The world has become increasingly connected this past year as the internet drove even more people online to attend class, work from home and connect with the friends and family they miss because of safer-at-home orders. These concepts aren’t new, but they’ve seen significant growth over the past year and don’t appear to be going away anytime soon.
Safer Internet Day is an annual, international event that takes place the second Tuesday of February, which is dedicated to making “the internet a safer, better place for all.” Safer Internet Day was introduced in 2004 by the SafeBorders project to raise awareness, empower and educate children and young people about the benefits of the internet, as well as accessing it with responsibility and safety.
Below are tips for parents to help keep their kids safe online:
1. Establish Boundaries
Open the lines of communication with your kids about what they’re doing online. Getting them to talk about their experience will help you understand who they’re following and why. It’s also important to establish reasonable usage time limits and privacy settings, maintain an appropriate “online reputation” and filter what is being posted or shared.
Parents need to walk a fine line between respecting privacy and keeping their kids safe online. It may be necessary to set filters on certain sites, read chats or block messages to monitor your kids’ online activity. Consistent communication will allow your kids to feel more comfortable talking about their activity, too.
2. Follow Posted Age Restrictions
Most social media sites and apps have clearly posted who can and cannot create accounts on their platforms. For example, Facebook doesn’t allow children under the age of 14 to create a profile. Following age restrictions – and blocking access to the sites and apps if your child isn’t of age – makes it easier to uphold these limitations with your kids.
3. Beware of Catfishing
Catfishing is a term used for the actions of an individual or individuals who assume personas online that do not represent who they are in real life. These people could be posing as real people or fictitious identities, and they often have predatory or nefarious intentions. Talk to your kids about the risks of catfishing and coach them on the dangers of friending people they don’t know.
4. Address Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is prevalent across all social media sites and apps. Anyone is susceptible to the effects of cyberbullying if they aren’t careful online, but this is especially true for kids and young adults. Parents play an important role in preventing and responding to bullying. Let your kids know they can talk to you about any instances of bullying, and in turn discuss the options to restrict or block hateful comments and unwanted messages through social media profile settings.
5. Don’t Give Others Access to Phones or Social Media Accounts
Parents should discourage their kids from sharing social media login information or phone passcodes with friends and strangers. Phones and other digital devices hold sensitive information that should not be accessible to anyone outside of the immediate family. Reinforce the importance of privacy and safety by continuing discussions with your kids about what they choose to share and the sites they access.
6. Disable Location Services
Your kids shouldn’t be utilizing geotagging or check-in features to disclose their exact location. This can put them and you at risk. It could also make your home susceptible to a break-in if no one is home. Opt-out of location-tracking at any time within the phone’s settings app to protect your kid’s privacy and security. Also, avoid tagging photos and videos posted on social media apps.
7. Teach Digital Etiquette
Discussing online etiquette and manners with your kids should be just as important as teaching them about safety. The increased use of the internet for entertainment, education and socialization means kids should develop appropriate communication skills for the digital space, including adjusting verbal tone and style before responding to messages or interacting with other people. Kids should be aware that once emails or messages are sent or pictures or videos are posted they aren’t easily removed from the internet.
The age of social media and the rise of influencers has presented an opportunity for parents to initiate more conversations with their kids to stay aware of internet use and online safety. Parents can also lead by example through their own social media and online activity – don’t just talk the talk. The Family Online Safety Institute is a great resource for parents and can provide tips on establishing social media safety guidelines.