Online Safety for Kids: Protect Your Children
How many times have you handed your smartphone over to a kid because you couldn’t figure out how to change one of the settings?
It’s a basic fact: children today are born into a super-connected world. They start using the computer and the Internet at an earlier age than we ever could have imagined.
There are babies that know how to control tablets with swipe and pinch moves before they know how to speak, and these same toddlers quickly learn how to perform more complex actions like surfing the web.
They become wizards at using digital paraphernalia, and they’re almost always more tech savvy than their parents.
While the children of today may have the technical know-how to shame any adult within a ten mile radius, there’s one thing that these wiz kids do not have: maturity.
As they say, wisdom comes with age (and science is here to back this up), and kids actually lack the cognitive ability to make good judgment calls, a lot of the time.
But They Know Who Not to Trust…Right?
Even smart kids who know that there are predators and other dangers lurking on the other side of the web won’t always be able to tell the difference between right and wrong and between people who can be trusted and those who cannot.
This is most definitely true when it comes to the online world.
And that’s why it is our responsibility to make sure that our children are using the computer and the web safely.
By using a few sensible best practices, you are protecting your child and yourself from the shady characters hanging around online just waiting for some unsuspecting kid to take the bait.
And I’m not just talking about falling for something obviously incriminating, but simple mistakes like clicking on a link in a phony email or pressing OK without reading all the warnings on a pop-up.
Here are some security basics concerning online safety for kids, that any guardian or parent should follow:
1. Put the computer in the living room
Never put the computer in a space where your children could surf the web in total privacy.
In the living room you can easily glance at the screen to see what sites kids are surfing, who they’re chatting with, and what a pop-up says if an alert comes up.
It makes the computer a “public” device and not a personal space.
2. Review what your children are doing online
I’m aren’t telling you to spy on your kids, read their diaries, and sift through their knapsacks when they’re not looking.
On the other hand, giving small children totally free and un-chaperoned use of the computer is asking for trouble at best and is downright negligent and dangerous at worst.
You can probably trust your 17-year-old to use common sense when on the web, but when it comes to younger children, you should always know exactly what they’re doing and what kind of content they’re being exposed to.
I don’t recommend using “tracking software” to review the activities of your children.
While they do provide a great deal of information, they can also potentially open your computer up to vulnerabilities.
What you should do is have a record of all the usernames and passwords for any sites that your children use so you can track their usage through the browser history.
Log into their accounts periodically, and review what they’re doing and who they’re talking to.
Obviously it’s up to you how much privacy you give your children (like if you don’t think there’s a need to review their chat logs with their friends, you can just look for chats with strangers).
3. Use parental controls
This should be an obvious one, but parental controls are an easy solution that so many guardians overlook.
There are loads of controls that you can use, either standalone services or the ones that come packaged with your computer software, and you’ll decide which ones are right for your child and situation.
Site blockers keep kids off of inappropriate or dangerous content sites – they’re not 100% foolproof, and they won’t stop your children from talking to strangers, but they will help curb unwanted interactions, as will chat blockers and messaging controls.
4. Limit computer usage
Make it an unquestionable rule in your house that the computer is only used when you are home and around to keep an eye on things.
This might sound a little harsh, but it is the only way you can watch over your kids and make sure they aren’t accidentally making a play date with a criminal.
5. Lead by example
While we can learn a lot about computers from our kids, there’s still plenty that we can teach them too.
Surf the web with your children and do something fun and interesting for both of you. Not only will you be teaching them safer surfing practices, but you’ll be spending quality time with your kids.
They’ll learn by your example what to do and what not to do online. Explain to them what you’re doing, how, and why you are doing it. Keep a running dialog going, and educate them on the go.
Open Communication is a Must
There’s one more thing to do when it comes to Internet safety and our children: We need to talk to them.
Kids are smart, and they’ll hear what you have to say if you speak to them openly and lovingly.
Explain the dangers that exist online and show them what they can do to protect themselves.
Here are some topics for discussion:
● Your policies
Don’t try to hide the fact that you’re tracking their activity. Be open and honest about it, and explain to children why you’re doing it and what you’re looking for.
● Never talk to strangers, kids or adults, and don’t accept friend requests on social media sites
Most parents tell their children not to talk to strangers online, but make sure they know that this includes children and adults (predators can just as easily say they are a 10-year-old boy if that will get your son to invite them to their school yard).
Also define what a stranger is. Your daughter might not consider the cashier at the supermarket a stranger (especially if they see you being friendly to him/her), so you have to make it clear that someone like this shouldn’t be talking to your children online.
You can list exceptions to this rule, like aunts or uncles, but don’t add too many or it will confuse your kids.
Once they understand these parameters, tell your kids that the same rules apply to approving people on social media sites.
This might sound redundant to you, but things are not so clear to kids, so spell it out for them.
● No signing up, registering, or ordering things without permission
Your kid wouldn’t be the first child in history to order a $5000 hoverboard from an ad he saw online, and that’s why this rule is important
Kids might be tempted to sign up for a service or download an app that claims to be free, but actually ends up costing you an arm and a leg.
There’s no way to teach kids about which purchases or apps are safe and which aren’t, so this should be a blanket rule: no signing up or downloading anything without permission.
As the parent, look into the service your child wants to sign up for before giving the ok.
Also take note of the username and password of the account so you can check up on account activity from time to time.
● No handing out information on websites without permission
Some websites trick kids into entering private information.
Whether it’s a phone number, birth date, or school address, this information can be deadly in the wrong hands.
Giving out this data can also open you up to scams, spam, viruses, and even cyber attacks.
Some sites will register you for premium services with these details, charging you the big bucks for something you didn’t even know you had.
By setting this as a ground rule, you safeguard your child and yourself.
● Be careful what you share online
Look on Facebook, and you’ll be amazed at how many kids have their own pages.
In fact there are people who open accounts for their newborns, handing over the reigns as soon as Junior knows how to type.
Chat apps like WhatsApp and Snapchat are also extremely popular for kids.
In this social media driven era, you need to explain to your kids from an early age that everything they write, every image they share, can have serious consequences.
Teach your kids about these consequences, what could happen, and what to avoid.
Don’t forget to remind children that their comments or posts can end up hurting other children (by “banning” one of them from a WhatsApp group, for example).
● Always involve a parent if you’re not sure about something
This tip is true for anyone taking their first steps using a computer.
Even if you’re comfortable around the computer, at some point you’ll probably stumble upon something unfamiliar.
An alarming pop-up, a strange message, or an unusual action request can easily make you react quickly and without thinking. That’s what hackers are good at, and they catch us all the time.
Adults, especially the ones that read my other tips, know better than to click on a strange link or pop-up like this.
Our kids on the other hand do not.
Teach kids to ask for help whenever they see something weird or aren’t sure of what to do next.
You can use this as a teaching moment – here’s what to do if something like this happens again.
The Internet is a pretty scary place for kids to be hanging around, but you can’t just outlaw the computer for your children across the board.
However, using communication, safety measures, and a little parental intuition, you can keep your kids surfing safer across the World Wide Web.