The Internet is a brave new world, and it’s a challenge to navigate. How are you supposed to keep your kids safe online? It isn’t like there’s a handbook for how to pull it off. And the Internet is a fairly new environment to raise your kids in. Before, the Internet either didn’t exist or wasn’t accessible to most people. Now, the Internet is everywhere. If you hand your kids a tablet to watch cartoons, it likely has Internet access. And most parents are right to be worried about the Internet. As adults, we’ve seen the damage it can do. From predators to porn sites, from online stalkers to cyberbullies, it’s not a place for kids. But there’s no use in trying to keep them away from the Internet entirely. It’s ubiquitous. At home, you probably get on the Internet often. At school, the Internet is used for research and everything else. And most of your kid’s friends will have devices that can access the Internet. There’s no keeping them off it, but how do you know what’s dangerous?
Since the stakes are so high, it’s easy to listen to fearmongers. Doing your best to police your kid’s Internet access? Stalking them online by maintaining their passwords, keyloggers, and every other security measure you can find or afford? That might seem like the only logical solution. But it’s not!
Your kids might tell you that you don’t understand the Internet. And they might be right! Do you know what’s genuinely dangerous on the Internet? You might want to ban it altogether, just to cover your bases. But that’s not a great solution. If your kids are older, they can probably work their way around any parental controls that you put in place. But if you know what’s dangerous online, you can work your way to an educated compromise with your kids. That way, you know your entire family is safe online.
The dangers change based on how old your kid is. If your child is younger, they will probably get easily tricked by scams that older children could recognize in a heartbeat. Online stalkers often imitate children and pretend to be kids. If your young kid thinks they’ve found a new friend online, they might give out personal information without thinking twice about it. Their name, address, the school they attend, their phone number, or any other contact information… those things could end badly. Some kids do end up meeting up with strangers in real life or at least trying to. Having conversations with your kids about what information to not give out online, and some warning flags to watch for is crucial and will probably do more good than anything else.
Particularly if your kids are younger, it’s crucial to teach them about the rules of the Internet. For instance, some platforms want their users to be 13 or above. Others might have rules of users being 18 or above. It might be tempting to treat these age restrictions casually when you’re helping your kids sign up for accounts. But keeping with these rules helps set boundaries and expectations. Most experts agree that lying about your age isn’t a great way to introduce your kids to good boundaries and transparency on the Internet.
It’s also important for you to be transparent, too. Building safe habits on the Internet is all about building an atmosphere of trust. Do you have keyloggers on your kid’s devices? Do you have security installed that sends you reports of what sites your kids spend time on, and for how long they’re there? It’s best to tell your kids about these security measures you have in place. Most experts recommend that you do so. If your kid finds out that you were reading their messages all this time, without their knowledge, it could be a serious breach of trust. It might even motivate your kids to be sneaky when they would otherwise have no desire or reason to be, just so they know what’s being done with their messages.
Other Internet dangers include addictions. Of course, it might feel like every kid these days is addicted to their phones. But it’s important to remember what those phones are used for. How many texts, emails, and notifications does the average teen get in a day? And most of them probably aren’t from frivolous social media time wasters. A parent might need them to pick up a sibling after school. They might need to check on the status of their college application. Or, they might be checking in on an aging grandparent that lives alone in another state. This type of communication has changed teenager’s lives, but it also keeps them very busy. It’s still important to set limitations, though. And most experts recommend that these limitations apply across the board. That way, your kids see that you’re modeling great habits, too. Lots of kids aren’t the only ones that seem to be ‘addicted’ to their cell phones. Adults are guilty of this too!
When experts chat with families about digital habits, kids are often the ones complaining about never being able to get their parents’ attention because they’re on their phone at the dinner table, or texting someone back during a walk, or posting on Facebook. Adults are guilty of it too! In order to build great habits as a family, it’s important to apply the rules fairly. And these rules may change depending on your kid’s age, personality, and tastes. Maybe you have all the devices in the family room, and that’s the only place they’re used while at home. Or, you might put all devices in a common area after 10 PM. No matter what works for you, making sure that kids are balancing all aspects of their life is important.
You know the dangers of being online. But what about things that aren’t dangerous? You might be concerned about things that aren’t dangerous at all. And if you can take some worries off your plate, why shouldn’t you?
One thing that some parents are concerned about is online friends. Aren’t they all stalkers, ready to take your kid’s personal information, meet them in secret, and kidnap them? That isn’t true. While it, and older individuals impersonating kids or teens in order to gain their confidence, should be on your radar, online friends are common these days. Most kids that are digital natives of the Internet have online friends or acquaintances. These friends tend to broaden your kid’s horizons. And if your kid isn’t dealing with cyberbullying issues, then it’s worthwhile to investigate it. If your kid is old enough to recognize safe Internet practices, and is willing to take you along if they’re able to meet their Internet friends in real life, it’s a great thing to encourage.
Keeping your kids safe on the Internet is difficult. But it’s worth doing. Maintaining a balance between serving as a full-time warden of your kid’s internet activities, and having no idea what they’re up to, is a great idea. Stay tuned for our next article, where we recommend programs, apps, and tips that give you concrete ways to keep your kids safe online.