends, and do their homework. And kids are curious, wanting to learn and discover the world around them. Of course, we want to encourage this as much as possible.
The problem with this is that the internet can be a dangerous place. Unfortunately, just as in the real world, there are criminals on the internet looking to take advantage of innocence and trust.
With great power comes great responsibility.
In addition to possible predators, cyberbullying has also received a lot of media attention in recent years. Social media makes it easy for peers and even strangers to be cruel while hidden safely behind a computer screen.
Obviously, we want to protect our kids from these dangers, but where to start? This guide will give you a starting point to help your kids navigate the internet:
As with anything, you should understand the dangers that your kids could face and the possible solutions.
- Figure out what kind of devices your kids are actually using and what they can do. For example, if your child plays video games, see if those games connect to the internet and if they are multiplayer games. This allows other players to contact your child without you knowing it.
- This site is a great place to start, for both educating yourself and your children about being safe online. It offers tons of resources, teaching tools, and courses.
Talk about the potential dangers
- The tired old saying “communication is a key” really applies here. Letting your kids know that there are real dangers on the Internet can help them make smart choices, rather than resenting you for putting rules in place.
- Explicitly tell your kids which information they can and cannot share online, and why. Passwords, addresses, phone numbers, etc. should never be shared, although it seems self-explanatory, it may not be to younger kids.
- Make sure your kids know that anything they post is publicly and permanently visible to anyone on the internet. What they post now could affect them for years down the line, and this is a very important point to stress. Although if pictures and posts may not seem like a big deal now, they could come back to bite them.
- An important point to mention is that if you wouldn’t do it in person, you shouldn’t do it online.
Make your expectations clear
- Set up a set of rules that your kids agree to follow to ensure their safety. These rules should change as your children grow, but should always be straightforward.
- Check out this informative site that can provide you with a “Family Contract for Online Safety”. It outlines a list of rules that kids should be following, such as only downloading things with explicit permission and never ever giving out passwords. It also gives a list of rules that parents should follow to help keep their kids safe, such as “try to get to know my child’s “online friends” just as I try to get to know his or her other friends”. Apparently, these rules are up to you- decide what works best for your family and stick with it.
Designate times and uses
- Based on your set of rules, set up designated times that your kids can and cannot use the internet. For example, no phone or laptops after 9 pm. This works because it helps kids wind down screen-free before bedtime, and also gives you the peace of mind that they aren’t staying up into the wee hours on sketchy sites.
- Decide what your children should be using a computer to do. Do they need it to complete their homework, play games, or watch movies in their room? Perhaps, you will decide that it is best for them to watch movies in the family room, where parents and siblings can monitor what they are seeing, or that they must complete all homework before checking social media.
- For teens, apps such as Self Control allow them to blacklist certain sites for a period of time, which can help cut out social media and streaming while they are getting homework done (distractions from productivity, like these adorable videos).
Think about setting up parental controls
- Parental controls allow you to block certain sites. You can start by asking your ISP what it offers in terms of filtering and blocking certain content. Most ISPs do. You can choose to block specific inappropriate content such as ‘pornography’ or ‘racism’. Check out this guide to parental controls.
- This may or may not be necessary, depending on your kids’ age and your family. These will obviously work betters on toddlers as opposed to teens.
- It is important to mention that the blacklists are imperfect and may block some good content while letting some bad content through. Whitelists are very limiting. That’s why it’s so important to take the time to educate your kids instead of relying only on these controls. Even if something sketchy happens, your kids will know what to.
Keep an eye on your kids’ interactions
- There is a fine line between invasive spying and checking up on your kids’ accounts, which is important to do. Create an account and friend your children on their social media accounts; Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Vine. Chances are your children has all of them, and make sure you know what is going on there. This should be a condition to creating accounts on any of these platforms.
- As I mentioned earlier, make some attempt to get to know your child’s online friends in the same way you would get to know their school friends. This may be difficult but is worth a try for the peace of mind.
Make sure your kids know they can come to you if something seems off
- After all of this, your child still may end up in an unsafe situation. Some things, like cyberbullying, find a way regardless of your attempts to shelter your children from it.
- What you can do is make sure that your child knows they can come to you for help, without judgment. If you know about the situation, you can help them find a mature and safe way to deal with it. In this case, ignorance definitely is not a bliss.
TIME says: “The biggest key to keeping your children safe online isn’t walling off the Internet or crippling their computers (though a little bit of that can help), it’s helping them understand how big the world is, and which places within it are safe to roam”.
For more tips on how to stay safe from hackers and other dangers on the internet, in general, check out our Ultimate CUJO Guide to staying safe online.