The internet is the glue that keeps many of us connected — particularly during a global pandemic. Children who may have never used the internet before certainly did in 2020. With schools closed to in-person attendance, kids as young as five plopped down in front of a screen for class.
The internet is a useful tool for people of all ages, but it also opens the door into the lives of children. Hacking, bullying, identity theft, s*x trafficking, and s*xual exploitation are just a few of the ways they can become victims. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible for kids to recognize stranger danger on a screen.
Five Tech Safety Tips for Kids
To take advantage of all the good things the internet can yield, you need to protect kids from the bad. Here are five tech safety tips for kids that will help.
1. Require Adult Supervision
You don’t let kids do certain things without supervision, like swim or play in the park. The internet can be more dangerous than that climbing dome in the rain. Why wouldn’t you insist on supervising them while they’re using it?
Place the home computer in a common space, such as the kitchen or family room. That will allow you to keep an eye on what kids are accessing while you do your own thing. But what if their access is via something more mobile, like their smartphone?
A safe phone for kids is a great tool for kids and parents. There are options that allow your child to stay connected with friends and family but not to the internet. No internet, no social media, and no apps mean no creeping off to get out from under watchful eyes.
Supervising your child’s use of technology provides teachable moments. The internet safety lessons learned might just stay with them when they leave the nest.
2. Establish Some Ground Rules
You probably have tons of dos and don’ts for your kids. Brush your teeth before bed. No elbows on the table. Walk, don’t run.
You make rules to keep your kids safe and healthy. You want to help them build a solid work ethic or develop good habits. Establishing ground rules to help them use tech safely is no different.
It’s better to put some serious thought into these rules rather than making them up as you go along. You may need to make some revisions as different circumstances arise and kids get older. But having these guidelines in the first place is the important thing.
Set reasonable expectations and communicate them clearly to help kids understand why there are limits. The sooner kids understand your motivation is their safety not your desire to spy on them, the better.
Rules should address issues such as usage limits, accountability, and transparency. There should be suitable punishments for violations and rewards for compliance. You should also have discussions with your kids about their vulnerabilities when they’re using the internet.
Don’t know where to begin? Open that internet browser, and you’ll find volumes of helpful recommendations about establishing ground rules.
3. Use Safe Social Media Channels
When you think of social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and Snapchat probably come to mind. You probably use some or all of them yourself. You’ve seen what’s out there and question whether they’re kid-appropriate.
It will be difficult to keep your 16-year-old off YouTube and Snapchat. However, you can start teaching valuable lessons about using social media to younger kids. You can do that by allowing them to use social media networks designed to be safe for kids.
Spotlite, GoBubble, Playkids Talk, and Kidzworld are a few social media networks intended for children as young as six. Older kids might enjoy PopJam. All these networks require parental consent before joining, and posts are monitored by the platform.
Parents probably have valid reasons for not trusting Mark Zuckerberg’s design of an Instagram version for kids under age 13. These networks, in contrast, were specifically designed for children rather than dumbed down for them. They can be safe options for kids who want to scratch that social media itch.
4. Take Advantage of Parental Controls
There are numerous ways parents can control what their kids can access via the internet. Many parents, however, don’t take advantage of them.
One reason may be because they believe they lack the tech knowledge to use such controls properly. Rest assured that most parental controls are user-friendly. Furthermore, there’s a wealth of information on the internet about how to use them.
You can control settings that deny access to certain devices and websites or limit the time spent on them. To initiate controls, use device, browser, and app settings. You can control both the hardware and software settings on your home Wi-Fi network as well.
Apps aren’t the enemy. You can launch parental controls on the apps your child uses. You can also use apps to keep track of your kids via GPS trackers and smartphone monitoring.
So do you tell your kids what you’re doing? Conventional wisdom says you should provide the same transparency to them that you want them to have with you. However, the age of your child and the circumstances will probably drive that decision.
One of the first lessons parents teach their kids is to share. That lesson could very well help you keep your kids safe.
Sharing passwords is a great place to start. Parents who know their children’s passwords for social media and online accounts will be able to monitor them.
It’s also a good idea to have kids share who their friends are on social media. That way, you can monitor suspicious contacts and intervene if necessary. Your goal is to ward off predators before they can do any damage.
If your child wants or needs an email account, share one with them. The sharing and parental monitoring will be obvious to message recipients and thus provide a layer of protection against predators.
Finally, spend time with your kids when they’re using technology. You can catch issues in real-time and answer their questions as they arise. Plus, if they’re using the internet to explore age-appropriate topics, you might just learn something, too.
Of course, sharing will be abundantly easier with younger kids than older teens. Beginning this practice with children when they’re young could help set the expectation for parental access as they get older. Trust on both sides will go a long way toward keeping kids safe.
As with any tool, tech can be extremely valuable when used wisely. Every child will be exposed to it at some point, no matter how hard you try to hide it from them. It’s better to give them the skills they need to make good decisions than fail to equip them.
The best advice on and offline? Don’t talk to strangers.