How much do you worry about your kids on the internet? Do you limit their access to certain sites or review their devices to see what they have been up to online? It can be hard at times to figure out the best ways to keep your kids safe online.
What you need to do varies quite a bit as your kids get older. You don’t want your younger kids to see inappropriate things. You worry about cyberbullying as kids get older. And there’s always the concern that they’ll give too much personal information to total strangers online, thinking that they are good enough friends.
It can be pretty scary. But you need to let your kids explore the internet while they’re still under your supervision, so that they can learn to avoid hazards when possible and to deal with hazards that can’t be avoided, while you’re there to help. Protecting them from the whole thing is not the answer.
There are many things you can do to help keep your kids safe online.
Decide On Limits To Keep Your Kids Safe Online
The limits you set on your child’s internet usage should vary by age. There are things a 5 year old shouldn’t do that are entirely appropriate for a 15 year old.
Some things may come down to the kind of language you want your kids exposed to. It can be difficult to find safe YouTube channels or online games for your kids.
Roblox, for example, is a very popular game, but it has often been controversial. Parents have complained about the chat feature and how easy it is for kids to friend complete strangers. Some say there is a huge bullying problem on Roblox, while others don’t.
Discuss as a family which websites and games are acceptable. Lay down some rules. Make sure both parents are on the same page with the rules. Give the children reasons for the rules. It’s easier to obey a rule when you understand why it’s a rule.
My kids always tell me when they want to try something new. The older ones have the password to install new apps on their phones, but they know to ask first. Same for installing software on the computer. The password simply ensures that they can’t claim they didn’t realize they were installing something. You type that thing in, you meant it. The youngest is not allowed to install anything.
Also have a talk about sharing personal information and photos, especially photos that might be considered sexual. Photos sent or received need to be talked about, as it may not be your child who sends the inappropriate picture, but having it on their phone is still a major problem.
Give Your Kids An Appropriate Level Of Trust
How much you trust your child online depends on you and your child. You do need to trust them a little.
Consider the age of your child, how they behave with friends, how they’re doing academically, and any other factors you think are relevant. Some kids need a lot more watching. Others will be quick to report the slightest problem and may need less supervision.
If you don’t trust your kids, first of all, they’ll know. Kids need to know they’re trusted in general. If they don’t feel that you trust them, it’s hard for them to feel like they need to earn that trust.
My kids know that for the most part, I trust them online. I have on occasion had to check on accounts when the kids didn’t ask me for help, but that has been rare, and the reason explained.
Be Ready For Mistakes
Mistakes will happen. My son one time tried to type in the website address of a site he played on regularly. It was on his new computer, and he typed the name in wrong.
You guessed it. The site came up claiming he had an awful virus and that he needed to click the link to take care of it.
Yeah, he knew better. He got me and I helped him shut down the browser without clicking the pop over. Then we ran a scan on the computer to ensure that no viruses or other malware had been installed on his brand new computer.
All he did wrong was type one letter wrong. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
That’s better than my oldest daughter, who did make the mistake of clicking on something claiming she had a virus. I had her sit through the entire scanning process and work through the problems as they came up. She was old enough that she should have known better. She now knows a lot more about the process of removing a virus, which is a good thing to know at her age anyhow.
Teach your kids that if they have any doubts about what’s on their computer to get an adult immediately. Don’t click anything.
Find out how the mistake happened. Was it a typo? What about a site that had previously been trustworthy, but has perhaps been hacked or has some other problem?
If the rules have been broken, deal with it appropriately. Don’t make things worse just because things went more wrong than your child expected. If the mistake results in a virus or malware being installed on your computer, have your child help if they’re old enough, so that they learn to handle it. This is pretty much a life skill these days. the things you use now to keep your kids safe online should help them throughout their lives.
Know Your Child’s Passwords
My kids all know that I expect to have all of their passwords. They know I won’t use them often, but that I reserve the right to check their accounts if I feel a need.
The easiest way to keep track of your child’s passwords is a password manager such as LastPass. LastPass offers a family account at a very reasonable price. This allows you to share passwords as a family. You can store the passwords to your children’s LastPass accounts in yours so you can always have access to the whole thing if you need it.
You can share passwords between accounts if you like. This allows you to decide if you want the kids to have easy access to the Netflix password, for example.
If you don’t want to use a password manager, have each child make a password sheet they keep somewhere safe that you can find. Kids are great at forgetting passwords. For the most part, their passwords are of relatively low importance, so long as their game and social media accounts have no access to credit cards or personal information. This is the one reason I let kids write their passwords down. It’s a bad habit otherwise.
Teach Your Child That You Can’t Believe Everything You See On The Internet
Once she was convinced, we taught her how to recognize that they weren’t real.
Teaching kids that they can’t believe everything they see on the internet is important, not just for their safety, but so they can do reports for school accurately. It matters when they’re adults too.
My kids’ school teaches them early on the basics of recognizing websites that are good resources for online research. I find their rules a little simplistic (.org does NOT ensure that it’s a reputable source!), but it’s a start.
Teach them to be suspicious of things that try too hard to get them to click on something, and especially of anything that wants money or wants to be downloaded. They won’t always be bad, but until they know how to recognize what’s safe, they should ask first.
Talk About The Hazards Of Social Media
There are a lot of good reasons to teach your kids to be careful in their use of social media. Cyberbullying over social media and texting applications is a huge problem.
There’s also the risk of strangers friending your child or just following their account. It’s easy to worry about the intentions of random strangers who follow a child on social media.
Many social media accounts can be kept private to some degree, with pictures and posts visible only to friends and followers. When you feel your kids are ready for social media, help them pick places where they can control who sees what they post.
Remember, there are good reasons why most social networks want users to be at least 13 years old. By that age, most kids can understand why they need to think about what they post.
Keep Online Use In Shared Areas Of The House
It is generally advised that you should keep all internet capable devices in shared areas of the house, and that’s generally good advice. Kids are less likely to deliberately do things online they know they shouldn’t when they know a parent could look over their shoulder at any moment.
This is, of course, more difficult with smartphones and tablets. You have to decide whether those are allowed to be used in bedrooms.
The challenge can be that kids will naturally want more privacy at the ages where you will worry most about inappropriate behavior. Older kids may get curious about porn or consider sending inappropriate pictures of themselves to others, or asking for such pictures from their friends.
Teach your children why they shouldn’t share such things. Say more than just “don’t do it;” explain why. Kids are more likely to obey if they understand that a rule is not arbitrary.
Be There For Your Child When There Is A Problem
When problems do come up, be there for your kids. Trusted friends can be involved in cyberbullying. A phone number can be shared with other kids in school and elsewhere, and suddenly the issue has become a bigger problem than your child can handle on their own.
If your child is a victim of cyberbullying, your role as parent is emotional support and figuring out what steps can be taken to stop it. Sometimes you may have to get school officials or law enforcement involved. Other times a talk with the other parents is sufficient
If your child is the cyberbully, it’s your job to make them stop it. Talk about why and the serious harm cyberbullying can do.
If you need to talk more to your kids about cyberbullying, there are a number of videos that may help. Here’s an example.