Technology can help connect friends, family, and individuals in a way we’ve never seen before. With the rise of social media and instant communication platforms, physical distance isn’t a problem when trying to stay in touch with loved ones. For children, growing up with technological advances has its benefit. They’ve been able to keep in touch with classmates throughout vacation periods; they can play educational games or watch programs through online streaming.
For parents, however, ensuring their child remains safe online is the top priority. After all, with technology comes certain risks that didn’t exist before. Strangers can easily target children, teens, or young adults. Trying to find ways to keep them safe without limiting the interactions they have is a fine line, but it can be done.
Here are five ways to keep your children safe online to help minimize the potential risks and concerns.
Always discuss healthy and appropriate habits
Although you may not love the idea of online interactions, all children must know how to behave online. This includes virtual texting, calls, and video chats. Ensure that you teach your child to limit identifying information in their video (including family photographs and addresses). Talk to your children about how to be polite and kind online, making them aware of what comments or conversations could be considered bullying.
Children should always be honest with who they’re chatting with and when. Teach them to always ask for permission before making any communication attempt (whether talking or video chats). Make sure you recognize any behaviors that come across as sneaky or manipulative. If there’s ever an individual you’re uncertain of online, feel free to run a background check (assuming they’re over 18 years old). This will provide a comprehensive report of everything you need to know about that person.
Discuss Safety When Online
Many times children will believe what they are told online, failing to understand a healthy questioning. This disconnect leaves children vulnerable to predatory behavior, including phishing attempts of accounts and cyberbullying. All parents must discuss the importance of not sharing personal details, even if another user shares their details. Things like names, addresses, phone numbers, and contact information should never be given, even if a user suggests they know a mutual friend.
Explaining this rule to children would be dependant on age; younger children need more straightforward explanations than older children. If children are given online accounts, let them know that some people will try to get information from them to use in a mean way. Encourage children to share when someone asks for these details from your child so that you can investigate further. Any conversations that seem suspicious should immediately be reported to the platform, especially with online games directed at children.
For older children, a more detailed explanation can be offered. Take time to explain how their personal information can be used and why it’s important not to disclose these details. It’s always a wise idea to help older children identify online bullying, phishing, or attempts at identity disclosure. Discussing the importance of sexting (sharing explicit conversations, texts, or images) is also essential. Ensure children are aware of the illegal nature, why it’s a crime, and that they should never be sending these items, even if threatened.
Sit with your children while online
Unfortunately, when devices are kept private from parents, there is an increased chance of misconduct occurring. Always directly supervise any online activity, including chat conversations online. Keep track of any virtual accounts your children have online and check in often with what they’re doing. Some online platforms have chat functionality, which should be supervised. Have your child understand why you’re monitoring their account; it’s not that you don’t trust them, it’s that you don’t trust all users on the website.
If your child is an active participant on social media, look for disappearing chats too. Some social media chat functionality allows the removal of the photos and messages being sent. As a result, you’ll have no way to monitor these chats directly. Account settings can be adjusted to save all discussions on the platform (for at least 24 hours). Tell all children that anyone getting upset that their conversation is being saved is likely not a person they should be talking to. Always encourage connections with friends they know in person.
Don’t be afraid to use technology to protect your children.
No matter how hard parents try, unwanted, dangerous, or adult content can accidentally happen online. That’s why it’s crucial to always keep all parental controls active and monitoring. Parental controls can prohibit specific websites or content from appearing, while the safe search functionality can keep adult content away from young eyes. If needed, you can always use the time control functionality on all devices. Most devices can have time limitations and curfews installed on them, keeping children managed throughout the day. Appliances can be linked through WIFI channels, preventing kids from accessing additional time with different devices.
Many search engines do have an incognito mode that can, unfortunately, bypass any parental controls, which makes it difficult to control. Additionally, no information is saved while in incognito mode, meaning you won’t be able to review search history or the browsing history while they’re in that mode.
No Devices in the Bedroom
With the increasing popularity of cell phones, they are adding the temptation of online scrolling after bedtime as a recipe for disaster. Children with free reign of their cell phones are more likely to get into trouble online, including victims of cyberbullying or accessing adult content. There’s also an increased likelihood of sneaking extra time on the device, like chatting, surfing, or watching programs after dark. As such, all devices should be left in a common area after bedtime. Blue light from cell phones and other electronic devices can mess with a circadian rhythm, making it more difficult for people to fall asleep at regular times. This disruption doesn’t just impact children; it can affect adults too.
For children needing the device for alarm purposes, consider purchasing a separate alarm clock for this reason. Many new alarm clocks have a disappearing clock functionality, limiting the amount of light emitted during sleeping hours. Clocks can often be synced to WIFI networks and connected to popular music streaming apps, the radio, or the traditional beeping sound. While your child may not be happy, “everyone is allowed their cell phone,” you’ll be able to closely monitor their bedtime routine, sleeping schedule, and online safety after dark.