Your kids can probably navigate a smartphone better than you can, but that doesn’t mean they understand all the implications of a life online. While you should always stay up to date on what your children are doing online, it’s especially important during the summer months when kids have lots of free time to explore the internet. Here’s how you can keep your kids safe online when school lets out.
Talk to Your Children
Talk to your kids about what they think is and isn’t appropriate online. Share what you think is appropriate and the reasons why. You’ll be able to gauge where your kids’ internet safety currently lays, figure out what topics to address in your discussion, and develop a set of guidelines everyone can live with.
Take note of who your child interacts with online, especially if it seems to be a separate group of friends than you typically hear about. Major shifts in friend circles can be an indication of risky behavior like drug and alcohol use—especially during summer with excess free time and limited parental supervision—but it’s also critical to ensure these “friends” aren’t actually total strangers. Seeing a new name isn’t necessarily an automatic red flag, but having a general awareness of who’s who on your child’s friends lists can help you spot outliers more easily.
Have younger kids list what sites they like to visit and why. Take a look at each website to make sure it’s age appropriate. If there’s something they shouldn’t be looking at, talk to your children about why they shouldn’t visit that website.
Set Parental Controls
Kids are becoming tech-savvy at increasingly younger ages, but even if your little ones know how to surf with ease, it doesn’t mean they know how to stay safe online. If you have young children, take advantage of the free parental controls that come with many tablets, smartphones, operating systems, web browsers, and internet service providers. You can also purchase third-party parental control software, but there are so many free options that you probably won’t need to.
Parental controls let you filter out age-inappropriate content, block websites, prevent installation of new programs, stop in-app purchases, and set time limits on internet usage.
However, parental controls are best suited for younger kids, not teens. Besides the fact that teens are likely to find their way around any parental controls you set up, you want your teens to trust you enough that they’ll come to you if they’re made uncomfortable online. Applying parental controls to a teen’s devices may create a sense of distrust instead.
Teach Kids How to Protect Themselves
Make sure your kids understand that people online aren’t always who they say they are. Teach them to never reveal personal information like their real name or address, share personal photos or passwords, or download attachments from strangers. Explain how common scams work and how to spot them.
Talk to your kids about what kind of activity is illegal online, like downloading music or movies without paying, streaming copyrighted content, sharing explicit photographs, or cyberbullying. Explain why these things are illegal and how they can report it and block people if it happens to them.
Discuss the importance of limiting the amount of information shared on social media. The wrong social media post could affect college admissions and future job prospects. Stress privacy settings and the permanence of things posted online.
Keep the conversation open after you’ve talked to your kids about staying safe and responsible online. Ask them what they’re up to online, what new social media platforms they’re using, and what new games they’re playing. Talk to your children from a place of curiosity, not intrusiveness — while you don’t want your kids leading a secret online life, you also don’t want to alienate them by supervising their online activity too heavily.
You want to keep your kids safe in every aspect of their lives, and their online life is no different. Talk to your children openly and honestly about their online activity, set controls as necessary, and adjust the conversation as your little ones grow up into tweens and teens.
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