With the Internet, mobile devices and technology, there are more safety concerns for parents than ever before. The worry of kids talking to strangers, accessing adult content or experiencing (or participating in) bullying now extends across online platforms and social media. While it’s advantageous that most kids are tech savvy, it creates an even bigger need for parents to be aware of their children’s online behavior. Here’s what the experts recommend to keep your kids safe online.
Know What Your Kids are Doing Online
Your kids may think it’s snooping or spying, but it’s part of being a concerned, responsible parent. You need to know what your kids are doing online; what sites they’re visiting, chatrooms and message boards they’re participating in and which social media platforms they’re using.
In recent research, Avast found that 82 percent of parents have given their 13-16-year-old a laptop, tablet, or smartphone – but only 61 percent take responsibility for what their teens do on these devices.
“Our role is not to digitally stalk our children, says Tony Anscombe, senior security evangelist at Avast. “Independence brings risks, but we need to find a way to make testing independence not an either-or, but rather an ongoing exchange. Otherwise, we’re closing the door on chances to help our kids – and ourselves – prepare for a world we never could have foreseen.”
Do Your Homework
In addition to having an awareness of what your kids do online, you need to be familiar with the software, websites, applications and devices they use. Kids today have never lived in a world without technology, they’re naturally inclined to learn and understand devices, so there may be a steeper learning curve for some parents. When you know more about the things your children are using online, you can be more aware of the risks.
Set the Rules
Whether it’s a computer or a smartphone, you need to lay down some ground rules. You decide when and for how long your kids can use technology. Also, don’t be afraid to request your children’s passwords; you may feel awkward, but it’s for their protection. “Parental involvement, such as knowing the passwords, correlates to lower incidents of cyberbullying,” according to Robert Siciliano, Identity Theft Expert, and CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com. “So contrary to myth, parents are not overstepping boundaries by monitoring their kids’ online habits—within reason, of course.”
Also, make sure you stress the importance of creating complex, unique passwords. Teach your kids to create a new password for each site or account to prevent digital hacks and reduce the likelihood of identity theft.
Set-up Parental Controls
There are lots of safety settings and controls you can use for the Internet and on programs and applications on computers and mobile devices. You can set-up restrictions and block certain websites using the privacy settings on your Internet browser, restrict applications and limit usage on smartphones, and you can also install parental control software.
Note: Having these controls in place will give you peace of mind, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have to monitor your kids’ activity and talk to them about online safety concerns.
Don’t Put the Computer in Your Child’s Bedroom
Keep the laptop or desktop computer in an office or common room; do not let your child have the computer in his or her room. This way, you can designate certain times of the day for computer use and keep a close eye on what your kids are doing or looking at online. “Increasingly, parents equip children with desktop computers or laptops and don’t hesitate to give them privacy by setting them up behind closed doors in their bedrooms,” writes Jason Wright from theblaze. “Even with the best Internet filtering systems money can buy, that’s like placing pornographic magazines or movies on their bedroom bookshelf and hoping they don’t become curious.”
This rule also applies to smartphones and other technology. You set the rules for when they can use these devices; they should not be kept in your child’s room.
Practice What You Preach
You can’t tell your kids they need to get off the computer and put their smartphones away if you’re constantly on your phone. Set a positive example for your kids. “Be a role model,” says Tom Kersting, psychotherapist and author of Disconnected: How To Reconnect Our Digitally Distracted Kids. “This means spending less time with your beloved device when you are with your children. Turn off your device during dinner and whenever you are in the presence of your children. Our children need us to be present when we are around them, not distracted.”
Communicate With Your Kids
Make sure your children know about the threats and dangers that exist online like cyberbullying, scams and identity theft and online predators. Let them know they can talk to you about things they see or experience online and that you will not scold or judge them. According to Bullying Statistics, over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyberbullying. Talk to your kids about their online behavior; how they are treated and how they treat others. Let the know that just because they are behind a screen doesn’t mean they can conduct themselves in a different way than they would in face-to-face interactions.
Also, talk to your kids about who they interact with online and be on the lookout for anything that sounds suspicious; people aren’t always who they say they are online. Remind your kids that they should never meet someone from the Internet in person. If you decide you’re comfortable, you can go with your child to meet an online friend, but make sure you educate your kids about the dangers that exist with meeting strangers from the Internet.
Technology and the Internet are an integral part of your child’s world. You can’t shield them from everything online, but if you educate yourself and take the proper steps, you can help your kids have a positive experience and reduce the risk of dangerous, unfavorable situations.
What are your house rules about the Internet and technology? Let us know in the comments below!
Maile Proctor is a professional blogger and content editor. She writes on health and fitness, lifestyle and family, education, how-to and more. Maile earned her Bachelor’s in Broadcast Journalism from Chapman University. When she’s not writing, she enjoys hiking in Southern California.