Many schools are starting online this year, which means kids are spending more (unsupervised) time on their computers. This opens up a virtual world that might not be entirely safe or appropriate for kids.
What’s the best way to protect your kids online? Talk to them. Research suggests that when children want important information, most rely on their parents. Here are tips to talk to your kids or grandkids about internet safety.
Educate yourself first.
The internet has become a necessity in most households, and since the majority of devices offer browser capabilities, kids have access to the internet as young as two. It’s important to start talking to your kids at an early age about the different risks they face on the internet. As a parent you have the opportunity to talk to your kid about what's important before anyone else does.
There are several resources available online about how to talk to kids of different ages about internet safety. Also, familiarize yourself with different options you have as a parent to block content and limit time through parental and privacy controls.
- Safe Searching. The devices issued by schools will have content filters in place, and if you are using a home computer, you should set similar safety settings. However, content filters aren’t 100%, and you shouldn’t rely on those filters alone. Plus, kids can learn to get past them. Talking to your kids about why certain interactions are dangerous will help reinforce the content filters.
Even if your kids are comfortable approaching you, don't wait for them to start the conversation. Use everyday opportunities to talk to your kids about being online, such as news stories about internet scams or cyberbullying. And remember to be patient. Most kids will need to hear the information several times for it to sink in.
Create an honest, open environment.
Kids look to their parents to help guide them. Be supportive and positive. Listening and taking their feelings into account helps keep conversation afloat. You may not have all the answers, and being honest about that can go a long way. Some topics you should cover include:
- Inappropriate conduct: Although the online world often feels anonymous, it’s important to remember that once content is uploaded online it’s there, forever, and they are accountable for their actions.
- Inappropriate contact: Some people online have bad intentions, including bullies, predators, hackers, and scammers.
- Inappropriate content: You may be concerned that your kids can find pornography, violence, or hate speech online.
- Security: Kids should be careful of what information they share online. Oversharing can lead to identity theft, or predators knowing personal information about them.
Communicate your values and establish family rules.
Communicating your values clearly can help your kids make smarter decisions when they face tricky situations. Talk to your kids about how they communicate – online and off – and encouraging them to engage in conduct they can be proud of. Rules can include things like daily screen times, acceptable use of the internet, and the consequences for violating any of the online safety rules.
Make sure your kids know the internet is forever.
As your kids get social media accounts, express to them the importance of being cautious of what they post online. Even if they later delete it, that doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. Everything shared online can be viewed by future colleges and employers.
No matter the age of your kids, online safety should be a topic of conversation. Whether you’re getting your kindergartner set with rules to follow for their years of schooling ahead of them or talking to a teenager that might be leaving for college soon, online safety is a lifelong lesson to be learned.
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