There’s a whole new world from when many of us parents grew up. And that world is called the Internet! Our children have access to… well… everything. Everything includes all sorts of educational information and some, hmmm, not so PG subjects. What do we need to know to keep our children safe online?
Parenting consists of a lot of balancing. Freedom versus boundaries. Allowing versus discipline. There’s no one answer for every family. And the same goes for online safety.
With a good number of school districts continuing “remote learning” and online schools becoming more popular our children will be spending even more time online, which makes being aware and knowing how to keep our children safe online even more important.
As parents, we all want to keep our children safe online. There are some scary stories out there about children giving out personal information, sending inappropriate photos or even meeting “online friends” aka complete strangers.
The Good and the Bad
There is so much good that can come from being online. It really can be wonderful. Children can use the Internet to play interactive games, research reports, watch educational videos and even communicate with their teachers.
But sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. New studies show too much screen time can damage our children’s vision. And there is the whole lack of exercise and lack of in-person social skills to worry about. Or just living a distracted life in general.
And, of course, there is the seedy underbelly of the Internet as well. Really inappropriate content seems to be just one wrong click away. Bullying has moved from beating up kids for lunch money to cyberbullying where the entire school and beyond can view a student’s embarrassing moments, sometimes not even real moments.
It almost makes you want to keep them away from the Internet altogether. But at this point that would be like telling them not to use electricity. It’s a part of our lives, a part of our schools and we need to learn how to keep our children safe online in spite the risks and help them make safe choices while they are there.
Can you Keep the Good, Eliminate the Bad?
There are myriad of hardware and software solutions to help parents protect their children online like parent-friendly routers and apps that limit access to or time on the Internet.
Personally I haven’t found any of these to be just the right solution for our family’s needs. I also don’t want to constantly police my children while they are on electronics. I don’t want to spend my time reading every email and text they receive. You may think I’m opening our family up to a lot of risk.
It’s more important to create a mental framework that teaches children to keep themselves safe online through a lot of conversations and restrictions with set punishments for not following them and an understanding of why the restrictions are in place.
“Kids spend a lot of time online. But if they’re keeping their grades up, they’re engaged in community, they’ve got a good group of friends, why would you be overly concerned? You have to trust on some level that they’re making their way through life in a productive way,” says Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance.
As in the other aspects of their lives, I want to teach my children how to be responsible, safe, independent stewards of their own actions.
How do we keep our children safe online?
There are certain things we as parents can/need to do and certain things our children need to do/understand.
For All children
Talk to your children in an age appropriate way about the responsibility that comes with being online. Ask them about what they want to do online. Talk to them about what personal information consists of and why they should keep it private.
This information should be kept private:
- last name
- phone number
- email address
- password (even from friends who want to use your child’s phone)
- name of school
- their picture
- personal information about the family like mother’s maiden name or siblings’ names
2. Know Passwords.
Not only is this a good habit because children tend to forget their password then they end up with 10 Minecraft accounts, it also allows you access to their accounts in case you need to check what is going on in their online and/or social media world. But, to reiterate, no one else should be given the passwords.
And have your children set up different passwords for different accounts so someone won’t be able to get into everything if they find out one. You can use a password manager like 1Password to securely store your family’s passwords. We use a family account so each child has their own vault that the parents have access to but they don’t have access to each other’s. Password programs like 1Password also will generate passwords when you are creating a new account so they are random and more difficult to guess.
Know what your kids are doing on the internet. What are they watching? Who are they talking to? (Hopefully only friends from school.) An estimated 20% of parents say they don’t ever supervise their children’s internet usage. Nearly 62% of teens report their parents have no idea what they do online. So have children use the computer or other electronic device in a common room with you there. If they are in another room, make a rule that doors are left open. This way at a glance you can see what they are up to.
