The online world can be full of dangers for children. As a parent, you need to know how to protect your kids. You need to take the approach that works best for your unique children, but let’s examine the basic ways to keep kids safe online.
1. Talk About Online Safety Early
The rules for staying safe online and in the three-dimensional world are a little different. But you should introduce the rules in the same way. Being safe in the real world and being safe online are similar, but also crucially different. Obvious danger signs might not show up through usernames and selfies.
Staying safe isn’t just about avoiding the predations of others. Many of the dangers in the online world are self-inflicted, with children finding inappropriate content or writing something online that they can’t take back. Make sure they know that just being online doesn’t insulate them from the consequences of their actions. A good rule of thumb: “only do online what you would do in person.”
2. Maintain an Open Dialogue
The best online guardian you can find is yourself. If you have a strong, open relationship with your child, it’s easier to keep them safe. As they grow, you won’t always be over their shoulder. They need to feel comfortable coming to you with fears and concerns about something that happened to them, whether online or in “real life.”
Paradoxically, giving your children some freedom can make it easier for them to bring problems to you. If you trust them a little, they’ll often repay you ten-fold. Extremely restrictive parenting styles can damage this trust. If your kids feel like they’ll be meet with disappointment or discipline when they have a problem, it will be harder to keep them safe.
3. Keep Content Age Appropriate
One of the most obvious rules of to keep kids safe online is limiting content to age-appropriate material. Obvious standouts like porn and violence are what we think of first, but other content can be troubling too. Some children are deeply upset by fearful imagery on the evening news, or scary stories meant for kids. You have to use your own knowledge of your own children to understand what’s safe and appropriate for them.
You can start by getting young children a tablet loaded with games and logged into Netflix Kids. As your children get older, they’ll need broader Internet access that grows with their maturity. Tools like NetNanny and Qustodio can block destructive content, protecting young children from damaging material.
4. Monitor Internet Usage
Digital tools like kid-friendly browsers, anti-virus software, and parental blocks have varying degrees of effectiveness and heavy-handedness.
- Blunt tools like broad content blocks are appropriate for young children but won’t work well with older children.
- Keeping the computer in an open space is a good way to make sure your kids aren’t getting into things they shouldn’t.
- Kid-safe content portals, like Google’s Kiddle, are designed for kids. They’ll search with Google’s power, but only see safe results.
- Check out browser history periodically to make sure nothing’s amiss. This might feel like spying – it is – but someone needs to keep kids safe online until they’re old enough to do it themselves.
5. Lock Down Social Media Accounts
When your children turn 13 and get their own social media accounts, there are steps you can take to improve their security. Snapchat, for example, lets you limit contact to friends and eliminate strangers. Set Instagram accounts to private and lock down Facebook privacy settings. There’s little reason for a child of ten to have a Facebook account. Don’t forget that every major company’s Terms of Service forbid children under 13 years old.
6. Maintain Basic Security Tools
The smartest, most responsible kids will still make mistakes that an average adult makes frequently. Even with the best of intentions, kids can unintentionally install malicious software on the family computer. Make sure you have firewall and anti-virus tools like Malwarebytes running on your kids’ computer to protect them and their hardware. Also, make sure you have the latest security patches and software updates to block the most recent exploits to keep kids safe online.
7. Look Out For Strangers
While most child endangerment comes from relatives and family friends, strangers are a major concern for most parents trying to keep kids safe online. Kids probably don’t know how to deal with a message from a stranger on a social media platform. Most kids are trusting to a fault and will assume that whatever anyone says is true – unless you warn them otherwise. If a stranger tries to start a conversation with them online, they should let you know so a more experienced person can handle the situation. This will become even more important as kid-specific apps like Facebook’s Messenger Kids grow in popularity.
8. Set Sensible Screen Time Limits
Most experts agree that kids’ screens should be limited. For young children, the Mayo Clinic says that unstructured play is more cognitively beneficial than watching digital content. For children between two and five years old, one hour of quality content should be the limit. After five years old, a one-size-fits-all approach breaks down. Thereafter, you’ll need to set limits based on your experience with your children.
9. Don’t Introduce Technology Too Early
Television has long been a life-saver for busy or exhausted parents: it’s not called a virtual babysitter for nothing. But make sure you’re only presenting technology to the kids when they’re ready for it. The Mayo Clinic recommends waiting until eighteen to twenty-four months. While it’s hard to remove technology from your kids’ life without removing it from your own, infants and very young children grow the most from constructive play and socialization.
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