Parenting has become infinitely more difficult within this era of technology. With such a wealth of information available – good and bad – at their disposal, it’s important for parents to be proactive in keeping their children safe online.
According to the NSPCC, a third of all internet users are children. In the 8 to 11-year-old age bracket, a quarter of children have social media access, and this jumps to three-quarters between 12 and 15 years old.
Unfortunately, these experiences aren’t always positive with a quarter of kids having seen something upsetting on social media. Plus, almost half have received an intimidating, threatening, or nasty message.
So, it’s important to have practical ways to keep your children safe online, and in this article, we’ll be discussing exactly that!
Why is Online Safety Important?
The internet has completely transformed the way we absorb information, do our shopping, share wisdom, socialize, and even meet the partner of our dreams. There are countless positives to the digital revolution, but there are also inherent risks, particularly for the most vulnerable users.
Children are naturally trusting, adventurous, and eager to learn. While these are undeniably positive traits, there’s a minority of people online who are willing to exploit the vulnerability of kids.
Cybercrime is alarmingly common; in fact, it’s now the second-most reported crime globally. It’s important for kids to have a positive experience online, as this empowers them with vital IT skills for school and the workplace. In order to achieve that, parents must place an emphasis on online safety.
Tips to Keep Your Children Safe Online
Provide Parental Supervision
Kids are naturally curious, and access to the internet allows them the opportunity to explore everything, appropriate or not. The problem is that the online world is not as curated as parents might like it to be. When left unsupervised, your kids may encounter content that’s scary, misleading, dangerous, or otherwise inappropriate.
It’s important for kids to gradually learn to be independent, but it doesn’t hurt to supervise them, particularly when they’re new to using the internet or still quite young. You don’t have to stand over their shoulder, but having guidelines and general supervision as you would with any activity can reduce the opportunity to stumble across anything too ominous.
Keep Computers Visible
A simple way to encourage safe and appropriate use of the internet is to restrict access to a computer in a communal area, such as the living room or den. Kids will have the immediate support of family members if they’re unsure about something they’re looking at online, and if they’re tempted to look at something they’re not supposed to, the presence of other people is sufficient to discourage it.
Check Parental Controls
Most internet service providers offer parental controls as a standard feature of data packages. Find out more about what your current provider – as well as other companies – have in place to protect young internet users.
Parental controls are easy to set up, allowing you to block offensive content and any specific websites you don’t want your kids to see. Internet-enabled devices also come with their own control settings; some will allow to you to curb screen time, restrict social media access, filter out content with specific keywords, and check your kids’ browsing history. This might seem like overkill, especially if your children are slightly older, but these actions encourage safe and positive online experiences.
Be honest about the restrictions and control level and it reduces the resistance to it!
Even the most tech-savvy amongst us still have plenty to learn! Kids are information sponges with an affinity for cutting-edge technology and online trends. It can be tricky to keep pace with what’s new on the internet, but with regular reading, you can stay on top of things.
Go Online Together
It’s a good idea to spend time online with your kids; show them which resources are best to find valuable information for school and extra-curricular learning, encourage good etiquette, and establish how they’re currently using the internet. It can be a great way to bond and spend time together!
As your kids get older and more confident online, introduce them to aspects of the internet that will be useful as they grow up. For example, you might start them off with a limited number of websites that are made just for children. In time, you can expand their access to incorporate resources for learning, news providers, podcasts, and other content that will enrich their young minds.
If they’re developing a burgeoning interest in a particular subject, sport, or activity, spend some time together looking up information online. Not only will you both brush up on your knowledge, but it’s a wholesome bonding experience!
Ration Screen Time
There’s considerable debate over how much screen time is right for kids, and whether time online is inherently harmful at all. Latest research indicates that parents needn’t be overly concerned about screen time itself, but there’s also evidence to suggest that restricting hours spent in front of a display actually helps to improve brain function.
As this issue is a relatively new phenomenon, we still don’t have a complete picture of how to approach it. With time and further research, this will become clearer. In the meantime, take a sensible approach.
Giving children free rein on their internet-enabled devices distracts them from other activities, such as homework, sports, and spending time outside. Conversely, banning any online interaction can be damaging to your kids’ ability to thrive in our interconnected world. Find a balance that’s right for your family, and don’t be afraid to make adjustments where necessary.
Use Real-Life Rules Online
We teach our kids from a young age not to talk to strangers and this principle extends to the digital dimension. Keep your children safe online by explaining that even if someone seems friendly and genuine, they might not be in real life. With social channels or forums, they should not be accepting requests from people they don’t know and they need to understand that not everything you read is the truth.
We wouldn’t recommend scaring your kids with horror stories about online boogiemen, but it’s worth reminding them that we don’t really know anything about other people behind a computer screen.
Something you should be strict about is the sharing of personal information. Tell your kids that there are no circumstances in which they should volunteer their full name, school they go to, date of birth, address, or any other data that can identify them. They must never make plans to meet anyone that they’ve spoken to online, and if they are approached, they should tell an adult (preferably you) immediately.
A Lesson in Data Privacy
Further to restricting personal data, kids should not upload photos or videos to any platform unless they have your permission. Teach your kids that anything they share online has the potential to be accessed by anyone, anywhere, at any time. What goes online can stay there forever. Adults still fall victim to this principle, and the risks are even more profound for children as they grow!
Restrict Social Media Use
There’s substantial pressure on children to use social media, and to curate their posts in such a way to project a life that consistently cool and on-trend. This can be damaging to kids’ self-esteem, and time spent on social media distracts from other activities and commitments.
We’d recommend restricting access to social media, particularly younger kids. There’s no good reason for children in primary education to have accounts – even if some of their friends are on Instagram, don’t feel like your kids have to be there, too. Social media will still be there, and in the meantime, there’s so much of childhood to enjoy!
If your older kids do have social media access, remind them about online etiquette, personal data protection, and how to protect themselves from unwanted attention. It’s also worthwhile to have a frank discussion about cyberbullying and reiterate that you are always on hand to support if they need it.
Finding a balance between parental protectiveness and giving kids the freedom to explore is acutely difficult when it comes to online content. However, using the tips in this guide, your children can have positive experiences that will give them the skills to take charge of their own digital lives as they blossom into young adults.