Because we parents have lives too and can’t sit and supervise what our children do online the whole time, enable browser and privacy settings on your children’s devices for maximum security. Activating browser and privacy settings allows parents to have peace of mind that their children are safe from certain types of websites. You also can create a custom “blacklist” that blocks specific sites, such as:
- Adult content, pornography
- Online gaming or gambling
- Social Media and Networking
- Violence, specifically weapons
- Dating sites
- Media streaming
- Phishing, virus and spyware hosting websites
With these settings, parents can block inappropriate content and hopefully protect your child from online dangers or indecent exposure. Also you should review your child’s browser history to see what they’ve been looking at or watching when you were not supervising.
Set house rules on how much time children are allowed on electronics and where it needs to occur. Set device rules like no phones at dinner, devices live outside the room at night. Ideally, these rules would apply to adults too. Set the penalty for not following the rules.
Children’s Responsibility for Internet and Texting
- Agree to computer rules set up by your parents, teachers or guardians. With freedom and trust comes the expectation that you will act responsibly.
- Keep personal information about yourself (name, address, phone number) to yourself unless you have your parent’s permission.
- Do not give out any of your passwords to friends or anyone you meet online.
- If someone you met online or in a game asks to meet you, say “no” and tell your parents.
- Do not respond to messages you receive from people you do not know, that are mean or scary, or speaking meanly about others. Tell your parents or other trust adult about these messages.
- Always be kind of others online. Do not do anything that may hurt others including joining in conversations discussing other people’s problems.
- Check with your parents first before downloading any files from email or a website or installing any software on your computer.
- Log out of anything you are using on a public computer like at school or the library.
- If anything makes you feel unsafe or if anyone is being mean to you or someone else online, show your parents and talk to them about what to do.
If you want an fun resource to help restate these rules, have your children run through this interactive guide.
Additional measures for Tweens and Teens
Tweens/Teens Parents’ Responsibility
At this stage, keeping track of what they are doing online gets more difficult especially if they have a phone so they have access all the time (except at night because the phones live outside the bedroom, right?) Plus, as children age, they want more privacy. This is healthy and normal and we should probably give them some. Ouch.
“As your teen gets older, they’re going to be far more likely to find ways around any parental controls that you put on there,” says Stephen Balkam, ounder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute. Trust me on this it will happen. Our 12 year old son’s friend told him how to turn off YouTube parental control on his devices.
The goal, then, is to make sure by that point, they don’t need them anymore anyway.
Here is where even more communication comes in play. For older kids, discuss with them the common dangers and how to avoid them. Remind them people online may not be telling the truth. The picture you see may not really be that person.
Explain that passwords are there to protect against things like identity theft. They should never share them with anyone, even a boyfriend, girlfriend, or best friend. We’ve all heard the stories of a friend playing a joke on some kid’s phone and it backfiring on that kid.
Tween’s/Teen’s Responsibility for Internet and Texting
All of the above children’s responsibilities and:
- Ensure privacy settings on activated on all of social media websites you use and turn off any location settings.
- Only accept friend requests from people you you’ve met in real life.
- Remember what goes on social media is always on social media. Parents could see it. Friend’s parents could see it. Future employers could see it. If you don’t want your family or whole school to see or read something, don’t post it.
- Be careful about discussing details about your own personal problems with your friends online. It is better to speak to them in person. Tell your parents or teacher if you are struggling with something.
Parents, did I miss anything? Share in the comments.
Developers, I’ll talk more about what I want in a “keep our children safe online” solution and maybe you can create it for me.
- works and tracks electronics both online and off
- to be able to control from my phone and computer
- something they can’t delete from electronics
- time limits that allows flexibility for different days
- can give them extra time at the click of a button
- takes into account all electronics (phone, ipad, computer)
- schedule times of day (ie. won’t work during dinner or at bed time)
- way to segment apps by type (educational, videos, games)
- on certain days require certain amount of time on educational apps/websites before being able to access videos or games
- alerts me if they view something inappropriate based on settings I created
- can let me block those, um let me put this nicely, pointless videos of kids playing or unboxing things, oh, and other people playing Minecraft
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
Copyright 2020 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.
We originally published this post in August 2018. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness.