Innovation in the cyber world has offered us many new opportunities to allow our children to access experiences, entertainment, and education. However, without proper preparation you could be sending your children unattended into a world of danger if they are left to their own devices when it comes to online exploration. Considering the number of hours children and teens spend online is increasing as internet accessibility becomes more available through things like mobile devices and television, a parent’s role in monitoring online activity should also increase. Here are some important ways to keep your kids safe in cyber space.
1. Talk About It: Discuss online safety with your kids at a young age and talk about it often. As their age increases, the ways and utilizations for the internet will also change, so it’s important to revisit the topic on a regular basis. That’s right – be the broken record that repeats itself over and over.
2. Ask Your Child What They Do Online: One of the easiest ways to find out what your child is doing on the computer is to ask them. Use probing questions like, “What websites do you visit?” and “What’s best about that website?” What website do you tell your friends about?”
3. Let Your Child Teach You: Ask your child to teach you about social networks and games. Often children know more than their parents about online resources. Asking them to show you how to navigate certain sites can not only help them feel empowered by helping you, but also give you a sense of familiarity with what sites they frequent and what they do on these sites.
4. Give Them Specific Ways To Help You: To further develop an understanding of your child’s knowledge and activity online, ask them to help you with specific tasks like setting up profiles on certain social media sites or to show you what family and friends they are communicating with online. Ask them to show you how to play their favorite online game.
5. Keep Computers in a Central Area in Your Home: Discourage the use of the internet behind closed doors in bedrooms and other private areas of the house. If your child has homework and they feel they need a quiet space, have them perform their internet research in a common area of the house and disable any internet settings if they take computers into bedrooms or other areas of the house less easily monitored.
6. Know Who Your Child is Talking to Online: While you may stress the importance of not talking to strangers in-person, often children don’t feel like people they talk to online are strangers. Monitor who your child is talking to and probe their online activity with questions like, “Who do you know that has the most friends online?” and “How do they know so many people?” Questions like this open the door for discussing that they really don’t know the people on the other end of the computer and define that these are strangers too.
7. “Friend” Your Child on Social Media: Your child may not want to be “friends” with their parent or a trusted adult on social media, but make no exceptions that this is a criteria if they want to continue online activity. All of their social media profiles should be linked to you in some way so that you can monitor activity.
8. Set Boundaries: The internet should not be a free-for-all playground for your child. Have specific rules and boundaries that must be adhered to in order for them to keep the privilege of online access. Set certain acceptable times of use, length of time of use, specify what information including photos and videos is allowed to be shared, and check game ratings for children who play games online.
9. Eliminate Webcams: Without an adult monitoring, there is really no use for a child to use webcams for entertainment purposes when they are using the computer without direct supervision. Disable or cover the webcam unless your child has specific permission to use it.
10. Ensure Content is Age-Appropriate: For younger children, you should be able to view the website as a parent and view an explanation of how it works. For older children, you must specify exactly what websites they are permitted to visit. Many websites like Facebook and other social media sites have age limits on those who are able to set up profiles. Don’t let your child guilt you into breaking these guidelines and setting up access when it is not age appropriate. Always check the internet browser on a regular basis to review what websites your child has been visiting.
11. Use Parental Controls: Parental and privacy controls are a measure that can help eliminate inappropriate use of the internet by children. They can help monitor, filter, and block access of certain internet websites. Just remember, these controls are not fail-safe and many children are savvy enough to bypass them. Conversation with your child and active checking is critical to monitor activity.
12. Protect Your Child’s Privacy: Check all of the settings and controls on the specific sites that your child visits and be sure that these settings are set to private. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and many more all have privacy setting features.
13. Alter Privacy Settings Based on Child’s Age: Your child may ask you to remove some privacy settings on certain sites. If your child is old enough and you feel comfortable doing so, use this as an opportunity to reinforce guidelines and have them explain to you some examples of appropriate and inappropriate online behavior.
14. Ensure Your Child Knows How to Report Abusive Behavior: Aside from just telling you when your child encounters inappropriate behavior, ensure that they know how to report it if they are contacted by someone who is inappropriate. You can find tools on reporting inappropriate behavior for frequently used sites here.
15. Watch for Red Flags: If your child quickly slams the laptop closed when you walk in the room, assume some investigating is in order. Be on the lookout for any new friends your child might have that you do not personally know. Especially question phone calls or gifts your child may receive from individuals you do not personally know.
16. Avoid the Best Friend Role: When it comes to internet safety, your job is to protect, not be your child’s buddy. Insist on direct answers, access to profiles, and adherence to the rules you have set forward when it comes to appropriate online behavior. No exceptions. Just like you wouldn’t allow your child to play in traffic unattended, no child should be left to their own devices in cyberspace without proper supervision.