As the internet grows faster, wider, and scarier, we as parents need to remember to teach internet safety to our children. We can joke and say things like, “back in my day, we didn’t have the internet,” or “when we first got the internet, it used the same line as our house phone,” and then immediately have to explain what a “house phone” was. But the truth is learning about the internet can be more complex for youngsters. Internet safety for kids begins with us, the parents.
Here are some tips for internet safety for kids. Remember that you can also find the internet on phones, not just on computers or tablets. So, if you are guilty of handing your phone to your child to preoccupy their time, and you think they’re just watching Sesame Street on YouTube or Roblox on the iPad—keep these tips in the back of your mind!
Tips for Keeping Kids Safe on the Internet
It is essential to make sure your children feel comfortable telling you when they feel strange about something that happened online. We used to call this “stranger danger,” but now strangers and predators look a whole lot different because the façade of the screen hides them.
Internet safety for kids includes only speaking to friends that they personally know. Be honest with your children about not sharing important details about themselves and your family online. Young naïve children (and some not-so naïve children) often don’t see strangers as threats, especially if those strangers appear as a friend to your child.
Teach your children what red flags and suspicious behavior from strangers look like. This could be when they notice a stranger trying to befriend them, acting inappropriately, and/or asking very personal questions.
Teach your children to advocate for themselves by doing these important steps:
- Get offline! There is no need to say goodbye to the person making them feel uncomfortable.
- Explain what occurred to their parents.
- Report the incident to the proper authorities. You, as the parent, will most likely facilitate this step with your youngsters.
Teach your children that saying “no” truly does mean no. They should feel empowered to tell someone that they are acting in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Chatrooms Have a New Look
If your child wants to play a game online, make sure to talk to them about what role chatrooms play in the gaming world. In games, you can speak through a microphone to other players and/or chat in a separate room. You can talk about topics that are appropriate to talk about in chatrooms and appropriate language to use in them. A big rule I like to highlight here is it doesn’t matter how someone else is talking to you. You do not have to get on their level and speak like them.
The same rules apply to the red flags from earlier in this article. If your child feels “stranger danger” from someone they are chatting with, or if someone makes them feel yucky, they should follow the three steps above.
Utilizing Parental Controls
I know we all want to be the “cool parents” who trust their children to make all the right decisions and be fantastic all the time. However, parents cannot control everything like “stranger danger.” Parental controls are essential for internet safety for kids. Parental controls help us parents filter out unwanted things to help ensure our children have a safe internet experience.
There are different apps and programs that you can use for parental controls on your phones and your computers—and don’t forget your tablets! If your children are using gaming systems, there are also parental controls that you can set up there, also.
Some helpful yet simple parental control tips are:
- Password protect your accounts!
- Get to know the games your children are playing and what parental control options they offer.
- Create time limits for internet and/or gaming time for your children. You could even devote a timer close to the computer for timing screen use. You could also reward your child if they choose to go outside rather than play with a screen.
- Only have your child use screens (computer, phone, tablet, etc.) in a common area of the house so that you can keep an eye on them.
- Write the three red flag rules down and have them near each screen your child plays on, like on a bulletin board next to the family computer or a post-it attached to your phone or tablet.
Modeling Appropriate Internet Behavior Around Your Children
Yes, Wordle is great (I love it), but try and use the same tips that you have for your children, for yourself. Practice what you preach! Start a timer for yourself if you are around your children playing a game online or mindless scrolling to teach them good time boundaries. You could also model the behavior of choosing to go outside and play than choosing to scroll on your phone.
The online world can be a scary place for all. However, if we make internet safety for kids a priority and continue to be open and honest, the unknowns of the internet become a lot less scary to our children.