Learning how to interact safely and ethically online is a critical part of growing up today, and parents can help children be safe by keeping their understandings of the internet current and communicating openly with their children.
When your kids are young, you have more control over what they do online, and can get hands-on with explaining concepts like privacy or consent. But as they get older and start entering adolescence, you’ll have to loosen your grip on their screen time as they gain more freedom. And as you do that, you’ll need to ensure your technical literacy doesn’t fall behind by keeping up with age-appropriate technology for your growing kids.
As your children grow up, you must keep track of not only what technologies they use but also how much time they spend using them. While it may feel like an invasion of privacy to check the data on their phone or tablet, if it’s done without judgment in an open conversation between parent and child then this can be a healthy way to discuss digital safety together — just make sure that any rules put in place are mutually agreed upon and work for both parties involved.
You can also set a good example by modeling responsible behavior when using technology yourself: don’t post photos of other people without their permission; remember that anything posted online stays public forever even if you delete it later; educate yourself about what different types of content mean (such as violent video games or sexually explicit material); make sure not to share information about others who are underage; discuss issues concerning the ethics of social media with other family members.
Keep the computer in an open place
While it can sometimes be difficult to keep prying eyes away from the computer, this is one of the best ways to make sure your child doesn’t access websites with objectionable content or send emails that could come back to haunt them later. While it’s not foolproof, keeping the computer in a public area where parents and guardians can easily see and monitor what they are doing online is one of the best ways to protect your children online.
Another way you can control what they see online, as well as how much time they spend online, is by using options like parental control software or web browser options when setting up their account. While no parents should rely on technology alone as a way to keep their kids safe online, these tools can help limit access until you have time to talk about proper Internet usage.
Create limits on screen time and content
- Set boundaries and rules. The first step to keeping your kids safe online is to set limits on screen time and content. Be clear with expectations, and make sure they understand them. Try not to be lax with the rules; otherwise, your kids might get confused about the consequences of certain actions.
- Establish a family agreement on the use of technology. Make sure everyone in your family knows what’s okay (and not okay) when it comes to using the internet, cell phones, gaming systems, and other media devices. You can download a copy for free at ConnectSafely’s website or create one yourself by using this template from Common Sense Media that allows you to customize limits for each member of your household based on age-appropriate guidelines.
- Adhere to house rules at all times—especially the parent! Parents need to model good behavior online. Kids are less likely to follow the rules themselves if they see that mommy or daddy doesn’t practice what they preach when it comes to respecting privacy settings on social networks or in texting conversations with others outside the family unit
Educate your child about online dangers.
- Educate your child about online dangers. Teach children about the dangers of the Internet, including cyberbullying and online predators. The FBI offers tips on how to teach children about online safety at home.
- Learn about your child’s online activities. Monitor their online activities by asking them who they are chatting with, what sites they visit, and how long they spend online. As much as you want to trust your kids, remember that even children who are normally honest may not tell the truth about their cyber activities for fear of having their computer privileges taken away or getting in trouble with you.
- Restrict use of social networking sites. Children should be at least 13 years old before signing up for a Facebook account (or any other social media account). If your child is younger than that, discourage him/her from signing up for such an account or seek parental approval from a parent of his/her friends before doing so. You can also set up parameters around the use of these accounts by creating a family contract or setting rules together as a family on when and where it is appropriate to use social media websites and apps.
Monitor their social media accounts.
Monitoring your child’s social media accounts is a great way to keep an eye on what they’re doing online. You can also look for signs that indicate your child may be a victim of online bullying.
Signs of cyberbullying include:
- Your child avoids using their computer or phone, especially when you’re around.
- They become withdrawn from family members and friends.
- They exhibit signs of depression or anxiety, such as not eating, spending a lot of time alone in their room, or crying unexpectedly.
Bullying can cause severe psychological damage to children, sometimes lasting well into adulthood, so it’s important to take all threats seriously and take steps to keep your kids safe online. There are many resources available for dealing with cyberbullying, including this guide from the Cyberbullying Research Center, which outlines ways both parents and children can protect themselves from being bullied online.
Create rules for sharing information and images
You can also help your child to avoid dangerous online environments by creating rules for sharing information and images. Talk to your kids about what personal information is and why it’s important not to give it out. A popular graphic found on the internet explains this well: remind children that they probably shouldn’t share any information that they wouldn’t be comfortable posting on a billboard in their hometown or calling into the local radio station. Create rules on who can see what, and remind kids that while they might be able to delete things from their computers or devices, once something is posted online, it’s there forever. Let them know how damaging forwarding an inappropriate image of another person could be and explain how cyberbullying is handled in your family.
Maintain open communication.
The first and foremost step to keeping your child safe is maintaining open communication. Let your child know that you will always be there for them, and encourage them to come to you if they encounter anything strange or uncomfortable while using the Internet.
Ask questions about their online activity and let them know that you are interested in this part of their life. Children who feel like they have a relationship with their parents where they can discuss these issues freely are more likely to tell you about potential problems before those problems escalate into something worse.
Be present in your child’s online life to keep them safer.
The best way to protect your child is to be involved in his or her online life. You can only do this by being present and asking questions. You need to know who your child is talking with, what he or she is doing on the internet, and what websites they are visiting. You should also keep up-to-date on the latest apps and websites that children use so you have a better understanding of what they are using them for. The more educated you are, the better you can protect your child.