The digital age has enabled our kids to grow up in an increasingly connected world, with information constantly at their fingertips. It may be true that you can find almost everything on the internet, but it can also open doors to unforeseen hazards, and it can be hard for parents to police these risks. The most important things parents can do is talk to their kids about the hidden dangers lurking behind the computer screen and set guidelines for internet use.
Following is a short list of ways for parents to help keep their kids safe online:
1. Set Parental Controls and Monitor Internet Usage
While parents need to walk a fine line between respecting their children’s privacy and being too nosy, there are many social media monitoring apps available to help to them observe their children’s online activities. A few popular parental monitoring apps include: Net Nanny, My Mobile Watch Dog and Symantec Norton Family Premier. Parents can also use filters to limit internet use to certain sites, read chats and block messages. Another way to keep tabs on internet usage is to keep the family computers and connected devices, like tablets, in the living room or a common space – this will make things more public. It also might be a good idea to set specific hours for internet usage in order to restrict how much time your kids are spending online. Knowing who your kids are talking to online and what sites they frequent by checking the devices internet browsing history is similar to knowing who they are hanging out with at school.
2. Set Social Media Age Restrictions
Facebook doesn’t allow children under the age of 13 to create a profile, and this is a steadfast rule for most other social media sites as well. However, children with unrestricted internet access can easily lie about birthdates and set up accounts. Uphold age restrictions on social media channels by blocking access to these websites until your children are old enough and have a good understanding of what is and what is not appropriate behavior.
3. Beware of Catfish
Catfish is a term used for individuals who assume personas online that do not represent who they are in real life. These people could be posing as a real person or create a completely fictitious identity. Predators often develop personas that make it seem like they are much younger than they actually are in order to connect with children, so coach your children to avoid accepting friend requests from people who they don’t know personally. Make sure they understand the dangers of online friendships – because you never know exactly who is on the other side of those conversations.
4. Address Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying occurs when children are bullied by their peers on the internet. Bullying can have a profound impact on young people, and it’s important to actively discourage your kids from engaging in this type of behavior. Let your kids know that they can confide in you if they’re being bullied online. Make sure they’re aware hateful comments and unwanted messages can be restricted and even blocked through settings on their social media profiles to limit this type of unwanted interaction with others online. It can also result in criminal prosecution for both the child and parent in severe cases.
5. Establish Privacy Settings
It’s a good idea to have your children limit what people can see on their profiles who are not on their friend lists. Social media profile settings are highly customizable, and hiding personal details – like birthdates, home addresses and what school they attend – can cut down on the risk of identity theft and stalking on and offline. Additionally, phishing scams through social media aren’t uncommon, and children might be more easily duped into giving out sensitive information without recognizing they are being scammed.
6. Don't Give Others Access to Phones or Social Media Accounts
Tell your children not to let strangers or even friends have access to their cell phone or social media accounts. Instruct them to never leave devices unattended or accounts open on a public computer. Also, have them set a passcode for their phone, which shouldn’t be shared. Inform them of the dangers of letting their friends and acquaintances assume their identities online to reinforce the message.
7. Discourage Checking In Online
While it can be tempting to share your current location with friends and followers, especially when on vacation or at an event, it also lets potential thieves and stalkers know where you are. Tell your kids that they shouldn’t disclose their exact location, whether geotagging or through any check-in features, because it can put them and you at risk. It could also put your home at risk for a break-in if no one is home.
8. Establish Reasonable Guidelines
It’s important to have open discussions about social media use with your children and to come up with guidelines and expectations. Set reasonable limitations for internet usage and let your kids know the punishment for breaking established rules.
Talk to your kids about the types of photos they’re posting as well, and how maintaining an appropriate “online reputation” is important. Things posted on the internet can come back to haunt people later in life, potentially impacting higher education or future employment opportunities. As always, parents should lead by example.
Educate your children on the dangers of social media and let them know that they can come to you with any issues they may have. The Family Online Safety Institute is a great resource for parents and can provide tips on establishing social media safety guidelines.